By Kimaya Singh
Wintertime is a season of great beauty, serenity and celebration. It is also a time when many of us find that we get a number of colds and are vulnerable to catching the flu. A regular practice of Yoga asanas and pranayama exercises will help to keep you in good physical and mental health. There are also Yoga asanas and pranayama exercises that are particularly beneficial for enhancing the functioning of the immune system. The immune system is “staffed” by white blood cells that are distributed throughout the body by the lymphatic system. Exercise in general will help to increase the functioning of the immune system by increasing the circulation of white blood cells throughout the entire body. Yoga asanas that turn the body upside down are known as inversions. Inversions will substantially support the efficient functioning of your immune system through the added power of gravity to increase circulation.
Our levels of immunity are also closely tied to the level of stress and anxiety that we feel throughout our bodies and minds. Yogic breathing exercises or pranayama techniques that combat anxiety and lower stress levels help to boost the functioning of our immune systems. In general, pranayama exercises that balance or deepen the breath help to ease anxiety and tension. Breathing exercises that elongate the exhale portion of the breath are particularly effective at soothing an over-active nervous system. Breath retention also helps to quell rapid, shallow breathing that is frequently seen in those of us who are very stressed. As stress levels begin to abate, the body can begin to re-balance and restore itself. The pervading sense of ease often felt after pranayama exercises aimed at calming down the nervous system will allow the immune system to function at a much higher level.
Three Part Breath (Dirgha Pranayama)
To practice this pranayama, sit comfortably on a chair or on your Yoga mat. You may wish to sit on a blanket if your hips are tight. Begin by taking a few full, deep breaths. When you are ready to begin, place the tip of your tongue directly behind your top front teeth and against the roof of your mouth. Keep your tongue in this position for the entire length of the exercise. The goal is to inhale for half the time you are exhaling. Choose the amount of time you are inhaling and exhaling to suit your comfort level. For example, you may wish to inhale for five counts, hold for a count of six and exhale for ten counts. Breath through your nose on the inhale and exhale through your mouth.
If you need to change the number of seconds you are inhaling, retaining or exhaling your breath, which is fine. Just make sure you maintain the same ratio. It is optimal to exhale for double the amount of time you inhaled in order to calm down your nervous system. Repeat four to eight times. When you have completed the exercise, sit quietly for a few minutes and feel the calmness pervading your body and mind.
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