IMMUNE SYSTEM - A MIRACLE OF NATURE

WHAT NOURISHES US AND WHAT THREATENS OUR HOMEOSTASIS?

OVERVIEW

Our immune system does not shield us, it does not separate us from the outside world, and it does not distinguish between "foreign" and "own". This consideration is just as obsolete as the harsh words that are always used in connection with the immune system. We are not in a constant "defense struggle" and bacteria are not "hostile" or have to be "fought". Quite the opposite! Everything we take in through our skin and mucous membranes is foreign. Also vitamins and nutrients, everything we drink, eat and come into direct contact with. If it were the task to fight all this off, we would not be able to survive. So what is the requirement for our immune system, whose activity is repeatedly described as "strengthening the immune defenses"? If we look at it in a differentiated way, it is its task to distinguish between what nourishes us and what endangers us. This highly complex system works together with all other systems and is ready at any moment and usually able to maintain or restore our balance - homeostasis. We are a u c h our immune system. Our mind and body are not somehow connected; that would imply separation. They are one; we are one. All the components within us are connected to all the circumstances around us, as well as all the thoughts we have, experiences we have had, feelings and activities. It is nice that this millennia-old realization is becoming more and more accepted in medicine and science. Numerous studies are leading to a slow and fundamental shift in paradigms. It is evidence-based completely clear that our perspective on the respective situation and our handling of it have a great influence also on the regulatory processes in the body that run as autonomous.

For didactic reasons and to approach understanding, we can nevertheless separate individual components of the immune system. We look at the structure of the immune system and take a simple but deep look at its functions and interactions. If all goes well, this deepens our understanding of how and why every breath, everything we eat, and even what we think and feel and the meaning we attach to an activity have a major impact on immune system function.

To feed our intellectual understanding, we can roughly distinguish two major domains - the innate and the acquired immune system - and within them three delineable functional units.

INNATE IMMUNE SYSTEM

Already when we come into the world, mostly as small human beings after development in the womb, we are able to distinguish nourishing from dangerous and to absorb the former. After the relatively protected time in utero, we enter a world full of foreign properties, substances, pathogens and nutrients. Some of these are vital, others deadly. Our skin and mucous membranes are the first contact surfaces, and their quality is crucial. The innate immune system quickly springs into action, controlling, tagging and enveloping, redirecting or killing everything we come into contact with. It works continuously and the so-called microbiome is its external, important barrier. Countless bacteria, viruses, parasites and inorganic substances are on our skin - outside and inside - , forming a thin layer of cells that is highly specialized highly active especially at the orifices of the body. The microbiome differs according to localization and requirements and is individually different, it is alive and develops with each contact with the outside world even before our birth. The broader we are positioned, the better the sluice function into the interior of the body works. Good and helpful bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. must be let in and others kept out. The sleeping sand that we sometimes remove from our eyes in the morning is a sign of successful defense. It is dead bacteria and other invaders that would otherwise have entered the body through the eyes.

Once a foreign element, creature or virus has penetrated the first layer of the skin-microbiome barrier, the second layer of the innate immune system with structures located inside the body takes over further control and coordination. Pathogens or substances that are considered dangerous are recognized, marked and enveloped or immediately killed. Important factors of this second barrier are the complement system, messenger and communication substances such as interleukins and cytokines, tumor necrosis factor and many others, as well as the white blood cells - i.e. the lymphocytes and leukocytes with their many subcategories. Good coordination of all these cells and messengers is the key to establishing or maintaining our homeostasis.

The innate immune system communicates the danger (interleukin), labels the invaders (complement system involved), and ensures that they are killed and removed (killer cells and so on).

ACQUIRED OR ADAPTIVE IMMUNE SYSTEM

The acquired immune system is the second major area of our resilience and creates our actual immunity. To be immune is to be unaffected, resilient and stable. This area is cellular and localized, residing in the stem cells of the bone marrow in adults and producing the antibodies (IgM, IgG, IgA) by mimicking the foreign bodies in their form and creating proteins that are quickly mobilized in the event of a new unwanted invasion to avert the danger.

It helps to be clear about the fact that this second area is adapted from the moment of our conception, that is, it is adapted and develops throughout our lives. This development is necessary to ensure a stable inner equilibrium of all systems and cells, of our thinking and feeling, and of our interaction and resilience in dealing with everything that surrounds us, in the constantly changing milieus of our environment. Our so-called homeostasis is in constant change and describes our individual flow equilibrium. Those who are now puzzled and wonder what our thinking and feeling have to do with our acquired immunity may know from themselves how exactly these areas change when we are ill. Some like to be cared for, others tend to withdraw. We develop higher body temperatures, tend to be sleepy, and seek rest. Our thoughts withdraw from the outside world and what we think are important tasks, we develop sensitivity to light and feel listless and foggy.
Many tips from our grandmothers or parents, the vernacular and people versed in naturopathy use this knowledge to guide us through difficult situations or to prevent us from them. Actually, it is clear to all of us what neuroscience, in cooperation with related disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry, biology, philosophy and medicine, is now repeatedly substantiating: Everything is connected to Everything and was already explored in the ancient scriptures of India with SARVAṂ SARVĀTMAKAM as an eternal principle. What does this mean for us as human beings and especially for yoga teachers and therapists? How can we balance our immune system? What possibilities of influence do we have?

WHAT CAN WE DO TO NOURISH OURSELVES AND BALANCE OR MAINTAIN OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM?

RITUAL

In the context of yoga and Ayurveda, there is a multitude of healthy everyday rituals for which we modern people often hardly take the time. It is a ray of hope that in recent decades scientific studies have taken up these suggestions in an undogmatic way and have verified their effectiveness.
Morning and evening rituals to regulate our biorhythms have been accentuated by age research, as have rituals for individual and collective hygiene.
Mouth and teeth cleaning, oil pulling and the inclusion of morning daylight and an exercise program for daily physical exercise, breathing mindfulness and breath control protocols, routines of rest and relaxation show extraordinary effectiveness in extending our health span and age.

MOVEMENT

I can't think of any disease that can't be influenced by adjusting physical activity. Be it walking or regular workouts, Āsana practice or other activities, they form the basis for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, prophylaxis and treatment of mental disorders, colon and breast cancer, as well as osteoporosis and sarcopenia. Our muscles are our largest and most important metabolic organ in terms of regulating blood lipids, sugar levels and much more. As well as possible, as varied and gentle as possible and performed regularly, exercise is one of the pillars of our health.

SLEEP

The importance of sleep for regeneration and thus for keeping the body and mind healthy or becoming healthy cannot be emphasized enough. Every single cell uses the rest period to create new free space and gather energy through numerous processes including autophagy. Our brain cleans up, sorts, stores and activates the glymphatic system during the night. Without sleep hygiene, the quality of sleep in our modern lifestyle suffers and affects our health in many ways.
Inadequate, disturbed, and poor sleep can impact performance, cognition, and feelings of security. In addition, poor sleep quality has social and economic consequences and predisposes people to obesity, excessive daytime sleepiness, accidents, arterial hypertension, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, depression, and anxiety.

FOOD

We are also what we eat and drink - so far an ancient insight of Ayurveda. In the meantime, we are not only subjectively aware that many foods make us heavy or light, promote osteoarthritis or significantly affect mobility and our mood, but also arrived in the mainstream of medicine and nutritional advice due to the clear research results. It is important to be well hydrated, to consume enough water and few other artificially fortified beverages, to avoid alcohol (no - red wine is not healthy) and to eat regularly not only balanced, fresh, local and seasonal, but also to include fermented foods in the diet for the sake of the intestinal microbiome and thus to do a great service to your own health.

GOOD THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

These have catapulted psychosomatics out of the esoteric corner in large, double-blind and randomized studies. That we can become ill from worry, anxiety, or prolonged stress has been known and accepted for a very long time. The opposite - that is, the healing effects of confidence and self-efficacy - have long been the stepchild of research and the orthodox medical approach. The effects of positive thoughts and cultivation of helpful feelings have been proven beyond doubt on the size and spread of cancers, inflammation of the musculoskeletal and respiratory systems, cardiovascular disease. So who else could stop us - except ourselves - from practicing exactly this. Meditation does not require devices, candles or special techniques, the cultivation of positive affirmations, visualization of beneficial images or mantra recitation work independently of special techniques, alone or in community.

SPIRITUALITY

Our calm, serene inner state of mind has a great influence on our health. The path inward or the effort to gain deeper insights and understanding into more complex interrelationships can lead to giving our lives more meaning and content. It does not matter whether one feels attached to a religion or whether one attaches any importance to the divine dimensions of our existence. It is rather a matter of feeling that we are connected with everything around us, that we do not wander through our lives self-sufficiently and alone. Whatever approach we choose to give meaning to our lives and positive significance to our activities beyond our own self-centered being leads independently to greater vitality, alertness and health.

LIFESTYLE

We are how we live, or show me your living room and I'll tell you who you are is not always true, but most of the time. We shape our reality continuously ourselves and continuously our actions have an effect on us. This realization is as ubiquitous and old as the philosophical systems in all cultures themselves. The importance of living in synchronization with the nature of which we are a part, maintaining good social contacts and closeness, helping each other, listening and connecting go beyond the currently widespread lifestyle ideas of nicer living, better eating and luxurious vacations. What really matters about healthy aging is not available with convenience and most advanced amenities. More and more, the realization is gaining ground that we should attach more importance to the evolutionary history of becoming human. Cold and heat, heat and rain, daylight from sunrise to sunset, darkness at night, hunger and abundance, challenges and relaxed rest, fellowship and conversation, singing and dancing... are exceedingly important factors for a well-trained immune system and thus - it has hopefully become clear - our overall health.
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