According to Ayurveda, immunity and natural resistance to disease in the body goes hand in hand with good health. The concept of health—according to Ayurveda—is not only being free of disease but also when there is balance between the three doshas, vata, pitta, and kapha, there is proper functioning of the digestive fire or agni, the three waste products (urine, feces, and sweat) are in normal quantity and balanced, the five senses are working normally, and the mind, body, and consciousness are functioning in blissful harmony.
The function of the immune system is to protect our bodies against foreign invaders. The invaders can come in the form of actual foreign bodies such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites, collectively called pathogens. Unwelcome entities can also be created from within and show up as dis-eases of the body.
A proper immune system is an intricate balancing act. When functioning optimally, our immune systems are able to discriminate effectively, knowing when to fight the bad guys and when to back down.
A hardy immune system is influenced by the power of agni (digestive fire), and our ability to digest, assimilate, and absorb nutrients in our bodies. Within a healthy body where immune function is strong, any invaders are either neutralized or destroyed then expelled and the body returns to normal. If agni is impaired by an imbalance within the tridosha, metabolism is affected and the immune response and natural resistence are lowered. If the body is unhealthy or has ama (stored toxins from undigested food), then an environment is created in which invaders are encouraged to thrive. Ama can be created from both physical and mental indigestion. It serves as fertile ground for creating weak spots in the body.
According to Ayurveda, ama is the root of all physical disease. Indigestion and ama formation can prevent nutrients from reaching the tissues. Ama can result from improper eating habits and unhealthy lifestyle practices. Our relationships, stress, and traumas also greatly impact our digestive process and immune function. Particularly when you engage in an activity or indulge in food that you know is not good for you but you do it anyway, you are committing prajnaparabda, a crime against wisdom. Not only are you promoting ama formation and creating an unhealthy environment within the body, but you are also weakening your will.
The strength of your will and identity are in direct correlation to proper immune function. Discipline and healthy relationships help to build your sense of self. When your identity with your self is strong, then the cells in the body are better able to differentiate "self" from "non-self" and support the internal things that are serving the whole.
The body naturally wants to become balanced and healthy. Each and every cell of the body possesses an intelligence encoded with a will to live, be healthy, and work together as a whole, communicating with the other cells of the body. Ayurveda is a system that supports the natural proclivity toward balance and offers guidelines regarding diet, lifestyle, herbs, and the stress relieving techniques of yoga, meditation, and pranayama as a formula for acheiving health and longevity.
Strengthen your digestion. Bring awareness to your digestive process, noting how you feel (physically and mentally) after each meal. Proper digestion will result in feelings of lightness, energy, and satisfaction. Watch your portion size and be mindful not to overeat. Choose foods that are in accordance with your constitution. Balancing the doshas through diet can enable you to better support yout health.
There are several foods and herbs that help support a healthy immune system and are traditionally used in Ayurveda. Foods such as milk, ghee (or clarified butter), and honey all enhance ojas, the subtle essence that supports immunity.
- Include many fresh organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans in your diet. These provide you with nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber necessary for proper immune function.
- Sip hot water or ginger tea throughout the day to boost agni.
- Limit sugar intake. Simple sugars can impair white blood cells activity and the proper function of a healthy immune system.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol can impair white blood cells mobility.
Here are some lifestyle practices that can help boost a healthy immune system:
- Take meals at regular times each day. Regular meals help to prepare the body for a time of nourishment by inceasing appetite and enhancing digestion.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Excess weight is a burden for the body. Placing undue stress on organs and metabolic functions impairs immune function.
- Get regular exercise. Just the right amount of movement helps the body become more resilient.
- Get sufficient, good-quality sleep. The body restores itself and counters the effects of stress during sleep and relaxation.
Herbs can also play an important role in giving a boost to your natural defense system. Banyan Botanicals Immune Support is a blend of both Ayurvedic herbs and Western herbs. This herbal remedy may be the extra boost you need to support the immune system through the fluctuations of the season. Banyan's I Sleep Soundly formula can be used to support sound, restful sleep. Triphala can be taken daily to gently cleanse and tone the large intestine, helping to keep the body free of ama.
A basic relaxation in corpse pose can help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce muscular tension, reduce fatigue, improve sleep, and enhance immune response. Allow yourself to feel fully supported by the ground and let go of tensions you may be holding.
Establish a regular habit of sitting in a special, quiet place each day. Meditating for short periods each day can greatly reduce anxiety and stress, improve your quality of life, as well as boost immune function.
- Sit quietly, firmly rooted, focusing on the crown of your head and your breath.
- Bring your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath.
- Notice the gentle inhalation, exhalation and the short pause of retention in between.
- If the mind begins to wander, invite it back to the breath.
- Allow thoughts to ebb and flow with the breath, staying perfectly present to each moment.
Yogic breathwork, or pranayama, is an excellent way to revitalize prana within the body. Pranayama is a practice in controlling the breath. Pranayama cleanses and strengthens the physical body while calming and clearing the mind.
It is important to practice with the proper posture to allow the breath to move freely in the body. Try alternate nostril breathing to balance the breath and support immunity. Position the right hand (you may choose to alternate with each practice) in vishnu mudra by folding the index finger and third finger inwards to lightly touch at the base of the thumb. Your pinkie finger rests by the side of the ring finger. You will alternately use your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring and pinkie fingers, working as one, to close your left. Rest your left hand comfortably in your lap. The breath should never feel forced. Envision the breath as a light thread of silk, lengthening effortlessly with each inhalation and exhalation.
Keeping the breath relaxed, subtle and light:
- Close the left nostril and exhale completely through the right.
- Inhale fully, through the right nostril.
- Close right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
- Inhale through left nostril.
- Close left nostril and exhale through right nostril.
This is one round. Begin a slow and regular practice of 5–10 rounds. Rest after your practice and notice how you are feeling. Once comfortable with this practice, you can begin mentally counting to four on your inhalation, pause at the space between the breath and then count to four as you exhale so that the length of your inhalation and exhalation are equal.
The Sanskrit word for immunity is vyadhikshamatva which translates as "forgiveness of disease." By being flexible, practicing acceptance, and adapting to our ever-changing environment you can support a healthy immune function. Resistance to change and clinging to challenges will only impede health. This type of flexibility is about becoming more whole and saying "yes" to life. It is about positively accepting all that comes your way, even the pain and suffering, allowing yourself to be with it. Although this is more of a mental and spiritual process, it is important to remember in the face of adversity, when something does not go your way.
Understanding the immune system and how it is influenced can help us to take more responsibility for our health. Many of the practices to support good health and immunity are intertwined. Lowering stress levels can help you to sleep more soundly and choose more nutrious foods. Sleeping more soundly can give you more energy to exercise. Ayurveda's holistic approach can help you develop a lifestyle that is good for your body and your mind while supporting health and immunity.
“Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always in a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as bird wings.”
The information provided in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, but only to apprise the reader of basic Ayurvedic lifestyle information. The advice of a qualified health professional is recommended before making changes in diet or exercise routines.