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Yoga practices for increasing immunity against Covid-19

Authored By Dr. Charu Arora

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At the top of everyone’s minds, these days is to guard ourselves against Covid, as we struggle with a second wave of the pandemic. 

As the age-old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Specific yogic practices, when followed daily, have proven to be highly effective in not just prevention but also post-illness recovery from the virus.  

While this has been established by clinical studies, the need of the hour is widespread adoption of the same.

Why Yoga

While maintaining the norms of social distancing and frequent handwashing is a must, it might not be enough in the current scenario. Once we are exposed to the virus, the outcome is based on how robust our body’s defense mechanism is. 

The better equipped the body is to cordon off the infection, the higher are the chances that we pass off the threat either without any symptoms, or have a smooth recovery from the illness. In some severe cases, even survival might be determined by how prepared our body’s resistance is.

It thus seems imperative to include in our daily routine, practices that prepare the body to maintain or restore its normal function despite any external threats. 

The good news is we don’t have to venture very far as the solutions lie in our very own culture.  The ancient Indian Yogic practices help achieve samatvam (homeostasis) at the level of the mind and the body. Homeostasis refers to the ultimate balance of all body functions and is linked to a healthy, disease-free state. 

Yoga asanas, pranayama, meditation, and relaxation techniques directly boost baseline immunity, through various mechanisms as detailed below. Yogic techniques also greatly improve lung capacity/pulmonary function and the health of respiratory muscles which is key as lung involvement is co-related with worse outcomes in Covid-19.

What practices work best for Covid? 

Asanas:

Dhanurasana (bow pose) directly works on lymphatics in the intestine, which is the first line of protection against infection. Matsyasana (Fish pose) improves immunity by stimulating the thymus gland, which is the center of the immune system, and “trains” T cells to recognize pathogens. Uttansana/Hastapadasana (Forward bend) helps in chest expansion increasing lung capacity and encourages ventilation esp in the clavicular of the lungs, which otherwise receive little fresh air. Trikonasana (Triangle pose) stretches the fascia around the lungs and helps in improved breathing. Also helpful in relieving tension.

Stress levels have been directly linked to immunity. When the body is under stress it releases cortisol which suppresses the protective mechanism of the body. Here comes the role of relaxation techniques. 

Ananda Balasana (Happy baby pose) is great for stress relief and overall relaxation by opening up the hips. Viprit Karni (legs up the wall pose)  provides gentle relaxation by improving the circulation of blood in the brain. Savasana (corpse pose) helps in deep relaxation and has been proven to significantly lower stress. 

Breathing techniques:

Kapalbhati pranayam helps to improve the strength of respiratory muscles and flush out impurities from the respiratory passages. Brahmari (bee breath) is highly effective in stress relief by directly acting on the parasympathetic nervous system. Deergha pranayama improves ventilation in the lungs and strengthens all 3 respiratory muscle groups – the clavicular, intercostal and diaphragmatic.

Others:

Meditation is a proven remedy for keeping stress levels under control. It can be guided if you are a beginner. Jal neti is an excellent kriya to flush out toxins from the upper respiratory tract.

These practices should best be learned from an expert, to avoid any side effects of injuries. Each practice has some medical conditions as contra-indications, hence it is advised to practice under supervision when you are starting.

Research has also established the role of yogic practices in recovering from the post-Covid damage to lung function. My students have shown remarkable progress in their oxygen saturation and overall lung capacity with regular guided practice.

Given the current scenario, it would be wise to embrace these practices as part of our daily routine. Having said that, if you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early.

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