Immune health from a yoga perspective:
1. The breath and breathing are fundamental to immunity as it soothes the stress response. The stress response causes an increase in cortisol and adrenalin in the body which impedes many of our systems sidelining them into being ready for attack or danger. So for example if you are stressed your stomach will not be digesting properly so you won't get the nutrients from your food and you'll produce excessive stomach acid which leads to heartburn, indigestion, stomach ulcers and reflux. A simple practice of slowing the breathing and mindfully lengthening the exhale can reverse the stress response.
2. Getting the right amount of sleep is essential for immunity. The WHO recommends 8 hours for everyone. This is well researched and should be aimed for by all of us. Yoga and ayurveda subscribe to this idea with a couple of variations depending on your ayurvedic constitution. The 3 constitutions are Vata, Pitta and Kapha which correspond with personality and body type amongst many other things. Very briefly and by no means touching on the depths of ayurveda here are some rough outlines of the 3 dosha. Vata types are quick minded, move around a lot, full of energy, have trouble calming down and attracted to dry crispy food. Pitta types are very insightful, take control of situations, quick tempered and attracted to hot spicy food. Kapha types are dependable, slow and laborious with exceptional memories, attracted to sweeter things in their diet. So ayurveda /yoga says that everyone should go to bed at 10pm, and that Vata types need 8 hours sleep, Pitta 7 hours and Kapha 6 hours.
3. A poor immune system can lead to long term issues not simply being more susceptible to getting more colds, although that may well be the case. Good nutrition is an absolute must for maintaining the body in optimal health. Yoga and ayurveda prescribe diet and lifestyle as the best ways to maintain health. Eating a diet that is appropriate to your dosha is said to bring you to health and therefore boost your immunity. There are many lengthy and complex teachings on this topic but also some very simple ideas that apply to everyone to aid digestion. Chewing well and eating mindfully, no TV or social media. Being aware of what you are consuming and only consuming food when it is a meal time. It might not be our food that causes indigestion but what we are exposed to whilst eating. Cooking food so that it is easy to digest and trying to stick with seasonal produce that is grown locally. The idea here is that if your food is hard to digest then you won't get all of the nutrition that is available in it. local food that's seasonal also reflects what the earth provides for you at this time of the year. Eating salads in the winter would never be prescribed by an ayurvedic advisor for example as your body needs warm and nourishing meals in the colder months.
4. Getting the right amount of activity and movement is also dosha specific so as not to exhaust the body in some circumstances or under do it in others. Yoga practices can be organised to cater for the 3 specific constitutional types. Whilst everybody needs exercise of a sort those who are least likely to want to exercise are the ones who need it the most and vice versa. Ayurveda and yoga don't recommend becoming exhausted though as this depletes the system as a whole. For individual health it is advised to work to one half of one's capacity, just until sweat appears on the forehead, under the arms and down the back. This amount of activity stimulates the gastric fire, improves digestion and helps with constipation, as well as inducing relaxation and sound sleep. Sweating eliminates toxins too so there is an overall boost to immune health. Overdoing it means your body has to invest it's resources in healing and attending to being exhausted as you may have to still do other things after exercise that there is now no energy left for and this of course reduces immunity.
5. To boost the digestive system and improve the absorption of nutrition and well as herbs ayurveda recommends the use of ghee, clarified butter. Ghee is no longer contains the same fatty acids found in regular butter so can be part of a healthy diet when considering it from a western medical perspective. In studies ghee has been found to reduce inflammation and promote gut health, both of which will directly impact immunity. It also contains omega 3 fatty acids that reduce cholesterol. Cooking with ghee is a great idea as it has a very high smoke point which means harmful free radicals are not released as they would be in other less refined oils.