The yogic immunity boost

Yoga is a viable alternative to Western medicine’s vaccinations and pills.

Hadley Gustin

Strolling around campus during the fall semester certainly has its perks. Between the fresh air, the exercise, the people you see and that daily dose of sunshine, going for a walk would seem to be the perfect combination of fitness, relaxation and socialization. Why would anyone not want to go outside? Particularly with the onset and spread of the H1N1 virus this year, the answer is obvious: illness. At the beginning of every semester, the potential for bacterial and viral infection is always highest for students. Especially during fall, but in also spring, there is an influx of new people: first-years, transfers, grad students and faculty who carry various germs that may already be contained within the University of Minnesota community. In addition, those new to the school are at risk for contracting foreign pathogens to which they have never been exposed. Thus, places like Boynton and Fairview become overloaded with patients trying to prevent or cure a wide array of infections. Now add a pandemic like H1N1 to the list of viral concerns, and there becomes a whole new level of urgency to keep from getting sick. Unfortunately, the increase of infirmities this year has not been met with a sufficient rise in the number of vaccines and medicines readily available for use, leaving many without any option other than to stave off infection completely on their own. According to the Boynton Health Service Web site, âÄúthe University of Minnesota currently has a limited supply of H1N1 flu vaccine.âÄù Therefore, only certain people are eligible for vaccination against this contagion: âÄúpregnant women, anyone who lives or cares for someone less than 6 months of age, health care workers with direct patient contact,âÄù etc. Understandably, this thought is not exactly comforting to those not qualified for treatment. In fact, it leaves them feeling like sitting ducks, helpless and unable to keep from catching the latest bug. What then should health care providers be offering as a solution to this problem in the interim? For natural health practitioners and adherents, a popular and effective alternative to Western medicine dependency is yoga. While yogic participation has been growing steadily in the United States and other Western nations over the last several decades, many Americans are still widely ignorant and skeptical about its health benefits. In the words of Swami Meera Puri, a student and teacher of âÄúYoga in Daily Life: The System,âÄù âÄúThroughout the Western world, yoga has primarily become thought of as a form of physical exercise. [However], yoga is not just a physical exercise system. It is about achieving balance on the physical, mental and spiritual planes and bringing us back into harmony and balance.âÄù Consequently, yogic practice does not only serve as a basic stress reliever like traditional exercise does, but it also promotes internal equilibrium, which is extraordinarily advantageous for the immune system. Nevertheless, there are more specific ways in which the yogic system targets pathogenic invaders. Sadie Nardini, owner of a New York City yoga studio and blogger for âÄúGaiam Life,âÄù an expert health and wellness blog, states that âÄúyoga detoxifies and oxygenates your system, balances the hormones you need for a strong immune system and triggers acupressure points said to help evict viruses and bacteria from your body.âÄù In relation to physical healthiness and wellbeing, perhaps the most captivating element of yoga, unlike vaccination, is its ability to detoxify. A typical vaccine works by inserting a small amount of an infectious agent into the body. The purpose is for this initial exposure to trigger an immune response that will successfully fend off and shield the system from future invasion by the virus or bacteria. On the other hand, the experience of yoga runs in quite the opposite direction. Instead of injecting an artificial substance into the body, it labors to naturally push the agents of disease out through a succession of poses. Most notably, the school of Kundalini Yoga teaches kapalbhati, or the breath of fire, which calls for a series of forceful exhalations that are said to eradicate toxicity from the respiratory system. This may sound like far too much effort to put into staying healthy. Even with a shortage of quick fixes like a vaccine shot or a medicine pill, it would be much easier to simply take a few precautions such as washing your hands, wearing a hat and eating nutritious foods. These are excellent steps to sustain a healthy body. Nonetheless, you can go through gallons of soap and sanitizer, wear twenty different layers and uphold a diet consisting of mainly fruits and vegetables and still get sick. At the end of the day, it is the immune system, the infection-regulating force within the body, that matters most when addressing illness, and no vaccination or medication will give it that extra boost of resilience like yoga. Still, the rationale behind natural wellness is not something that easily fits with Western-style living. Here in America, people are enculturated from birth to be reactive in response to their predicaments. This includes the consumption of medicine for the purpose of treating disease. As a result, Americans completely overlook the alternative, which is to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. However, with the untamed spread of H1N1 this year and not enough of the vaccine to halt its proliferation, the choice to be proactive about health and wellness is not only necessary and intelligent but worth the extra investment of attention, time and energy to ultimately avoid the onslaught of contagion.