Well-Being//

Strategies to Support and Fortify (vs. “Boost”) Your Immune System: Classical Chinese Medicine Wisdom for Optimal Health

"Let us never underestimate the power of giving our body, mind, and spirit what supports our highest good."

eldar nurkovic / Shutterstock
eldar nurkovic / Shutterstock

Over the past several weeks, I have received many inquiries from folks interested in ways they can “boost” their immune system.

For every person I’ve spoken with, each had a different idea of what this “boosting” should look like, and some were wanting to follow recommendations they had read about online that had claims not based in reality. While I do appreciate the sincere intention to improve their health status, I was concerned that sometimes this approach can cause more harm than good.

For example, the last thing a person with an autoimmune condition needs is something to “boost” their immune system.

These requests inspired me to write about a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for quite awhile: the importance of cultivating an optimally functioning immune system — one that is neither overactive or underactive.

Given the current pandemic, there has never been a greater opportunity to learn more about how our immune system functions so we can nurture harmony now and throughout our lifetime.

Why classical Chinese Medicine doesn’t seek to “boost” immunity (a peek into ancient wisdom for modern times)

To begin this introduction on a comprehensive approach to immunity, I’d love to share some powerful principles of Classical Chinese Medicine — an ancient system of healthcare that has been in continuous practice for thousands of years.

Instead of “boosting immunity,” Chinese Medicine seeks to fortify your immune system, reinforcing the awe-inspiring wisdom and intelligence of your body.

If you have experienced acupuncture or have taken a Chinese herbal formula to assist with a health condition, you may be familiar with the principles of Chinese Medicine.

In this system, health is not simply the absence of disease or a diagnosis; instead Chinese Medicine guides us toward a lifestyle that includes living in harmony with the Tao, our true nature.

These principles view the human body as a microcosm within the macrocosm.

As such, Chinese Medicine has a rich history of understanding, documenting and practicing the nuances of the prevention and the treatment of disease. This system has always emphasized practices of prevention for several reasons: the obvious, to prevent illness, and a little-known secret to Western culture: historically, the Doctor of Chinese Medicine did not get paid if the patients were sick. Payment was only received if the patients were well!

Before looking more into these fundamental principles, I want to draw your attention to the big picture.

Often when I am in nature (which is as much as possible!) I feel a profound connection with the wildlife and plants. I am reminded of the amazing intelligence that permeates all of these organic systems.

I think of the 8.7 million species on the planet (!) that live and reproduce and die (usually) without human assistance.

My experience on a hiking trail taking in this vast vitality often brings me to a deep sense of gratitude for the intelligence of my own body; and the magnificence of the trillions of cells that perform complex functions without my conscious awareness (as well as the intelligence that governs the life cycles of those 8.7 million other species).

We are truly and thoroughly interconnected with the natural world, even if we’re largely unaware of it.

Now, back to Chinese Medicine…

Chinese Medicine begins an inquiry by recognizing this intelligence of the body with gratitude and awe, acknowledging our interconnectedness.

Then, engaging with this intelligence, we look to see what areas need support and/or what areas need to be cleared of stagnant energy or blockages.

While this attention to our inner intelligence may sound esoteric, the application of these principles is very practical.

Let’s take a at look several principles from Chinese Medicine that will empower you to fortify — rather than boost — your immune system.

Qi, Wei Qi, and Immunomodulation

The Chinese look to the concept of Qi — pronounced “chee” — to name the life force that permeates the universe.

When applying this concept of Qi to our immune system, I often liken Qi to the profound intelligence that permeates our very being, and like the universe, is astonishingly complex and yet elegantly simple.

Rather than immune boosting, which may move you further from balance, Chinese Medicine principles look to support immunomodulation, which can be defined as the art and science of supporting the intelligence of the immune system.

Here’s an analogy: immunomodulation is like deciding to take better care of your car. With this mindset, you would change the oil filter regularly, choose better quality gas, and get timely tune-ups. Then, when you are going on a long road trip, you know your car is capable of peak performance.

The key here is harmony. You don’t want an immune system that is overactive or underactive.

Instead, it is important to reinforce and fortify with a comprehensive approach.

The fundamental principles of healing detailed in Classical Chinese Medicine have been echoed by traditional medical systems around the world as well as leading figures in the history of medicine.

Paracelsus, a Swiss physician who established the role of chemistry in medicine, believed that Man is a microcosm (or a little world) because he is an extract from all of the stars, planets, and elements of the whole firmament; we are their quintessence.

He is known for stating, “Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided.”

—Paracelsus

Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, shared the reverence for this healing force within us:

“Everyone has a doctor within him or her. We just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within us is the greatest force in getting well.”

—Hippocrates

Chinese Medicine affirms this sense of interconnection in the concept of “Wei Qi,” which is known as our protective energy, our first line of defense against all illness.

Wei Qi serves as a protective coat around the exterior of the body. Wei Qi has been an important concept in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years; it was first described over 2000 years ago in the Huangdi Neijing, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, the earliest and most important of Chinese Medicine classic texts.

In their book Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity: Understanding the Elemental Types for Health and Well-Being, Jason Elias and Katherine Ketcham describe Wei Qi as:

“a massive assemblage (more than a trillion strong) of gardeners and groundskeepers who work around the clock hoeing, weeding, irrigating, and fertilizing to assure the integrity and vitality of our internal ecosystem.”

Chinese Medicine for Maximum Immunity: Understanding the Elemental Types for Health and Well-Being,

They also describe Wei Qi as an army of sentries who guard the body, keeping it safe. As such, Wei Qi is the specific and extraordinary ability of our bodies to resist external pathogens (bacteria, viruses, allergens, etc.).

To sustain this invincible force field, Wei Qi relies on a supply of energy, and this is where our own habits and behaviors come in.

We can either weaken our Wei Qi, or we can optimize it. Many behaviors of modern life, especially in times of turmoil, tend to weaken Wei Qi!

How can Wei Qi become weakened? 

  • Unprocessed emotions, such as anger, grief, blame, fear, shame, and worry. Sometimes we hold on to these emotions for years, or we project them onto others. Either way they fester, resulting in inner disharmony. Healthy emotional expression is crucial for optimal immunomodulation.
  • Poor diet, especially where too much sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods are involved, contributing to inflammatory processes and nutrient deficiencies.
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.
  •  The overuse of antibiotics and some pharmaceuticals.
  • Too much screen timepoor sleep, and focusing more on the past or future rather than the present. 
  • Lack of time in nature.
  • Lack of enjoyable movement.
  • Lack of fresh air and sunshine.
  • Participation in toxic relationships
  • Lack of self-reflection/self-awareness.
  • Lack of humility.
  • Judgement of self and others.

Sound familiar? Many of us experience at least one of these aspects that weakens our Wei Qi.

The good news is with awareness and adjustments in our habits, we can reinforce our Wei Qi and even become stronger as we grow older.

Below are a few simple strategies to fortify and reinforce Wei Qi.

Strategy #1: Optimize your nutrition

What we eat has a significant and lasting impact on our immune health.

Chinese Medicine principles encourage nutrient-dense ways of eating, believing that food itself is medicine, keeping in line with what all traditional medical systems have emphasized throughout history. 

There is an emphasis on eating with the seasons, thereby keeping in harmony with the larger world around us.

Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, also saw the power of food. Teaching that we could find the natural healing force both within ourselves and in the food that we eat, he famously said, “Our food should be our medicine, and our medicine should be our food.”

You have likely seen conflicting information on what to eat.

Underneath the hype, what consistently rings true in research and the wisdom of the ages is to eat real food.

I know that may seem overly simplistic, however since 60% of  the American diet consists of processed foods1, it cannot be emphasized enough in our discussion of optimal immunity.

Choose nutrient-dense organic food, such as a variety of fruits and veggies, healthy proteins, and beneficial fats. Look for a variety of plants so you take in a greater array of phytonutrients. Eat what you can digest, assimilate, and eliminate well.

Eliminate refined sugar, and if you need something sweet, try dates. If you have sugar cravings, try these tips.

Finally, if you want a useful mantra for your diet, Michael Pollan, in his 2008 bestselling book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, suggests, “Eat good food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

As the 70-80% of our immune system resides in our gut, it is good to include prebiotic foods in our diet to feed our healthy bacteria.

Onions, leeks, and garlic are examples of prebiotic foods that are easy to add to your meals to assist in fortifying your immune system. To learn more, check out: “Your Best Sources of Prebiotics May Already Be In Your Kitchen”.

Another way to support optimal immunity with food is to incorporate immunomodulating mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake. They are delicious when added to a stir-fry!

Chinese medicine also offers quotable advice with this proverb:

“He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.”

Your food is an edible medicine cabinet!

Cook With An Abundance of Herbs and Spices

One of the best ways to support optimal health (and improve your culinary skills) is to incorporate herbs and spices into your everyday cooking.

Herbs and spices are very concentrated in nutrients and often have anti-microbial and immune-supportive properties. (Think of the great flavors of oregano and rosemary, or the warm comfort evoked by cinnamon.)

Some of my favorite herbs and spices to cook with include: turmericginger, cilantro, dill, cinnamon, rosemary, and oregano.

I use fresh herbs (usually in a significantly higher amount than the recipe calls for — if I even use a recipe) in virtually every meal I make. It is a great way to receive their health benefits, enjoy delicious flavors, and inspire creativity!

If you’re not sure how to use herbs in your cooking, start by following your own wisdom and creative instincts. Often your body will tell you what it needs, finding pleasure in the herbs that will support you and aversion to those that aren’t quite right at the moment. 

If you are interested in incorporating herbal medicine formulas to assist with specific health challenges, please consult with your healthcare provider who is licensed or certified in Herbal Medicine.

On Individual Nutrients and Supplements

While nutrition is your foundation, supplements can also help you support your immune system. That said, remember that supplements are just that: an addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Please don’t underestimate the power of food as a foundational piece to an optimal immune system.

There is no supplement that can take the place of good sleep, nor is there a supplement that can magically shift your immune system when it is exhausted from watching the news all day. 

Be wary of magic bullet claims in supplement advertisements.  If interested in supplementation, please consult with your healthcare practitioner to see what supplements could be beneficial for you and are not contraindicated.

All vitamins and minerals support the immune system in some way. Below I highlight some of the nutrients that help regulate the innate and adaptive immune system:

  • Zinc: This key immunomodulating mineral can be found in foods such as beef, clams, oysters, crab, legumes, nuts, egg yolks, and seeds.
  • Vitamin D: You manufacture Vitamin D in your own body, ideally from appropriate sun exposure. Many people are low and don’t know it. Given the importance of optimal Vitamin D levels for immunomodulation, it is important to get your Vitamin D level tested so your healthcare provider can advise appropriate supplementation (if needed). You may also want to consider cod liver oil as a beneficial source.
  • Vitamin C: If you are eating a nutrient-dense diet with abundant fruits and vegetables, you can get healthy amounts of Vitamin C from strawberries, citrus, and pineapple, as well as from broccoli, kale, and bell peppers. Some practitioners recommend supplementing with 1000 mg daily for added support, especially during seasonal health challenges, as Vitamin C assists in reducing oxidative stress to the cells.
  • Vitamin A: This nutrient is especially helpful in maintaining mucosal cells, which function as a barrier to infections. Vitamin A is plentiful in the diet, and is found in meat, fish, and eggs. Previtamin A (a.k.a.: beta carotene) can be found in plant foods such as sweet potatoes, kale, and carrots.
  • Selenium: Sources of this valuable immuno-supportive mineral are Brazil nuts, walnuts, and fish. 
  • Vitamin E: This vitamin assists the body in fighting infection and can be found in spinach, nuts, and seeds.

Strategy #2: Hydrate every day

While both simple and seemingly obvious, drinking plenty of water is another key to supporting your immune system.

Get tips to help you drink enough water (including fun recipes) here.

However, drinking enough (typically eight to 10 glasses a day) is only part of the hydration equation. According to Chinese dietary theory, all beverages must be room temperature or warmer… which means ice cold drinks should be minimized.

The reason is your digestive system will only absorb food or liquids that are 100 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Any cooler requires your body to expend extra energy bringing it up to temperature. This isn’t a big deal if you have the occasional cold beverage or ice cream, however if you make it a habit this can deplete your digestive fire/Qi contributing to a variety of health concerns.

For this reason, I recommend sipping on room temperature water or hot herbal (or green) teas.

Strategy #3: Practice movement and meditation regularly

It is important to enjoy moving your body on a regular basis and engaging in practices that allow you to cultivate a quiet mind.

Many studies have linked exercise to healthy immune markers. For example, the American Journal of Medicine published a year-long study in which female subjects were asked to walk for 30 minutes every day, which resulted in a 50% less chance of upper respiratory infection than women who did not exercise2.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that the practices of Qigong, Tai Chi, and meditation provide significant benefits to the immune system (and these practices all assist in cultivating a quiet mind and nervous system regulation).

For example, a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine demonstrated that Qigong exerted significant immunomodulatory effects on components of both innate as well as adaptive immune response3demonstrating how much power we have within us when we harness it.

In our consumer culture, we often lean towards “What can I take?” for a health condition. We forget that we have such potential for optimal immune functioning within us, ripe for expression, released through the enjoyable, simple (yet profound), scientifically-backed practice of Qigong, a practice that boasts thousands of years of safety and effectiveness!

Strategy #4: Sleep like your life depends on it

Common sense plus lots of experience tells most of us how important quality and quantity of sleep are for optimal immunity. There are many studies to back this up. For example, in a study reported in February 2019 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers found that a good nights’s sleep can enhance specialized immune cells called T cells. It is important to practice good sleep hygiene, especially where electronic devices are concerned. It is recommended to turn off your electronic devices at least two hours before bed, as these devices interfere with the body’s release of melatonin, the body’s sleep-inducing hormone. Personally, I notice the sleep-inducing effects of reading actual physical book at bedtime. Read about specific tips to help you sleep better here.

Strategy #5: Be aware of your emotional wellness — What are you feeling? vs. What are you feeding?

While food, water, and exercise are very important, one of the most significant contributors to healthy Wei Qi is emotional wellness.

I am around little humans and dogs of all sizes on a regular basis, and I notice how they seem to express themselves fully and then move on.

Many adults do the opposite, holding on to resentment, swallowing anger, or keeping grief pushed down as far as possible. Remember, unprocessed emotions weaken Wei Qi!

Chinese Medicine looks at all emotions simply as energy that needs to be processed in a healthy way.

I think of it as letting your emotions go through all of the cycles in a washing machine. If they get stuck in the wash cycle they are too soggy; if they get stuck in spin, they’re too dry!

To foster emotional wellness and strengthen your Wei Qi, one of the most important things you can do is to feel your feelings.

Emotional wellness is not about “trying to think positive.” It is not putting a positive spin on interactions and events. And it doesn’t mean projecting blame onto another or acting out.

It means becoming more of an observer, noticing sensations in your body that may be associated with feelings or emotions, and allowing yourself to have the full experience, without shoving it inside or projecting it outwards.

When we feel our feelings rather than repressing them or projecting them onto others, we allow space for insights and awareness to bubble up from within, moving them into your conscious mind.

In Chinese Medicine theory, for every unprocessed emotion, there is a virtue underneath available for expression.

Processing our emotions allows access to inner wisdom and can open up a portal for true transformation. 

You know that sense of peace and clarity you often get after a good cry? Researchers have found that crying can increase feel-good endorphins such as oxytocin, and the tears actually release excessive stress hormones such as cortisol.

Fortunately, learning how to have healthy emotional expression is becoming more mainstream. Many mental health professionals incorporate therapies that provide their clients with a toolset for experiencing their emotions.

These include somatic therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing (SE).

Acupuncture and acupressure can also assist in moving blockages. In fact, emotional wellness is one of the main reasons people seek acupuncture treatment.

Tapping techniques, such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), can also be supportive in moving through challenging feelings and circumstances.

Restrict Your Media Intake (especially during traumatic times)

As Chinese Medicine reminds us to mindfully choose what nutrition we put into our mouths, it also suggests that we safeguard our minds.

Please do not watch the news all day. With all due respect to important media coverage, there are huge profits being made by keeping you stimulated all day. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a commonly known term used in the media.

You have the power in your hand to Turn. It. Off. Decide for yourself the media plan that nourishes you and stick to it.

In March 2020 a paper was published in Health Psychology highlighting how media exposure during shared trauma may have long-term consequences on physical health4. The researchers urge the public to limit media consumption: stay informed, but stay away from sensationalism and repetitious coverage of events.

I deeply share the researchers’ urging.

You get to decide what media consumption plan supports your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. As an example, I’ll share what works best for me. 

I do not watch news on television. The way news is presented to me feels like everything is urgent, and that doesn’t work for me.

I get my news by reading it online from various news outlets, as well as sites of independent journalists, and I choose articles that I feel are important and informative.

I will also read articles that I find ridiculous sometimes, so I can be exposed to various perspectives, and often I am humbled when I realize I was incorrect (remember, humility supports Wei Qi). I appreciate various points of view. I think it’s healthy to not just read the opinions of people who I agree with, but to read various perspectives and see if I can learn something.

As a lifelong learner, reading from various news outlets feels right to me. During times where we need to especially stay informed, I’ll check in once in the morning and once in the evening. 

Another challenge to emotional wellness may be in comparing yourself to others.

As you look around, you’ll see that some people are feeling fear and worry. Some people are feeling inspired and hopeful. Some are feeling sadness or anger. Many are feeling a combination of feelings.

Not letting ourselves feel our actual feelings lets them get stuck and they often come out as blaming, shaming, judging, and projecting.

For example, you may see positive things on social media of people taking up new hobbies, or volunteering, and so on; this may cause you to think you should be doing something, when actually you have been doing tons of things your entire life and you actually just want to take naps (and bravo for that!).

Or you may be feeling inspired by the kindness your neighbors are showing but you may be thinking you should be feeling more worried instead.

When we compare ourselves to others habitually, it interferes with our sense of personal intuition which would naturally guide us to do what is right in all circumstances.

Does that means we shouldn’t be inspired into action by someone else’s kindness or ingenuity?

Of course not, because feeling inspired is different than feeling one “should” or “shouldn’t” do something, isn’t it? When we act out of inspiration we often feel uplifted, enthusiastic, and authentic; whereas when we act based on comparison we lack that true sense of assurance and self-expression.

Another angle to consider: Your Qi is your power.

When you engage in reading or watching negative news all day, it drives home the idea that power exists outside you, not within.

To counter this power shift, for every minute of news you watch, I recommend meditating, doing yoga or Qigong, or being in nature for at least 10 minutes.

Of course, it is important to be informed; however, turning toward your creative nature feeds your soul. You begin to tune into creative solutions.

Just think, right now as you are reading this, there is a solution or answer to something! It resides within you. It will most likely not be revealed as you are watching the news!

It usually is revealed in the silence and stillness within while playing, relaxing, dreaming, meditating, in nature, practicing Qigong or yoga, or standing in the shower.

As a fellow human sincerely wanting the best for every human and creature on the planet, I encourage you to ask yourself, “How do I really feel?”

Take a breath. Let yourself feel your feelings. Not someone else’s.

Emotional wellness is not “trying to be happy” or “trying to be nice” or “feeling what everyone else is feeling.”

It is about actually taking responsibility for your emotions, and feeling your feelings.

When you do that, you release blocks and you will notice that you will trust yourself more.

The intelligence that rises is intuition. Over time, your intuition will become a way of life, not a special gift you may think of as esoteric or something that others have and you do not. It will become a trusted ally.

As you let yourself feel all of your feelings, you will experience the joy of being not bound by outer circumstances. All feelings are to be honored so they can fuel your physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.

Chronic stress weakens the immune system.

As it is important to honor your feelings, be careful what you feed.

For example, you might feel fearful about something. By letting yourself feel the fear and engaging in a supportive practice or therapy to allow the fear to be processed in a healthy way, you are not feeding fear, you are feeling fear.

If you feel fear and then watch the news all day, you are feeding fear, elevating stress hormones which can wreak havoc on your health.

The takeaway here is for optimal immunomodulation and abundant Wei Qi, feel your feelings and emotions, however, you get to tend your own garden, so you might not want to feed what you don’t want to GROW.

Here are some other creative ways of regulating your nervous system during this unique time:

Breathe Properly to Support Optimal Immunity (Not a Breathing Technique)

For those of you who have read my book or articles, attending my lecture, or visited my practice, you may know how passionately I feel about reminding folks about the incredible power that can be harnessed by breathing properly. While the term “breathing properly” isn’t as catchy or sexy as some of the names of breathing techniques, it could be the most important habit to fortify your immune system and resilience.

Just like we understand the difference between dieting and making a lifestyle change to eat whole, unprocessed foods, similarly breathing that supports optimal immunity is not a breathing “technique” to incorporate only when we are thinking about it or in special classes which incorporate breath awareness, such as qigong, tai chi, or yoga. Proper breathing is something to incorporate regularly — in every breath.

A Quick D.I.Y. Test Reveals if You’re Breathing Properly

Whenever I lecture, I ask the audience (often composed of health professionals and people with healthy habits) to take a deep breath.

Virtually everybody breathes into their chest, which is not what we want. Proper breathing involves breathing into your diaphragm or belly, with a still chest and shoulders.

Are you breathing properly?

To find out, try this quick D.I.Y. breath test at home:

Bring your awareness to your breath, breathe in deeply, and as you’re doing this, ask yourself the following questions:

A: Do my shoulders move when I breathe?

B: Does my chest or my belly puff out?

If your shoulders move up when you breathe and/or your chest puffs out more than your belly, then you are not breathing properly.

What is proper breathing (and how to do it)?

Proper breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing, deep breathing, or belly breathing… and it’s incredibly simple to relearn.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. When you breathe in, sit up straight (posture counts) concentrate on filling your belly with air. Your belly should stick out… so let it!
  2. Move your shoulders and chest as little as possible (this will get easier as you practice).
  3. Exhale fully, emptying out your lungs.
  4. Repeat over and over.
  5. If you forget and find yourself chest-breathing again, just gently bring yourself back to that awareness and readjust your breath.

For more guidance and on how to breathe for optimal immunity, see “How to Breathe Properly for Optimal Health, Sustained Energy, and a Quieter Mind.”

Plant Seeds of Hope, and Watch Beauty and Joy Blossom With a Victory Garden

Times of cultural upheaval are perfect for starting and cultivating a garden.

The practice of planting Victory Gardens began in World War I and continued throughout World War II, both as a way to boost food production, but also to build morale.

During a time when many people felt anxious and disempowered, gardening allowed them to tune into nature, stillness, and their own connection to the intelligence of the universe.

When things feel out of control and one can feel powerless, planting a seed and watching it turn into food allows hope, beauty, and gratitude to blossom within.

I have been enjoying organic gardening since I was a teenager, and I hope you decide to give it a try. It’s very enriching physically, emotionally, and spiritually — as well as being fundamentally practical — it is an amazing feeling to grow one’s own delicious nourishing food! 

The socially distant grocery store mindfulness practice

Another technique for sustaining your Wei Qi is to cultivate the willingness to have a shift in perception.

Here’s an example: I had a mindful meditation moment in the market near my home the other day. When I walked in, many of the shelves were bare as had been the case for the past few weeks. I found myself walking around feeling grateful for what was there.

Instead of having everything in plenitude at my beck and call as I had been used to, I became intimately aware of the fact that many people around the world haven’t had food available on a regular basis for most of their lives.

I realized, “This is the closest I’ve come to this experience and there is still plenty in the supermarket.” I found myself walking aisle by aisle in a state of gratitude, noticing foods on shelves I hadn’t noticed before.

It was, dare I say, kind of a spiritual experience. I also became aware of how powerful a change in perception or perspective could be.

I left the market more peaceful and more grateful than when I walked in.

Receive the gifts that come with being of service

Being of service is another powerful way to sustain your Wei Qi. Many of us find ourselves wanting to contribute to the greater good and be part of a community, but at the time of this writing we’re not within six feet of (most) other humans.

I realize some of you are juggling working from home and homeschooling at the same time, so reaching out further may not feel like an option. However, some of you may be alone and feeling isolated, and you wish you could be closer than six feet to another breathing being.

Well you can! There is a great way to contribute and connect with a living breathing ball of love… This could be a great time to foster a dog, cat, bunny, or other pet!

I have been a volunteer at my local shelter for well over a decade, and I find it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. At this point in time, the shelters are closed to the public. While in many cities fostering and adoptions have increased, there are still many shelters that are overcrowded and understaffed and in need of the assistance from the community.

Fostering a dog, cat, bunny, or available pet of your choosing really will make your Wei Qi really happy!

It covers so many aspects: You are no longer isolated — check. You are giving back — check. You are supporting many communities, from the overworked staff and volunteers at animal shelters, to the people who may have lost jobs or homes and to those who are too ill to take care of their animals and they have ended up at the shelter — check.

While you are home you can have a new furry friend, and, if you want to adopt, great. If not, simply return the pet to the shelter once the shelters are open and the public can return to adopt.

Fostering also helps the shelter personnel so much because information from the foster helps to get the animal adopted. Win-win-win situation!!!

There is great power in doing nothing: introducing “Wu Wei”

For those of you who roll your eyes at the constant stream of posts on what you could be doing during this unprecedented time (i.e. time to learn a new language, take an online course, etc.), I have great news for you! The power of Wu Wei — the art of doing nothing — is just for you. An immunosupportive approach that encourages us to live in harmony with the Tao, our true nature, is the practice of Wu Wei.

Wu Wei refers to the seemingly paradoxical idea of “effortless action” or the “action of non-action.”

When athletes talk about being in the zone, when their bodies move without effort in response to the game around them, they are experiencing Wu Wei.

Wu Wei is being in flow, letting go of what we think we are supposed to do and instead simply being. We relinquish rigidity and striving, and replace them with a sense of harmony. We come close to this experience when are doing things we love or when we’re experiencing reverence for the natural world.

The practice of Wu Wei allows us to embody the truth that our value is not in being productive; it is in being authentic.

As we live in a consumer culture, Wu Wei serves as a wonderful reminder to bring us back to our essential self.

As we are human beings, not human doings, practicing Wu Wei gives us permission to connect deeper to our true nature. Then our “doing” can come from inner guidance from our “being” not from our “shoulds,” habits, conditioning, addiction to being busy, etc.

Wu Wei is kind of the opposite of “trying to stay busy.” It is inspired action.

The practice of Wu Wei can assist in tonifying the parasympathetic nervous system (rest, digest, and restore) and guide us away from a chronic sympathetic (fight or flight) dominant pattern, thus fortifying immunomodulation.

If this feels like the right path, take some time to slow down, revel in silence, and listen to your inner voice.

Get a notebook and pen and do some journaling. This simple shift of awareness will do wonders for your Wu Wei, quietly building your inner energy forcefield.

Harness infinite intelligence within you

Let us never underestimate the power of giving our body, mind, and spirit what supports our highest good. Not excessive, not deficient.

A recent health wake-up-call kind of study highlighted the importance of lifestyle choices in that only one out of eight Americans have metabolic health5, which is defined as having optimal levels of five key markers: blood glucose, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without the necessity of  medications.

People with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, chronic heart disease, and obesity have been found to be especially vulnerable to complications from viral infections.

As these underlying health conditions often improve or even reverse with an adjustment of lifestyle factors, now is an ideal time to become aware of any excessive eating patterns, be it overeating, under-eating, emotional eating, or defaulting to less-than-optimal eating habits in lieu of the current global situation.

That’s not to say you can’t, or shouldn’t, indulge a little to help lighten the mood. But don’t let that be your primary source of comfort, especially during a time when your immune system needs strength.

In closing…

When I sat down to write this, I didn’t anticipate creating an essay of this length.

However, the spirit moved me (as they say) to cover the basics of what it means to truly fortify your immune health: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. While this post is certainly longer than most I’ve written, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the depths of the intelligence that resides within us. I will be writing more on ways we can harness this intelligence, with emphasis on the immune aspects, in future posts.

My hope is that by reading this you have been reminded of the a magnificence that is present in every cell of your being; this intelligence is your very life, it is breathing you! 

And it exists within YOU, not somewhere else, and is available to you 24/7/365.

By practicing the strategies discussed today, you will nurture that innate healing intelligence so it may serve you during easy times and challenging times, today and all the days of your life.

And while washing your hands and following other important C.D.C. guidelines, please remember — joy, love, kindness, and laughter are extremely contagious!

May we spread these gifts far and wide as we live in appreciation of all things.

References:

  1. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/101/6/1251/4626878
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0002934306007820
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26370102
  4. https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-20168-001.html
  5. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181128115045.htm

Originally published on patriciafitzgerald.com.

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