Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mental Armor: Boosting Immunity With Your Thoughts

The Winter Holidays are here, and for many of us that means getting a lot more exposure than our norm.  Holiday gatherings are fun, but they can also be stressful: whether we are entertaining friends and family, attending parties thrown by others or just spending more time out shopping, we are coming into contact with all sorts of people... and all sorts of organisms.  The Holidays are also cold and flu season, so it's a good idea to have a disease fighting arsenal available; and I'm not referring to the medicine cabinet. 

An image that came to me recently when I thought about immunity was a set of invisible armor that protects my body from all sorts of invaders.  I was thinking of someone I loved very much, and I thought, "I will wear this love like a suit of armor.  It will warm me when I am cold and protect me when I am in danger."  The picture in my mind was of golden, glowing light, surrounding my body, like an aura.  I then started thinking about how we can protect ourselves from all manner of ills by simply adopting a positive attitude and thinking love-filled thoughts that energize, rather than deplete us.

A teacher of mine recently told our class, "Whatever you do over the course of this year, don't get sick.  Just don't."  The setting of the class is a hospital, and part of her instruction had to do with the avoidance of carrying contagious organisms around the hospital and back into our homes.  But her verbal command, "don't get sick," had everything to do with attitude.  I was reminded of many winters in the past when I had to take finals for college, grad school or law school, and I willed myself to be well for the duration of exams.  I didn't drop my guard when exams were over, because I wanted to enjoy the ensuing break.  The time in my life when I contracted the greatest number of illnesses was when I worked in a job that I disliked.  The job wasn't particularly stressful.  However, I wasn't focused on staying strong and "up," so I got sick more.  I let my mental and spiritual guard down.  Even though it has been extensively proven that stress negatively impacts the immune system, the stress of the bar exam or other similar tests didn't make me sick.  In those instances, my thoughts and attitude protected my physical health.

In this season, we can all use some extra help with immunity, so I brainstormed and came up with some methods I regularly use to strengthen my immune system.  Some of them come from yoga and spiritual practice, and others are simply based on personal experience.  Try some out and if I see you at a holiday party, let me know what you think:

  1. Visualization:  When you are starting to feel crappy, pull on the power of your imagination.  In a concrete sense, visualize your immune response.  Imagine your immune cells mounting a defense in your body, circulating through your blood and organs and fighting off foreign invaders.  (The first time this worked for me I was 12 years old, lying in sick in bed on vacation; I concentrated as hard as I could on my lymph glands and immune cells and visualized them fighting off my illness.  It worked and I got up and enjoyed the rest of my vacation.  I will never forget that!)
  2. Affirmation:  An affirmation is nothing more than repeating a selected phrase to yourself, out loud or in your mind, to bring about a desired result.  So in terms of immunity, even saying to yourself, "I am not going to get sick," may be all you need.  A busy father told me at church last weekend, "I cannot afford to get sick, so I'm not," referring to his kids' illnesses coinciding with his increased work load.  My husband says similar things when our kids get sick: "I don't plan on getting this."  Almost invariably, the affirmation works for him. 
  3. Fantasy:  No matter what kind of negative sensations you are experiencing, from a bad mood to a sore throat, you can use fantasy to flood your body with endorphins.  Endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones, are really goooood for all of your bodily systems, including your immune system.  You can produce more endorphins at will.  Isn't that cool?  It is well-known that exercise ups your endorphin levels, and so does laughter.  Simply thinking about things, people and experiences you love also creates endorphins.  Good, old-fashioned (or modern) daydreaming can help you boost your immune system.  To relieve stress, and start feeling better, put your mental focus on something good.  It can help to think about your significant other and the fun plans you are making... or the last time you had a really great time together, in or out of the bedroom.  This one works wonders.  
  4. Prayer:  Turning over your health concerns to the care and protection of God, however you like to call Him/Her, is a powerful practice.  Prayer shapes our thoughts and our energy.  When I am praying for myself or a loved one who is ill, I like to invoke Archangel Raphael.  The name Raphael means, "God heals."  
  5. Physicality: Everything I just listed has to do with using thoughts to enhance immunity; obviously the way we treat our bodies is just as crucial, if not more so.  Teachers, parents and doctors teach us that "diet and exercise" are the keys to good health... probably because they are.  I like to use yoga breathing techniques, such as breath of fire, to strengthen immunity.  I also believe in the power of inversions to stimulate the lymphatic system and boost immune response.  There are lots of fun ways to get your head below your heart.  I will include links at the bottom of this post for suggestions on how to spend some fun time upside down. Last but not least, if you want to fight off illness, eat good food.  Vegetables.  Lots of them.  During the winter, I eat a lot of extra vegetables.  Just last night I served three vegetable sides with dinner.  My nutritionist friend recommends a hearty, homemade tomato-based pasta sauce to boost immunity.  I am a big fan of this, myself.  Use lots of garlic, crushed tomatoes, diced bell peppers and plenty of spices.  Cayenne is a great immunity booster.  






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