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Stay Healthy This Winter With These Lifestyle Habits & Exercises

woman smiling looking over her shoulderby Carly Gallagher (Naturopath and yoga teacher)

Along with the right diet and supplements, you can also assist the immune system with lifestyle tips and exercises.

Many of these tips come from traditions found in India. The yoga philosophy is much more than the asanas (positions)–yoga uses breathing techniques (pranayama) as well as nasal cleansing (neti pots) to assist the body in ridding mucus from the upper respiratory tract.

Practical tools you can use at home can make all the difference in the healing and recovery process. Doing these every day can help prevent immune challenges–and in fact, the yoga philosophy recommends these as a daily practice.

Neti pot: Jala Neti is an important part of yoga. Hatha yoga attributes many benefits to daily neti pot use, including reduced nasal congestion and inflammation, hay fever, colds, and even improving clairvoyance.

Many say this prevents colds and mucus build-up with daily use.

How to do it: neti pots can be bought online or in some health food stores. They are easy to use and portable for travel.

You’ll need the following:

  • A neti pot
  • Tissues
  • Warm water (use either cooled or boiled filtered)
  • Natural salt such as rock salt or sea salt, (avoid table salt) about half a teaspoon for half a litre of water.
  • Bowl or sink

Add the salt to the water and make sure it has dissolved. The water should be around body temperature. Angle the head by tipping it to one side, so that the water will go up your nostril. Don’t tilt your head back, or you’ll end up with the water going down your throat.

Open your mouth a little so that you don’t create an airlock. This will help the water flow and allow you to breathe.

Put the spout of the neti pot to your nostril and pour in the water slowly — it will come out of your other nostril. You can use half or a full neti pot for each nostril. Depending on the size of your nasal passage, the water may flow freely out or take a little longer to run through–we are all different.

You may also get a delayed release of some water later, so be prepared for this when you are trying neti for the first few times! After you have finished both nostrils, gently blow your nose with the tissue.

Pranayama breathing: The aim of pranayama is to increase the oxygen intake of the body. It strengthens the connection between body and mind, which improves physical, mental and emotional well-being. This exercise brings energy to your immune system to fight infection. It is a very healing exercise.

Available evidence on pranayama indicates physiological and psychological benefits. Beneficial effects were mostly observed in patients with respiratory diseases, such as bronchial asthma. It also helped those with cancer and cardiovascular disease.

How to do it: Normally 10 to 15 minutes of pranayama practice daily is enough to reap all its benefits. Pranayama, like any other yoga practice, is best done in the early morning before sunrise.

Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) helps clear the blockages in the nasal cavity. Regular practice of it can keep nostrils free of allergies and enhance the filtering capacity toward the foreign element, reducing inflammation.

See video on how to do Nadi Shodhana here. Practice this for 10-15 min daily.

heart hands in the sun lightSun Gazing: Sun gazing, also known as sun eating, has scientifically proven health benefits. For the immune system, here are the key ones:

  • Promotes the health of your reproductive system, since it supplies the desired level of vitamin D to the body.
  • Boosts production of melatonin and serotonin, governing the entire hormonal system of the body.
  • Reduces stress, removes allergies

The main source of vitamin D for humans is ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure, which stimulates vitamin D3 synthesis in the skin. Exposure to sunlight increases synthesis of vitamin D in the skin.

How to do it: Stand on the ground barefoot and look at the rising or setting sun for 10 seconds on the first day. As you advance, keep adding 10 seconds every day. This way, by the end of the first of 10 days, you will find yourself sun gazing for about 1 minute and 40 seconds. By the end of the first three months, the duration will be about 15 minutes at a stretch.

For vitamin D, we need approx. 5-10 minutes of exposure of the arms and legs to direct sunlight UVB radiation, which equates to approximately 3,000 IU of D3, depending on the time of day, season, latitude, skin sensitivity and pigmentation.

After sun gazing in the morning, sit with eyes closed and soak in the vitamin D for another 5-10 minutes.

Yoga: For centuries, this ancient practice has been known to help boost immunity. Research shows its ability to reduce stress does your body a lot when it comes to helping fight colds and flus.

Stress and sickness go hand-in-hand. If we become chronically stressed, tissue that surrounds our muscles, organs, ligaments, and bones becomes compromised, inflamed, or achy. By stretching and moving those tissues and organs, as we do in yoga, we’re able to release harmful toxins and energy within our cells.

The respiratory and digestive systems are often affected by flu-like symptoms. When flowing through various yoga poses with the incorporation of pranayama breathing, we’re helping with blood circulation throughout our system, which leads to an overall strong immune system. With the digestive system often dealing with blockage, pain, and discomfort, twisting postures can help stimulate the GI tract to ensure everything flows as needed to avoid infections.

How to do it: Gentle and restorative yoga is called Yin yoga. These are approximately 5-6 poses (asanas) held for three or more minutes.

Here are some of my recommendations for supporting the immune system, but I advise those new to yoga to attend a guided class at a studio to ensure you do not hurt yourself.

Halasana (Plow Pose)

halasanaLie back with your shoulders at the edge of 2-3 folded blankets. Engage your core and use momentum to lift your hips and legs up and over until the balls of your feet touch the floor. Interlace your fingers behind you.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

adho-mukha-svanasanaLift your hips into Down Dog, and press your heels down. Hang your head between your upper arms. After each exhalation, hollow out your belly and pause for a moment before your next inhalation.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

uttanasanaStand with your feet hip-width apart. Fold forward from your hips, and place your hands on the floor. Evenly distribute weight in your feet. Extend up through your sitting bones and down through your crown.

Supta Virasana

supta-virasanaPlace a folded blanket at the top of a bolster. Sit between your heels with the bolster behind your tailbone. Lie back on the bolster, resting your head on the blanket. Turn your palms up. Stay here for 10-15 breaths.

Infrared sauna: Infrared sauna therapy is a form of sauna that uses heaters that release infrared lights, you experience as heat as it gets absorbed through the surface of the skin. Infrared sauna therapy uses Far Infrared Technology (FIR), which is a non-invasive light therapy that can penetrate your body as much as three inches. It used FIR wavelengths between 5.6 and 20 microns.

Through this process, infrared sauna therapy heats your muscle tissues and internal organs without heating the surrounding air. This heat helps your organs and tissues detoxify, and pushes toxins out of your bloodstream to be eliminated by perspiration or sweating.

The heat generated by an infrared sauna stimulates energy at a cellular level, which, in turn, increases the body’s production of white blood cells. Increasing body temperature helps your body fight infection by allowing certain immune cells to work more efficiently and effectively.

A typical 20-minute session in an infrared sauna allows your body to flush out these impurities from the inside out, so your immune system has less to fight off.

How to do it: If you are new to infrared sauna therapy, you can start with a short 15-minute session and build up to a 40-minute session or longer. Using it in the evening can help you sleep, while using it in the morning can help you start your day relaxed and rested. If you have time, you may fit two sauna sessions into your day if unwell.

Most towns and cities have infrared sauna clinics. Just do a Google search for the nearest to you.

Salt rooms: A salt room is designed to replicate the micro-climate environment of a natural salt cave. The walls and floor are lined with salt, and a pure, clinical-grade dry salt mist is infused into the room.

The salt is inhaled deep into the airways and the lungs. Salt is a natural anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiviral and antihistamine. When inhaled, it coats the airways and enters the lungs, and kills bacteria, reduces inflammation in the airways and breaks down mucus in the airways to allow for easier and more effective breathing and increased lung capacity.

How to do it: Salt therapy is easy and enjoyable. All you have to do is relax in the salt room on a comfortable chair for 45 minutes with your feet up, breathe and start to feel the difference.

Most towns and cities have salt therapy rooms. Just do a Google search for the nearest to you.

Holistic Healing

As a Naturopath, we encourage a holistic approach to healing. This means using as many of these tools as needed to support the immune system to function its best.

As you can see, there are many immune-boosting activities you can do, along with diet and supplements, to help you get through the cold and flu season healthfully!

Get the Support You Need

Your immune system is powerful and capable of fighting off lots of things. Giving it a helping hand may mean you don’t get sick at all–or if you do, you recover much faster.

There are many more powerful remedies in the Naturopathic toolbox, so contact us today to learn how we can support your individual needs. Appointments available on Wednesdays at Pickford Chiropractic Clinic, or by telephone consult other days.

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