Breath of fire strengthens your breathing muscles

Breath of fire is a yoga breathing technique that has many benefits, including strengthening the breathing muscles. This is timely, given that one of the early symptoms of COVID-19 may include shortness of breath, which after 5-10 days may turn into quite difficult breathing.

Even mild cases can last several weeks and require breathing exercises that physicians are prescribing. Pulmonary doctors in hospitals are working hard to figure out exactly what’s happening with the lungs and with oxygen intake when COVID turns serious, and whether (and how) the protocol for putting patients with difficulty breathing on ventilators (if even available) needs to be changed.

It makes sense to me, given that there’s no vaccine or immunity to this novel virus and they’re still figuring out how best to treat severe cases, to prepare for the worst, and strengthening breathing muscles is one way to do that.

My experience with breath of fire

I’ve written about breath of fire before, because it helped me reduce the discomfort of a hiatal hernia, which involves the opening in the diaphragm for the esophagus to pass through to the stomach.

I’d had occasional discomfort for a while. One day, after a group meditation in a biodynamics class, it suddenly came to my mind that this technique, which I’d learned in a yoga class years previously, could help.

I started practicing it, and it did help. It’s rare for me to feel any hiatal discomfort now after 2.5 years of regular practice.

The anatomy

The diaphragm Is a dome-shaped muscle that separates the chest cavity (containing heart and lungs) and the abdominal cavity (containing liver, gallbladder, pancreas, stomach, spleen, kidneys, adrenals, bladder, small and large intestines, and reproductive organs).

The muscle attaches to the bottom of the rib cage (higher in front, lower in back).

When we do diaphragmatic breathing on the inhalation, the dome of the diaphragm flattens and our rib cages and bellies expand. When we exhale, the dome of the diaphragm moves up and our rib cages and bellies narrow.

Other breathing muscles that breath of fire activates include the external intercostal muscles between the ribs. The major accessory breathing muscles include those surrounding the rib cage: the pectorals, trapezius, the lats, the serratus muscles, the spinal erectors, quadratus lumborum.

Because breath of fire uses forceful exhalations, the abs are also involved: rectus abdominis, the transverse and oblique abdominals, and the internal intercostals.

Other benefits

Doing breath of fire can help us to not feel so helpless when so much is beyond our control in regard to the pandemic.

It energizes the mind, fights depression, and may help with controlling diabetes, asthma, blood pressure, and obesity.

It provides your body with more oxygen. (I just took a pulse oximeter reading before doing 3 minutes of breath of fire — 96 — and after — 98.)

It may increase mental clarity and motivation, being associated with the solar plexus or power chakra, right below the diaphragm.

It massages your abdominal organs. People pay good money for this!

Because movement helps our lymph flow, doing breath of fire especially activates abdominal lymph, increasing the elimination of toxins. It’s said that 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut in the form of gut-associated lymph tissue, so breath of fire strengthens immunity.

The yoga connection

In Sanskrit, breath of fire is called kapalabhati, which translates as “forehead or skull shining”. This refers to the facial radiance of people who practice this technique regularly.

You want some of that, right?

Keep in mind: as with all yoga, you are the ultimate teacher. Listen to your body. Let it tell you when to stop. Let it tell you the pace that is right for you. Be kind.

And if you haven’t done yoga before, I recommend getting started. Yoga with Adriene is a YouTube channel with lots of classes of various lengths, including classes for beginners, and nearly 7 million followers.

Please don’t overdo it. It’s strong medicine and should not be done if you have epilepsy, have had recent surgery, or are pregnant. Kundalini yogis require that women not do it during the first three days of their menstrual periods.

To avoid muscle soreness, start with 30 seconds. It’s much kinder to build strength gradually.

Also, don’t practice it right after eating a meal!

Here’s Adriene teaching breath of fire: https://youtu.be/jbtLH-3DfLc

And go! (Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or results to relate.)

Strengthening immunity through diet

Edit: I just got this link in an email (4/2/20) and since it’s relevant to the topic of this post, I’m adding it here.

Viome is a company that tests stool for microbes and prescribes the superfoods and foods to avoid, as well as supplements, to improve your gut health.

Give Your Gut a Chance: Microorganisms and Your Immune System (https://www.viome.com/blog/give-your-gut-chance-microorganisms-and-your-immune-system).

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Okay, readers, I posted on the basics of the immune system. If you missed that post, click here to read it. Bare bones version: we have an innate immune system that immediately goes to work against pathogens, and a slower adaptive immune system that kills pathogens, remembers them, and confers immunity by producing antibodies to those specific pathogens.

Since SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) virus, our adaptive immune systems have nothing to remember, which explains why it is so contagious and why it is taking so many people down. We don’t know yet if this virus will mutate and evade adaptive memory. Can people get it twice? We don’t know.

In this post, I want to explore how what we eat and drink affects our immune systems.

In general, eating lots of fruits and vegetables is recommended for the fiber and nutrient density, as is moderate to no alcohol consumption. Maintaining a healthy weight is also recommended.

There’s a lot that we don’t know yet about the highly complex immune system, but we do know that malnourished people are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, as are the elderly. You of course are aware that you do not have to be living in poverty in a third world country to be malnourished. Diets high in processed foods (a first world problem) can result in malnourishment.

Micronutrients that affect immune responses

The micronutrient deficiencies that have been shown to alter immune responses in animals include the following:

  • zinc
  • selenium
  • copper
  • iron
  • folate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin E

Foods high in these nutrients are recommended, and if these foods are unavailable, supplements should be helpful. High quality multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help.

I found this cool website where you can select a micronutrient and see what foods are high in it. Did you know that hemp seeds are high in zinc? I didn’t.

Stomach acid declines with age, which impacts nutrient absorption

Older people are more likely to be deficient in micronutrients. One possible factor is that stomach acid production declines with age. Zinc deficiency, high sugar intake, and eating too quickly also contribute. Stomach acid helps break down food for digestion and absorption of nutrients.

A way to remedy this is to take HCl, hydrochloric acid, with meals. Chewing food thoroughly, limiting processed foods, eating fermented foods, drinking apple cider vinegar in water, and eating ginger are recommended ways to boost stomach acid production without taking an HCl supplement.

The gut microbiome influences the immune system, and vice versa

Seventy to eighty percent of immune cells are found in the gut. The gut microbiome provides antigens and influences immune system cells. Food is a foreign substance introduced into the body, and the immune system decides if it’s beneficial or a threat. These two systems regulate and support each other.

When all is well, the immune system helps maintain stability of beneficial gut microbes, and microbes support the development of immune cells, as well as fine-tuning immune responses.

Keeping the gut microbiome healthy includes:

  • Not taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary,
  • Consuming prebiotics — nondigestible fiber feeds the health-producing gut bacteria. Eat lots of veggies and fruits for fiber.
  • Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and beet kvass increases beneficial micro-organisms in the gut.

Improving gut health and reducing gut inflammation (leaky gut)

One concern about the modern diet is that it may produce systemic inflammation through gaps in the cells that line the small intestines. This is called leaky gut, or intestinal permeability. These gut lining cells produce the anti-microbial chemicals that are part of the innate immune system.

Here are some recommendations to reduce gut inflammation:

  • Avoid processed, high fat, and high sugar foods.
  • Avoid common allergens, such as wheat and dairy.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Investigate a low-FODMAP diet.
  • Add foods with probiotics (kefir, yogurt, kimchi, etc.) and take probiotic supplements.
  • Add foods with prebiotics (bananas, berries, etc.). Prebiotic supplements are available.
  • Reduce your use of NSAIDs.
  • Reduce your stress level.
  • If you smoke, quit.

Working with a nutritionist can be very helpful.

This is Day 7 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. Here’s our case count as of last night. We’ve had another death. We’ve been getting roughly 20 more known cases per day.

Expect the case count to go up quite a bit tonight. There’s a report that a group of 70 people (mostly UT students) in their 20s went to Cabo in Mexico for spring break a week and a half ago, and after returning to Austin, 28 of them have tested positive, so far. About half the cases in Austin are still those ages 20-40.

Here’s a poignant video showing the empty streets of normally bustling Austin. The sentiment at the end says it all.

One Day It Stopped

Love in the time of the coronavirus

A Facebook friend posted this poem three days ago. Asenath Avinash is also a bodyworker. Her place of employment is currently closed, but if you love this as much as I do, you could ask for her when they reopen. http://www.workwellaustin.com/

It’s a good reflection of the shift in the narrative many of us are experiencing now.

And we looked around,
and we saw ourselves,
and it was so funny, so strange
to recognize, not the selves we had
built, but the ones that were buried
out in the long backyard of our lives,
forgotten, rusted, decomposing,
presumed lost, presumed even
never to have existed,
but there they were, just like the
canal-bottoms in Venice,
waiting for us, never having gone,
never having left,
and the miracle
was being able to see clearly
what was already there.

The miracle was how quickly
the pollution vanished,
and our eyes healed,
and we looked out on a world
that was fresh and different
and we saw that businesswomen
were really poets,
and that scientists were really prophets,
and that we were all vulnerable
and worth protecting,
and that toilet paper
was a kind of false security,
and that all our systems
needed a pause and
a fresh start
and that most of us
were really, very tired.

And we rested,
and our children wondered
what is happening right now?
and we couldn’t answer.
We weren’t supposed to
touch anything
or do any work
or go anywhere,
and it felt that we were
being shown something.

So we stayed at home, and
we mowed the tall grass
and listened to birds
and gave thanks
for the garbage collectors
and the grocery clerks,
and we organized our closets
and made pots of nutritious soup,
and the introverts
turned their cameras on
and taught us
how to make crafts,
and the musicians
picked up their instruments
and walked out
their front doors
and sang in the streets,
and nothing stopped them,
not cars, not fear, and no one
thought they were lunatics,
in fact, we thanked them,
we came outside to listen
standing far apart,
and feeling our interconnection.

We understood
that something so profound
was taking place,
and that if it went on
long enough, the fireflies
would come back
into our yards
and the ladybugs
and the milky way.
The earth herself
was waking up quietly,
or rather, we were,
and we saw that maybe
we didn’t need so much
after all, maybe
in this new world, we’d find
new careers
or they would find us
if we let them,
and we wanted to
stay put and be still and
feel it out
moment by moment.
We didn’t want to touch it
with our clumsy hands
or make plans or
disturb anything,
and so we just watched it
breathing softly
and steadily
like a precious newborn.

And we knew that,
at some point,
it would probably start up again,
which was confusing,
because, yes,
we did need money,
or so we had always believed.

-AAvinash, 3/24/20

I’m learning about the immune system

I have a dear friend who is my age (60+) who sn’t worried about getting sick from the coronavirus. She is a naturopath and a homeopath and is trained in a lot of other alternative health care modalities.

She has absolute faith that her immune system is so robust that she will not get sick.

I don’t quite have that much faith, even though I’m doing a lot to stay healthy, but it made me curious about immunity.

One question I have is this: how many people are positive for the virus but have no symptoms? Is this because their immune systems are so robust that the virus keeps trying to make headway, but it just can’t?

Or, possibly, could it be because they were exposed to very little of the virus, just enough to test positive, but not as much as people who get sick?

I believe the tests are binary: either you test positive or negative. (I wish everyone could be tested frequently.) The threshold for testing positive may be low if people are carrying it but symptomless.

I’m also assuming that people in close or frequent contact with those carrying or sick with the virus would have more virus in their body and be more likely to get sick. So, nursing homes. Prisons. Cruise ships. Mardi Gras. Spring breakers packing the beaches.

Packed churches at Easter?

I want to learn more about the immune system. We’re all interested now!

I’m going to investigate that and report what I find here in plain language.

Today is Day 3 of shelter in place in Austin, Texas, USA. As of last night, we have 137 known cases and no deaths.

Interestingly, the majority of cases are in people under 40. Only 19 cases are in people 60+.

Checking in

Love in the time of coronavirus

Today is Day 2 of sheltering in place in Austin, Texas. We had 119 known cases as of last night (but no deaths so far), and we know the virus is being transmitted in the community. No one I know has it so far, that I’ve heard, but friends and relatives of friends do. The number of cases will almost certainly go up over the next two or three weeks. The hope is that then the number of cases will start declining because of first, social distancing, and now, sheltering in place.

For me, this means staying home, which I have been since Saturday, and for the week before, my outings were rare. I’ve ordered groceries online and picked them up. I have a wonderful daughter who can pick items up and bring them to me. I have groceries enough to last for at least a week, and I’m keeping a list on the fridge door of the items I run out of that I can get next time I shop (which will probably be online to be delivered or picked up curbside, but I do have a mask and gloves in case I need to venture inside a store). My fridge, freezer, and nonperishable shelves are full.

I feel pretty good about my chances of getting through this without getting sick, or of being mildly ill if I do get it. I had a cold in October that was mild and lasted two days, and I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d previously had a cold. My immune system is robust.

However, it’s unpredictable. I’m in the 60+ population and therefore considered at risk. I do yoga and dance regularly (now doing these online), I eat healthy (organic unprocessed food mostly), and I meditate, which helps keep my nervous system more balanced rather than going into stress, which is hard on the immune system. I’m working on improving my sleep, getting more deep and REM sleep according to my Fitbit.

I take really high quality supplements from Premier Research Labs and Wellevate. (I have practitioner accounts with both that you can order through if you wish.) I have homeopathic remedies on hand too. I have health insurance should I need it, and I hope that if I do, the health care system isn’t overwhelmed and can tend to me. I’m very very fortunate and grateful.

Y’all, no one is immune. This virus targets humankind. It’s a great equalizer. It doesn’t respect fame, power, talent, or riches. Movie stars, professional athletes, famous artists, royalty, and politicians have come down with it. Because it’s novel, no one has immunity, except those who have completely recovered from it.

I’m hearing people say things like “What a year this past week has been” and “there are many days in a day.” We’re in a time of rapid change.

I believe when this pandemic is over, some aspects of our lives will not go back to the way they were. This will influence people living through it for the rest of our lives. We will not take our health for granted. We will better understand the relationship between lifestyle and health. We will require that our governments take actions that support our health over corporate profits.

Dead people don’t buy stuff.

I hope the biggest takeaway is that we humans are ALL connected through our humanity. We are all dependent on this planet for our lives. Maybe we will treat each other, and our home planet, much better.

Blessings for health, immunity, resiliency, resourcefulness, and connection. 💚🙏🏽