Our Immune System (I.S.) basically works in two ways. Either we have innate immunity, that develops during early years of life and protects us from pathogen attacks, generally without us even noticing. Then, there is the acquired immunity that is triggered when specific cells of our systems meet with a “stranger”, not registered in our list of guests! A specific process starts which will bring into play, amongst others, our lymphocytes (a kind of white blood cell) who will set up an “army” to go fight the enemy. The multiplication of these specific blood cells happens in lymph nodes, which explains why when we are fighting an infection, these ganglions swell.
The thing is… in order for that process to be efficient, it needs to take place in a healthy body. Imagine creating a football team with tired or unhealthy players… you would not be able to train that team properly and certainly not win a match!
In order to keep the immune system healthy and efficient, it is important to eat well, sleep well, exercise, lower the stress level and not drink too much alcohol (even though in these difficult times one might be tempted to indulge in a few glasses of wine!).
Stress is the body’s reaction to any situation that requires an adjustment or response, it is part of our life and is an essential tool of our survival kit When the body is under sudden stress, it has a wide arsenal of possible responses through our sympathetic nervous system, including the production of cortisol. This has a positive effect in specific and short situations, but becomes harmful to the I.S. if the stress stays for long periods of time (chronic stress), as the production of cortisol continues.
Chronic stress arises from many different situations and it is sometimes hard to acknowledge and measure. How can we deal with it? The first answer is to run away from any stress trigger factor. Not always easy. The second answer is to teach our body and mind to be able to step back, in order not to suffer the consequences of this stress. Different tools are available, and it is important to choose the one that suits you best .
Yoga is a very effective tool through breathing, movement and meditation. To learn how to take control of breathing is a powerful antidote to stress. Combined with movement in a synchronised way, it becomes even more powerful. Why? Because all your attention is on the breathing and movement, and our brain finds it difficult enough to do 2 things at the same time, so it will not be able to think about a third thing whilst concentrating on breathing and moving! Guided meditations are also very interesting for the same reason, they keep the mind focused on the “story” and prevent it from ruminating on problems.
All that is needed is to try! Once it has been acknowledged that yes, it is possible to trick our mind, then the virtuous circle is engaged! As for most skills, it needs some training to be acquired but it is truly worth it.
Do not hesitate to contact me for more information.
*Sheena Cruickshank, Professor of Immunology at Manchester University