Keeping ourselves well has never felt more important. With that concern come questions of immunity. How, within these limited times, confronted with the various restrictions we have in place, can we promote and improve our immune systems?
The immune system is a complex, interconnected network of cells, tissues and organs, which all work together to help the body fight infections, as well as other dis-eases. Science, in this regard, is not able as yet to provide us with full details about the intricacies of how we can enhance our immune systems. What it does provide us with however, is a growing body of research into the benefits of a healthy lifestyle not only for our physical and mental wellbeing, but also as a beneficial factor towards our immunity.
Research is still ongoing into the relationship between immune response and our lifestyles. What is clear, however, is that immunity is not based on one single, isolated entity, but rather reliant upon the wellness of the system as a whole. In order for us to develop and sustain a healthy, strong immune system, we must seek to create harmony and balance within our own bodies.
We know of course that there are many things we can do to improve our lifestyles. From eating more healthily and drinking plenty of water, to ensuring we get plenty of rest and good quality sleep, as well as plenty of exercise. But there is also growing research being carried out into the benefits of embodied practices, such as yoga, mediation, music therapy and dance/somatic therapy, which can promote overall wellness and help to boost our immune system in the process.
Supporting Immunity Through Cellular Consciousnessg
Our wellbeing comes in many forms. The benefits to someone who engages in mindful practice can be extensive, including the link between emotions and immunity. Learning to cultivate a positive attitude and outlook to life, reducing stress and improving our mood and our relationships and responses to others, are all important factors in contributing towards our overall health.
Similarly, spending time outdoors in nature, breathing the fresh air, feeling the breeze against our face, listening to the sounds of nature and allowing ourselves to feel the heat of the sun on our skin are all important factors in enabling us to feel calm, at ease, grounded and ultimately, well in our whole psycho-physical selves.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of our bodies is its ability to continuously learn. Our bodies carry within them our histories. Not only do they bear the physical scars and passing of time – from aging skin and stiff muscles, to evidence of prior falls and injury – but our very cells and organism are affected by our daily choices and actions.
Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen states that our histories, memories and habits are stored within the body’s nervous system. Each new experience felt in the present is interpreted and recorded in relation to our prior experiences. As such, considered in terms of embodied experience, learning is a form of knowing, sensing and being aware of and alert to the moment, to the present while the nervous system functions as a recording mechanism.
In order for our bodies to truly learn and for new experiences to be wholly obtained, Bainbridge-Cohen, suggests that we need to release the nervous system, so that “a new cellular experience can come into being” (Bainbridge-Cohen, 2012: 161). In this way, new experiences, new connections, new pathways can be created and therefore ‘learnt’. It is this relationship, this “dialogue between present cellular and past nervous system experience” (ibid), which when truly combined allows our bodies to ‘learn’ in a psycho-physical way. Of course, true learning occurs when the two – cellular unconscious and nervous-system unconscious – combine together in a continuum, each informing the other in a truly symbiotic fashion.
“In other words, when one’s consciousness is centred on the brain, the cells are peripheral or in the unconscious, when one’s consciousness is centred on the cells, the brain is peripheral or in the unconscious. They can also be integrated into a single consciousness or both remain in unconscious.” (ibid.)
But how can we achieve this balance? How can we explore and experience in a way which engages the ‘present cellular’? What activities can we do and engage in to enhance our psycho-physical ‘learning’, to deepen our wellbeing and promote our immunity?
Like so much other embodied practice, Bainbridge-Cohen suggests starting with the breath.
Consider the breath as the life force which connects us to our inner selves, as well as the outer world. It is a most basic, instinctual action, the very first one we take upon being born. It is your guide.
Take some time to simply be present with your breath. Follow its pattern, its rhythm and journey through your body. Allow your mind to focus simply on this, as you breathe in the air and allow it to fill your lungs. Notice that moment, between the inhalation and exhalation. Sense the breath as it travels back, through your body and out into the world around you. A continuous relationship.
Focus your awareness deeper, sensing the breath on the layers of your skin, your organs, your very cell. Allow yourself to exist in this present moment. Sense the power of the breath, as it activates the cells within your body, energises you and allows you to sense and perceive your inner depths.
In focusing upon the breath, you allow yourself to re-centre, to be truly engaged in the now and to create inner balance. The breath allows you to become reinvigorated and re-energised, to open your awareness to your self and to others around you. Through the breath, you can become truly active and present in the moment.
Bainbridge-Cohen, Bonnie 2012, Sensing, Feeling and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering, Third Edition, Contact Editions, Northampton MA.