Updated: November 5th, 2020
We’ve got a few more weeks left of winter—wouldn’t it be great to stay strong and healthy during this time? We asked several faculty members from our yoga, nutrition, herbal medicine, health and wellness coaching, and acupuncture and Oriental medicine programs to answer this question: What are some of the top tips you’d give a client to help them maintain a strong immune system during this time of year?

Oscar Coetzee, assistant professor in the Nutrition and Integrative Health programs
“Without a question two things that can help bolster the immune system are making sure you’re getting enough zinc and vitamin C. These are both measurable through a zinc tally and vitamin C lavage (flush). Once a person has adequate values of these two vital nutrients, then the common winter time bugs like the cold and flu don’t seem to interfere. It’s also important to alter your diet in the winter and include things such as warming broths, soups and hot teas that boost immune function. There is also growing research and literature to support the use of certain types of mushrooms for fortifying immunity.”

Bevin Clare, associate professor in the Herbal Medicine programs:
“Immunity is about strength within. Fundamentally, this would come from quality food, sleep, and nourishment as well as adequate movement and stress management. Additionally, there are plenty of botanicals which can be helpful to promote a more effective immune response. Garlic, generally as a food and cooked as little as possible, is one of the best herbs we have for this because it literally comes out of your respiratory system after you consume it, which is where many wintertime pathogens enter the body. Another is ginger, a favorite and delicious tea with lemon and a bit of honey. Echinacea can be used as a tincture or capsule for times when you feel like you need a bit more protection. Lastly, most hot teas made from herbs offer at least some antioxidant and nutritional support and are a wonderful addition to any healthy lifestyle for winter time protection.”

Jeff Millison, academic director of the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine programs:
“It is important to live in harmony with each season. In the winter season, nature is at its darkest and most quiet time of year. Animals hibernate and seek deep rest, while plants recede deeply into the ground to gain potency for the coming spring. Life slows almost to a stop. Rest is maximized, as opportunities for reflection and rejuvenation are at their peak. So, the main recommendation I’d give a client to help them maintain a strong immune system this time of year: rest. When possible, follow the example of the winter sun, and get to sleep earlier and rise a bit later. In addition, winter is an ideal time to practice stillness. Given that it’s the time of year when nature is in its deepest and quietest state, it’s an ideal environment (and a great teacher) for practicing meditation and cultivating the ability to be quiet and still. It is in the quiet, stillness, and depth of winter, that soulful reflection and self-examination can most deeply take place. It is an ideal time to reconnect with what is most important to us at our core.”

Judy Ford, interim program manager of the Health and Wellness Coaching programs:
“Both in my own personal life experience and in my life work as a coach for women, I have found that one of the most powerful tools we have for maintaining health, healing, and wellness, at any time of year, is sourced from within. The power of our mind to create our experiences of and with our bodies (as well as our external life experiences) simply cannot be over-exaggerated. We all know the saying ‘You are what you eat,’ well, just as true, is ‘You become what you think about.’ Whatever we consistently put our attention to (i.e., think about, worry about, focus on, etc.) the underlying energy of that becomes manifested in our lives and in our bodies – we really are that powerful. Worry; anxiety; subjecting ourselves to all forms of negative thinking (i.e., violence, rage, cynicism, judging ourselves and others negatively, gossiping, etc.) can all lead to stress not only of our minds and emotions but also in our bodies. Stress in our bodies contributes to weakened immune systems and makes our bodies less able to fight off bacteria and cold and flu viruses.”

Steffany Moonaz, associate academic director of the Integrative Health Sciences Department and faculty in the Yoga Therapy program:
“There are two primary ways that yoga can provide immune support. The first is by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, which turns off the fight or flight response. Many of us live with chronic stress, which impacts all aspects of our life. This can alter immune function because the body prioritizes the immediate stressor (like being chased by a lion… or a deadline) over the ongoing basic function of fighting minor contagions. A gentle yoga practice that includes deep breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, and restorative poses can help to mitigate these effects of stress. The other impact yoga can have is on the lymph system. Lymph is a fluid in the body that helps carry out bacteria, viruses and other substances that can make us sick. Unlike blood, there is no organ to keep lymph pumping through our body. Lymph relies on movement, especially of the leg muscles, to pump it through our bodies. Inversions, or poses that put us upside-down, can also help to carry lymph through the body and therefore excrete pathogens more effectively. Inversions can be simple (like folding forward) or challenging (like headstand). It is important to consult with your medical provider and a trained yoga teacher or therapist before beginning a yoga practice, and especially before tackling any challenging poses.”