Thoughts, from a Chinese medicine perspective, on how to Exercise Your Immune System to Support it’s Flexibility and Adaptiveness.
Without a doubt, this year has been one of the most worrisome in terms of supporting our immune systems and staying healthy. Just as masks and frequent handwashing have become a part of our new normal, so has the ongoing conversation on supporting your immune system.
By now, we are all well versed in what we can do to support our immune systems when it comes to exercise, hydration, and supplementation. From extra Vitamin C to lots of warm layers, it seems there’s no end to the list of things you can do to boost your immune system.
What if we told you that one of the best things you could do for your immune system is to focus more on its flexibility rather than endlessly “boosting” it?
Why are we interested in the immune system being “flexible’, rather than simply amplifying its response? The answer lies in the types of pathogens we are facing in the 21st century.
For example, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a novel pathogen to our bodies: our immune system has never seen anything quite like it, and therefore the reaction to it is overwhelming and colossal. In the midst of the impressive response that the body mounts to fight this invasion, the immune response overcompensates for this horrid interloper, and the white blood cells begin attacking the body’s own tissues in a turgid frenzy. This is what is called a “cytokine storm”, and this can, unto itself, be a life-threatening condition.(Think of peanut allergies: it is not the “peanuts” that are lethal, but the body’s anaphylactic response). In the above example, we need the body to adapt to the critical condition, rather than overreach. Continually boosting the immune response in such a scenario can be quite harmful.
Here at Yinova, we talk a lot about your body’s intelligence, which is intrinsically connected to your immune system.
Your body, if given the opportunity, will seek a homeostatic or balancing response to it surrounding environs. Qi, the virtually indefinable word that describes the lifeforce and our system’s innate intelligence, always will seek a state of least resistance and optimal flow throughout the body. This is the intelligence that is innate and inherent within our tissues, skeletons, organs and nervous system. All of these microscopic chemical reactions, so exquisitely timed, all moving at a terrific pace and seldom faltering, is happening automatically at all times, and that is a great wonder! All of these autonomic functions are driven by this cohesive intelligence at the cellular level. It is not necessary for us to stop and consider which of these innumerable reactions and movements needs to happen next; it is all being driven effortlessly by the blueprint and dynamic architect we call Qi.
We may also draw comparisons between our immune response and the miracle of fertility. A lot of the challenges associated with fertility and the reproductive system are based on disorders of rhythm—since our modern world continues to chide and chase us throughout unnatural extremes of adrenalin-fueled overwork, we’ve lost our connections to the rhythm of nature and the Universe. When the sun sets, we no longer place our heads down to rest. We instead use artificial lighting in harsh lumosities to continue to work and exercise well into the time meant for repose and restoration. Our pituitary gland and the diurnal/nocturnal clocks within us become unclear as to the time and season, and we are cast into a circadian nightmare.
Yet our body does not need to be prodded, artificially goaded, and cajoled into these unnatural extremes—it knows exactly what to do and when to the microsecond. For example, when you get a cut; and your skin grows back, how does it know when to stop? In fact, no one knows the exact answer to this quandary, but the body and Nature Herself continue the dizzying dance unimpeded.
This is the necessity for us to allow flexibility rather than actively boosting our systems and their directives. Another example from fertility is pregnancy: when pregnant, your immune system needs to be flexible so that it doesn’t confuse the embryo with a pathogen or foreign body, but also still needs to stay sharp so it can protect you from actual invasions that are harmful and “not you.”
Simply boosting your immune system is too broad a stroke, what we need to do is work on making our immunity flexible.
This is the genius and mastery of introducing substances into the body at the appropriate time, for everything does indeed have a season. This is the season of proper discernment, to heighten the capacity of our immune response to handle any and all calamities, but not be forced in a definitive direction that may overshoot the mark.
The most beautiful exemplars of bringing the immune response into proper equilibrium is a widely varied and medicinally delicious old friend: the mushroom. Mushrooms contain many compounds within their fruiting bodies, and these include polysaccharides (sugars), terpenes and many other constituents. The mushroom species that are medically beneficial to humans contain a wider variety of nutrients that support our natural immunity. The variety of nutrients we have mentioned are the key to a concept called immunomodulation.
Immunomodulation is the adjusting and regulation of the immune system to bring it into a more steady balance. This is important because we do not want to activate every immune cell at full power. This has been the wisdom and power of Chinese and East Asian herbal medicine for the last several millennia, where the fungus cordyceps and reishi mushroom have demonstrated tremendous resonance with our immunity. Cordyceps has been a huge benefit to protecting persons with compromised immune systems from respiratory attack (by shoring up strength where there is deficiency, and damping down inflammation where excess prevails).
The herbs that help our immune systems to modulate in the face of challenges are called adaptogens. They are some of the oldest herbs in our pharmacopeia and they support the body to modulate in the face of a variety of stressors. The stressors have changed over the many hundreds of years that people have been taking them to stay healthy, but the effects remain the same; they support our bodies’ considerable intelligence so that we can stay balanced and well, no matter what life throws at us.
If you would like advice on adaptogens or if you would like a practitioner on the team to create an herbal formula, tailored to your unique internal landscape, please reach out to us. We are happy to help & support you however you need.