Simple Practices to Support Immune Health in Winter
In the Southern Hemisphere we’re in the frosty depths of winter, the season that invites us to protect our inner resilience and support our immune health. Medicinal mushrooms go a long way in helping to strengthen our innate immune response, but their action is enhanced when we’re moving in harmony with the seasons and working to cultivate a strong foundation of health.
Winter is a time when we, in reflection of the natural world around us, draw within. Matter and energy concentrate. It's a time of apparent quiet, but beneath the surface lies the building blocks of potential to bloom in spring. With this in mind, we use this season to slow down a little, build our energy reserves and focus on fortifying our physical and mental space.
These are our top lifestyle practices to naturally move in harmony with winter and support our inner resilience mentally and physically.
Warm the Body with Breathwork:
Practice breathwork exercises that generate internal warmth. Deep belly breathing is great for warming and relaxation while Kapalabhati (skull-shining breath) can help warm up your body, stimulate the brain and enhance circulation.
Fortify Body and Mind with Meditation or Yoga Nidra:
The stillness of Winter can prompt a sense of deep introspection and it’s often a time when our mental and emotional health can be in need of a little extra support. A regular meditation practice has been shown to not only help bring clarity to mental clutter but reduce stress levels and enhance immune function. We love mantra meditation or focused attention meditations for building mental and emotional resilience. Or if you find a regular meditation practice challenge to start and uphold, you might want to consider Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra, also known as ‘yogic sleep’ is a system of meditation that deeply rejuvenating for body and mind and it's incredibly easy to practice. You simply need to lie down, make yourself comfortable and let a Yoga Nidra recording take you on a journey. If you’re interested in giving Yoga Nidra a try here’s a link to a free 25-minute practice recorded by Tara, who when she’s not immersed in the world of mushies also teaches meditation.
Release Stagnation Through Movement:
It can be easy to let our regular exercise regime slip away during the cooler months. However, movement is crucial for not only releasing stagnation and maintaining the flow of energy within our bodies but circulation, flushing blood and lymph fluid throughout our vital systems.
If working out or training at your regular intensity is feeling draining on your overall energy levels supplement some of your sessions with gentler activities like yoga, free movement, or a brisk walk. Find an activity that resonates with you and makes you feel alive, even when the temperature drops.
Research indicates that exercise boosts the production of endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones, which can alleviate stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. Additionally, regular physical activity enhances the functioning of our immune system and can lower inflammation, helping to ward off illnesses and promote longevity. So, bundle up and get moving!
Prioritise Sleep to Rest and Rejuvenate:
With the shorter days and longer nights, mother nature provides a big hint in winter. Get more sleep!
7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to allow your body to restore and rejuvenate. Sleep provides essential rest and allows for physiological processes such as tissue repair, regulation of innate immunity, hormone regulation, and memory consolidation to occur, promoting overall physical and mental well-being. If falling asleep easily isn't your strongest suit, establishing a nightly wind-down ritual that provides strong signals that it's time to rest can help. Additionally, Reishi mushroom and Lion’s Mane mushroom are both well known for their ability to support quality sleep and alleviate states of insomnia. To dive deeper into this topic visit our Journal Entry ‘The Benefits of Reishi and Lion’s Mane Mushrooms for Sleep’.
Rug Up and Conserve Energy:
During winter, our body needs to use more energy to keep us warm. Our body is consistently working to maintain a constant internal temperature. This increased energy expenditure is primarily achieved through processes such as shivering, increased metabolic rate, and vasoconstriction, all of which help generate and retain heat in order to keep our body warm. There's some truth in the saying 'You'll catch a cold.' While cold exposure like cold plunges can do wonders for our overall resilience by instigating the process of hormesis the phenomenon where exposure to low levels of physical stress has a beneficial effect on health and reliance, ongoing cold exposure can tip the balance making our body work increasingly hard to keep up and take its toll on our immune response. Rug up, paying special attention to the neck, feet and torso keeping yourself snug and protected.
Catch Some Sunlight for Mood and Immune Support:
While the winter sun may be less intense, exposing ourselves to its gentle rays remains important for our mental and physical health. Sunlight is crucial for our bodies to produce vitamin D, a vital nutrient that plays a significant role in immune function, serotonin production to help support our mood and keep our circadian rhythm in check. Take this as a permission slip to enjoy some responsible sunbathing! For additional mood and cognitive support, Lion's Mane mushroom can be a great ally. To dive deeper check out our Journal Post Lion’s Mane’s Benefits for Supporting Cognitive Health.
Medicinal Mushrooms for Immune Support and Resilience in Winter:
Of-course medicinal mushrooms were going to make the list! One of the active compounds in medicinal mushrooms, beta-d-glucans, have the potential to bolster our immune system by amplifying the activity of our white blood cells, such as natural killer cells, promoting both innate and cell-mediated immune functions. While most medicinal mushrooms support the immune system to varying degrees our top mushies for the winter months are Reishi, Turkey Tail, and Chaga. These three medicinal mushrooms have been used for centuries for their regenerative and adaptogenic effects, helping to boost immune defences.
Herbs for Immune Support:
Incorporating immune-boosting herbs into our diet can offer additional support during winter. Some of our favourites are echinacea, elderberry, ginger, and garlic which are renowned for their immune-enhancing properties and have been used traditionally for centuries.
Echinacea and elderberry, have been shown to stimulate immune cell activity and reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms. Ginger and garlic possess antimicrobial properties and can help ward off infections. Adding these herbs to our daily meals or enjoying them in teas and tinctures can provide an extra layer of immune support during the colder months.
Spices for Immune Support:
Spices not only add flavour to our meals but also harbour immune-boosting properties. Turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper are just a few examples of spices that can support our immune system and provide an internally warming effect.
Turmeric is well known as a supreme anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper also boast antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Sprinkle these spices into your dishes to add warmth, flavour, and a resilience boost to your winter meals.
Prebiotic and Probiotic-Rich Foods:
A healthy gut is intimately linked to a robust immune system. Including prebiotic-rich foods like onions, garlic and our very own Turkey Tail mushroom, as well as probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, and kefir, can support a diverse and balanced gut microbiome.
A flourishing gut microbiota enhances immune function and helps fend off pathogens. Prebiotics nourish the beneficial bacteria in our gut, while probiotics introduce beneficial microbes directly. By incorporating these foods into our diet, we create an environment conducive to immune resilience and overall well-being.
Get Out into Nature and Bring Nature In:
Prioritising our time in nature is thought to support both physical and mental well-being - reducing stress, reducing blood pressure and promoting feelings of happiness and contentment. It can also be a good time to step away from the screen and with all of that clean air and natural beauty what are you waiting for? Additionally, bringing nature indoors with flowers, plants and natural light has been shown to have a big impact on how we feel.
These are some of the practices we embrace in the winter months to bolster our physical and mental resilience. Let us honour the rhythms of the season, nourish our bodies with immune-boosting foods, and cultivate a mindset of resilience that will carry us through this wintry embrace and into the vibrant blossoming of spring. Stay warm, stay well, and thrive in the face of winter's chill!