An autoimmune disorder occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune disorders – arthritis, multiple sclerosis, pernicious anemia, vitiligo, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, Addison’s disease, Type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease to name a few.
Our immune system, which protects the body against external illnesses, turns into a foe by attacking the body itself. This response occurs due to excessive invasion by foreign entities like chemicals & viruses.
The white blood cells are sent by the immune system to fight a battle that never existed, leading to inflammation of the tissues, joints, muscles, etc. Autoimmune diseases are complex and as Dr. Hyman (M.D., American Physician and New York Times Best Seller) states that ”If you want to cool off inflammation in the body, you must find the source. Treat the fire, not the smoke.” Yoga and Ayurveda have emerged to be our saviours, with a range of postures and herbs.
A survey states that 200 breast cancer patients survivors when they started doing yoga, twice a week for 90 minutes showed a substantial decrease in stress and fatigue levels (major contributors in autoimmune diseases) comparison to those who never practiced it. The three markers of inflammation were lowered by 10% to 15%.
Ironically until the last 10 years, the phenomena of one’s body attacking oneself was unbelievable and there was no substantial proof to testify the same. Various scientific studies testify the phenomena now, but unfortunately there is no direct medicine for the same.
The physician still tends to the inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases by suppressing the pain with aspirins, martins and steroids. This paves a pathway for dramatic side effects and later on excessive aggravation of the suppressed pain.
As per Donna Jackson Nakazwa (author of The Autoimmune Epidemic: Bodies Gone Haywire in a World out of Balance) the number of affected people are as high as one in 12 and one in nine women, as women are more susceptible to such ailments.
Healing Autoimmune with Yoga and Meditation
Autoimmune diseases results due to a lack of proper communication between the brain and the immune system. When a person is fighting an infection, the immune system reaches and starts battling against the invader. The immune system sends signals to the brain and in turn the brain releases stress hormones like Cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and stops fighting when the fight is no more needed.
Just like every battle requires an exit strategy, brain too offers an exit strategy to the immune system. But in a highly stressful scenario like our present social environment, the brain is either producing excess or less quantity of the stress hormones, which gives rise to an imbalance in the exit strategy of the immune system. An excess or lack of antibodies gives rise to inflammation, lower immune function, low thyroid function, etc. Therefore stress is one of the biggest factors to autoimmune diseases.
Stimulating the parasympathetic system in the body, Yoga and Meditation have known to reduce stress levels considerably. Yoga and meditation allows a lateral shift of awareness, and helps us understand the phenomena of letting go. Many patients have reported that yoga has cured a major part of the disease not just physically but mentally as well. Acceptance of who we are can open gateways that are invisible otherwise.
Yoga essentially brings the awareness to the present moment. From breath to body postures, everything is directed towards embracing reality and acknowledging the current state of affairs. A person suffering from an autoimmune disease can face an erratic wave of symptoms, like sometimes very high symptoms and other times low, or no disease at all. Regular practice of yoga will help bring balance in life and health situations as well. The brain learns to create abundance of positivity that the past negativity is overlooked.
When one’s body starts attacking itself, there is a feeling of betrayal faced by our body on an everyday basis. Yoga inculcates the practice of a compassionate and understanding approach in the mind of the practitioner. By allowing one to trust their inner instincts and become fully aware of the present moment, yoga and meditation frees the body from the shackles of treachery.
Yoga Nidra Meditation
Yoga Nidra, literally translates to ‘sleep during yoga’, is a state of conscious deep sleep that allows us to touch the subconscious mind and feel the bliss of cosmic union with regular practice.
It induces a state of deep relaxation and inner awareness. Yoga Nidra can release muscle tension, lower blood pressure, slow down the heart rate, regulate breathing and rebalances the mind, body and spirit.
How to – Lie down on your back in Corpse pose (Shavasana). Place a bolster to support your low back or a folded blanket under your head, if you aren’t comfortable. Take few slow deep breaths. Now move your awareness through each part of the body, starting with your right foot. Focus there for a few seconds, while relaxing your foot. Then gently move your attention up to the right knee, right thigh and hip (again for a couple of seconds). Become fully aware of your whole right leg. Give it healing and love, if need be. Repeat this process for the left leg. Feel each breath you take.
Similarly, sense your forehead, scalp, neck, and the inside of your throat. Sense your entire body as a field of radiant sensation. Your mind should wander over each portion of your body as if you are literally touching it. Observe the sensations and the energy flowing through the channels. Feel and welcome the different emotions that might arise such as sadness, anger, or worry that are present in your body and mind. Witness your thoughts without judging them or trying to change them.
Welcome sensations of happiness, joy, or bliss emanating from your heart and spreading throughout your body. Revel in this state for a few minutes. Then, slowly and gradually come back to your waking life, feeling grateful and renewed.
Few Specific asanas for Autoimmune
Postures like Downward dog, child pose, corpse pose and inverted poses, relaxes the brain by pumping enough oxygen and blood supply thereby relaxing the whole body. Inverted poses helps relax the suspended heart by placing it in a restful situation.
With 84,00,000 asanas, there is probably a cure for almost all sorts of diseases. For instance, in Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis disease, there are poses to stimulate and balance the thyroid gland. Bow Pose, Shoulder stand, Cobra pose, Plough pose and Fish pose are few postures that can have a great healing effect.
Autoimmune diseases, as stated, have a tendency of travelling in clusters. That is to say that they will affect more than one area of the body at once. In the wake of multiple symptoms, the consumption of drugs to cure diseases can lead to limited positive effects. Therefore, incorporating yoga would only lead to an active, positive state of mind and quicker recovery of the body.
Diet and Autoimmune diseases
A wholesome diet, free from artificial sweeteners, color, flavours, preservatives, GMOs, etc. can be a highly beneficial in treating and overcoming autoimmune diseases. A diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables, organic content, and fibre is what we should aim for while we are detoxifying our body from the effect of this illness.
All forms of processed foods, gluten, dairy products including caffeine should be avoided at all cost to avoid aggravation of inflammation. Adaptogen herbs, such as Indian Genseng, Gotu Kola, Mineral Pitch and Chyawanprash can be highly beneficial, because they can eliminate the effect of stress levels on the body. Meat eaters need to be extra cautious as they might be consuming animals that are raised by injecting antibiotics and other hormones. Therefore, opt for organic meat as much as possible.
With a conscious awareness of the symptoms and acceptance of the illness, a reformation path can be created with yoga. Even if, one is not suffering from any form of autoimmune diseases, it is best to avoid food that contain GMO, preservatives or are processed in nature. The simplest way to reach the pinnacle of good health is to go organic all the way, even if it is planting a small tomato plant in your home. Every step counts.