Yoga during a Pandemic
The final instalment – yoga and the immune system
In my last blog post I wrote about the immune system and how stressing the body in a certain way can be beneficial for the soft tissues through which many of the immune cells travel to reach the invader and firmly squash it!
The immune system itself is too big a subject for me to tackle but there is one part of it that interests me a great deal, and I thought I would write about this aspect today. Something that has been increasingly recognised in recent years as a useful marker of immune system health is Heart Rate Variability or HRV.
HRV is the amount of variability in the time lapse between consecutive heart beats. Our bodies are designed to be able to react to external stressors and one important way in which they do this is for the heart to beat slower or faster as the situation demands. This gives us resilience, it means we can react to things going on around us, and hopefully survive!
When HRV is low this can be due to chronic stress, pathology or inadequate functioning of our immune systems. However, when we are lucky enough to have a high HRV, then we have a high degree of psychological resilience, our bodies are self-regulating and we can adapt to changing environmental or social demands. A low HRV is also a predictor of early death, so it’s not something to be desired!
In these times of a dangerous virus which is causing illness, death, fear and anxiety, we need to know how to boost our HRV. How can we do that? Yes, you’ve guessed it, we can practice yoga!
Luckily for us, practicing yoga doesn’t necessarily mean standing on our head or twisting ourself into something resembling a pretzel. There are many tools in the ‘yoga toolbox’ to choose from, and those tools do not have to be traditonal ‘yoga’ ones either.
The tools we all recognise are asana (physical postures and movements), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, chanting and relaxation (e.g. yoga nidra). But really, if we take yoga to mean a state of being rather than something we do, then we can include any activity that brings us into ourselves, that grounds us and allows us to connect with something larger, deeper, more profound — whatever you choose to call it.
Activities that press that button for me are walking in nature, especially if you are lucky enough to have a four-footed friend, listening to music, reading a good book etc. I’m sure everyone has a list that they can think of. Being mindful, whatever the activity, is key. Whether you choose to be in a headstand, walking in the mountains, or even doing the washing up, try to stay connected to the moment, to your breath, and to the source of calm within.