When I first started doing Kundalini Yoga, I approached it as a physical practice. As the journey with my yoga practice continued, I began to understand it more as a lifestyle.
“Yoga” means union and when you start to fully experience the union of your mind and body, lifestyle changes naturally follow. As I became more tuned into my body and more aware of my thoughts, I noticed how what I ate impacted me. Processed food made feel me tired. Sugar made me feel angry. And big green salads with lemon juice and olive oil boosted my mood. What you eat is actually part of your yoga practice, and that’s why my top tips for your immune system aren’t about meditations or kriyas: they are eating tips.
There is growing evidence that at least 70% of your immune system resides in your gut 1, and you can fast-track your way to better health by taking good care of your gut’s microbiome. It can be as simple as adding a few bites of fermented vegetables or a few sips of kefir to each meal.
Unless you are studying nutrition, the terms probiotics, prebiotics and microbiome probably aren’t part of your regular vocabulary, so here are the basics.
Probiotics: A certain type of “friendly” bacteria and yeast that reside in your gut.2
Probiotics represent the healthy (“good”) bacteria your gut needs to keep your body functioning at its optimal level. When the good bacteria in your gut is flourishing, lots of disease and illness can be avoided including obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and depression, just to name a few. There is also growing evidence that there is a link between your mental health and your gut.
In layman’s terms, you can think of probiotics as good bacteria that you can get from eating many types of fermented foods. Yogurt, fermented vegetables, miso, kimchi, apple cider vinegar and kefir are common examples of food that increase the number of desirable (good) bacteria in your gut. And there is a wide spectrum of probiotic supplements you can explore as well.
Prebiotics: The food that probiotics need to thrive.
You need prebiotics for probiotics to do their job. You can think of prebiotics as fiber. Fiber is essential for your body to function at its highest level and for your probiotics to be effective. Without fiber, your gut health won’t be optimal, and you can waste a lot of time and money consuming good, but ultimately ineffective, probiotic foods and supplements. The easiest way to get fiber is by eating a wide range of plant-based foods at every meal. Leafy greens, spinach, collard greens, broccoli and mushrooms are good examples. And psyllium and konjac noodles are a great way to get an even bigger boost of fiber.
Microbiome: The community of microorganisms living inside your body. 3
Gut microbiome is a phrase you might start hearing more. It is the community of bacteria (good and bad) living in your gut. The goal of prebiotics and probiotics is to improve your gut’s microbiome.
How much, how often, and how exactly?
There is a wide range of bacteria strains (over 500), and each person’s composition of these strains is unique to them. This means there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution, but there are general trends that are beneficial to almost everyone.
The common advice is to have a few bites of fermented foods with each meal, ideally at the beginning of the meal. Fermented foods include yogurt, kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, and raw apple cider vinegar. I eat fermented vegetables and apple cider vinegar daily and then supplement throughout the week with small amounts of goat milk kefir.
It is worth noting you should check the labels when shopping for fermented foods. The processing of some foods destroys the probiotics. For example, if sugar or vinegar is added to the fermenting process for vegetables, they won’t be probiotic-friendly. Make sure to read the labels. You can also make your own fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi at home.
For those who want to take the supplement route, probiotic supplements can offer an even wider range of bacteria strains. There is a lot of controversy about the effectiveness of probiotic supplements and whether the bacteria is “dead” by the time you take the capsule. The functional medicine team I work with recommends probiotic supplements that require refrigeration. I take the Vivomixx brand, but you can do your own research.
There’s always the question of “How do you know if your probiotics are working?” From personal experience, the way I know is that I rarely get sick (maybe once every two or three years), my energy is high, and my mood is generally good. Is this from the probiotics? I don’t know, but it is probably from a range of lifestyle choices including probiotics. With a tiny bit of focus, it isn’t hard to add probiotics to your daily diet so why not try it for a month or so? It might just be the boost your immune system needs.
Want to try fermenting your own vegetables? You can try this simple recipe!