Thanks to the Corona Virus, there has never been a time when protecting ourselves from pathogens and strengthening our immune system has felt as relevant as it is today. You probably have seen a lot of advice around, some of which will always be relevant (e.g. washing your hands, covering your mouth if you are coughing etc…).
But there are many things you can do to support your immune system ‘from within’. This where Chinese Medicine has an excellent framework that sets out a clear guidance.
The 5 Elements
Chinese medicine sees the body as a relationship between 5 Elements. Each of these Elements is related to an (energetic) organ. They are interconnected to each other along what is called the ‘Nourishing cycle’ where each Element is supporting, nourishing the next one.
So, we have Fire nourishing Earth and Earth nourishing Metal. Metal is nourishing Water etc….
The Element associated with our immune system is Metal. It is also associated with the Lungs (and interestingly the Large Intestine too).
According to that system, our immune system (Metal) is strengthened by our digestive system (Earth). This is not surprising when we know that about 80% of our immune system is in the gut!
It is also supporting Water, so having a ‘strong’ Water Element ensure that we don’t put a lot of strain on the immune system (Metal) (draining t in the process).
It’s those two relationships that explain how you can support your immune system (Metal) ‘from within’.
3 ways to boost the immune system
From the relationship between Earth, Metal and Water, you can see 3 ways of supporting our immune system by strenghtening:
- The Metal/Lung directly
- The Earth/digestive system
- The Water
Don’t forget to breathe!
Because Metal is associated with the Lungs, any activity that will make your Lungs work better will support that Element. This could be one of the following below.
1- Do a breathing meditation:
Breathing will be one tool that will help to strengthen the Lungs and generate relaxation and strengthen the Lungs/Metal. You can do that breathing meditation quickly (It will take only a few minutes) and do it a few times in the day.
- Sit down on a chair, with your back straight, in a relaxed way. Relax your shoulders and your face (Do you tend to frown, is your forehead tense or relaxed? What about your jaw?).
- Close your mouth and breathe from your nose. Check that your tongue is relaxed and touching the roof of your mouth.
- Breathe IN counting slowing to 4.
- Hold your breath for a count to 2.
- Breathe OUT counting slowing to 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 2.
- Repeat 5 times.
2- Belly breathing:
Very often, we use shallow breathing. When we breathe in, our shoulders are going up and we don’t take a full breath. This isn’t our ‘natural’ way of breathing but is usually due to internal tension. If you look at a young child breathing, they will breathe from the abdomen, their tummy moving up and down while their shoulders don’t move.
As you are breathing from the abdomen, you will find you can take bigger breaths. This, in turn, will strengthen the Lung and increase the oxygenation in the body. Try this exercise:
- Lie down on the floor on your bed and make yourself comfortable.
- Take the time to scan your body, relaxing any tension (Take particular care of your shoulders and face).
- Put one hand over your abdomen.
- Let your tongue relax and touch the roof of your mouth.
- As you breathe IN, breathe with your abdomen and feel your abdomen rising underneath your hand.
- As you breathe OUT, feel your abdomen going down under your hand.
- Carry on breathing like this for 5 mins (or more).
Yoga is a form of exercise, and just because of the movement involved, it will help with relaxation. However, with Hatta Yoga or Yin Yoga, there is also a strong emphasis on the breath, making it closer to a type of meditation in movement.
Yoga is allowing you to concentrate on slowing down your movements and your breathing by linking the speed of your movements with your breath too.
Cover your neck:
In Chinese Medicine, we see pathogenic factors (all the bacteria and viruses) as entering the body through the neck. Always covering your neck (e.g. with scarf), especially if it’s windy or cold outside will help you protect yourself from invasions.
This is about supporting our digestive system and can be done in various ways, through our diet, through rhythm, through care.
Eating an appropriate diet at this moment in time is probably one of the most important things you can do. As we are all stuck at home, it is easy to fall into ‘unhelpful patterns’ eating ‘comfort’ foods or just out of boredom.
1- Sweet food:
In Chinese medicine, the Earth likes the flavour sweet but it’s the gentle sweetness of white rice, a carrot or an apple, not the high sugar of a Mars bar or from a pot of ice cream. Eating foods that are sugary actually damages the digestive system, in the same way that we know a diet that is too high in sugar negatively affects our gut flora and therefore our health.
2- Warm and cooked foods:
It also likes warm and dislikes cold food such as icy cold Water, fruit juice out of the fridge or ice-cream. Sticking to warm or room temperature foods will help support the digestive system
In the same way, raw foods can be quite hard to digest and the Earth much prefers cooked/slow-cooked meals. Avoid too many salads at the moment.
A stew, soups, foods cooked in a slow cooker will make it easier for the digestive system and will help improve your energy in general and the immune system.
3- Eat foods with a variety of colour.
Each colour is associated with an organ (yellow for Earth, red for Fire, green for Wood….). Eating a diet as colourful as possible to ensure that you are supporting the whole body.
Have some rhythm in your day
As a lot of us are at home, the rhythm of the day imposed by getting to work on time, dropping the children at school has all disappeared.
Earth is thriving on routine and rhythm. Simply keeping some sort of routine of when you get up, when you go to bed and at what you are having your meals can be enough to bring some routine to your day. It’s also great on a mental health point of view as so many of us are stuck in our houses.
Caring and being cared for
The Earth is all about caring, like a mother caring for her children. Caring and being cared for can be strengthening. The danger here is two folds though: over caring and refusing help, especially for women.
1- Caring for people:
Over caring happens when we do everything for everyone and out ourselves last. Especially as we are at home with our whole family, it is very easy to start trying to be everything to everyone. We can try to be the one who looks after the children, the one maybe still works from home full time, the teacher for the children, the homemaker still cooking and cleaning. It is not sustainable and it will be essential to learn to step back and not do everything (or not everything perfectly) so we don’t end up burnt out, stressed and exhausted.
So, keep an eye on things. Are you trying to achieve too much and be everything to everyone?
This is about feeling cared for. Refusing help is removing that opportunity to feel cared for (and loosing on the chance to lessen our workload!).
Take the time of stopping and say YES to offer of help. Maybe this is a friend proposing to do some shopping for you while they are out. Perhaps this is your teenager helping to do some cooking, baking a cake (that seems to be popular in y house!) or proposing to take the dog out. Maybe it’s a friend having a virtual cuppa with you while helping you find ideas on how to occupy your primary-age child.
The Water Element is associated with the (energetic) kidneys is really about our connexion to the earth/the natural world. The Water is about being grounded. Being grounded can help with the feeling of overwhelm we all have been experiencing recently.
Spending time in nature
1- Spend some time in the sun.
Sunlight is an excellent source of energy but not just for vitamin D. Sunlight helps us feeling more energetic and more settled. It helps to regulate sleep patterns and reduce anxiety as well as helps strengthening our immune system too. Spending 20 mins outside every morning is a simple way to get what we need from the sun.
2- Walk outside bare feet.
Ok this is something more adequate for the summer rather than in the middle of winter. But connecting with the Earth and nature directly through our skin has a calming and relaxing effect on our nervous system (aka it triggers the parasympathetic system). Try walking barefoot 10 mins outside every day (weather dependant of course!)
3- Feel your feet
While standing in a relaxed way, just feel the sole of your feet. Pay attention to the sensations and imagine/feel the energy going deep down into the Earth. Maybe, if the weather is right, do it outside on bare feet. Carry on for about 1 or 2 minutes. You can do this as often as you want during the day.
4- Work with soil or clay.
It could be working in your garden, repotting plants or trying to create a nice pottery. More simply, you can use a set from a child’s pottery clay of you have some and work with it.
Rest and sleep
1- How much are you doing?
Rest really should be in big letters because so many of us are used to burn the candle at both ends. And yes even now that we are advised to stay at home, you can still do too much (for the energy YOU have at your disposal). It might be that you have started running as a form of exercise and are pushing yourself too much (Are you feeling exhausted when you are coming back home?). It might be that you are trying to do too much (be a teacher, a parent and working from home). Conserving your energy, as to not drain the Water, starts by not overdoing things.
A lot of us are guilty of that: staying up late, much too late finishing to watch a film. Scrolling through our phone….. On the top of it, the current events are often making jittery and can make sleep more elusive.
Having a routine helps both to ensure we get enough sleep and to have a more settled sleep.
Fear is the emotion associated with the Water Element and there is plenty of that around at the moment.
One way to lessen fear to be very mindful about how much news/social media we consume. Just as we often are careful of what we eat, we should be cautious of what put in our mind.
My advice would be to limit how much news you watch, how much time you spend on social media (or for me, how much research you are reading on the CV-19!!). Be mindful of what sort of feeling it’s triggering for you and whether it feeds a sense of fear and overwhelm. I found that reading the news/Facebook once a day is probably the most I can do at the moment.
Last but not least, you can also do some acupressure (putting pressure on an acupuncture point) on the sole of your feet.
You can massage for a few minute one point right on the sole of your foot.
- Kid1 is located on the sole of your foot (see photo).
- Gently massage that area (it might feel like a bruise) for 3~5 minutes on each side.
- Don’t press so hard as to hurt yourself!
Finally, you don’t have to do everything above!! Chose a couple of points to start with and see how you are getting on. Try and work them out into your routine, whatever it is at the moment and then review what is working or not working in a week.
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