How Yoga Strengthens the Immune System

Help your body resist viruses by keeping your immune system healthy and strong.  Feeling stressed, not getting enough quality sleep, being too sedentary and shallow breathing all impact on our immunity.  Luckily a regular yoga practice can help.  Various yoga techniques aid the respiratory, lymphatic, nervous and hormonal systems to build a resilient mind and body, to strengthen the immune system.

The respiratory system takes the initial hit with a virus. Bacteria lodges in the back of the throat and nasal passages.  Regular practice of pranayama (breathing techniques) helps keep respiratory tracts clear.  Synchronising movement with breath encourages deeper breathing and better utilisation of the lungs.  Which helps keep the lungs healthy.   

How yoga helps the lymphatic system

Our lymphatic system defends the body against germs, viruses, bacteria and moulds.  It gets rid of toxins and waste via the lymph, which is a liquid containing infection fighting white blood cells.  The lymph moves up the body through a network of vessels.  But the lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump like the heart to circulate the lymph.  So it’s reliant upon movement, breathing and gravity to get the lymph moving.   You’re more likely to have a sluggish lymphatic system if you have a sedentary lifestyle.   The inverted poses, twists and stretches in yoga move and squeeze the lymph around the body, up to the main lymph ducts located in the upper torso.  There the lymph with the toxins the body doesn’t need get released into the circulatory system to be dealt with by the liver and kidneys.

Legs up the Wall is a simple yoga inversion to help the lymph flow

Stress hormones and yoga

Getting anxious and upset increases your stress levels which can knock your immune system.   Cortisol is a hormone released when you’re feeling stressed. We all need a certain amount of cortisol.  But when stress levels escalate, cortisol levels increase too much.  That’s when stress starts to weaken the immune system by compromising the T cells (a type of white blood cell involved in immunity).  When the T cells stop functioning properly the body loses its ability to regulate the inflammatory response.  Inflammation in the body then escalates and leaves us more exposed to viruses.  So it’s important to keep cortisol levels in check.  Various yoga techniques have a soothing effect on the nervous system which helps lower cortisol.

Increased cortisol also affects sleep.  It’s what wakes you up in the early hours with a busy mind that won’t let you doze off again.  After a few weeks of not sleeping properly you feel tired and run down.  That’s when you get one of those colds you can’t seem to shift.  Studies have shown that lack of sleep negatively impacts on the immune system, and chronic stress and long term sleep deprivation can lead to many serious health conditions.  Gentle slow moving forms of yoga, pranayama, guided relaxation and meditation, all help to soothe the mind helping you sleep better.

So it’s good to regularly incorporate a range of yoga techniques into your daily routine.  This will strengthen your respiratory system and help move lymph around your body.  You will feel less stressed and more likely to get a good night’s sleep.  Combine yoga with a healthy diet and you’ll strengthen your immune system, getting it in tip top condition.

In the beginning

I love yoga because it works on so many levels. When i feel tetchy yoga makes me feel so much better. It boosts my energy when i’m feeling tired and of course it’s great for a good stretch. But yoga isn’t just about getting flexible.  Yoga is a holistic health system, which incorporates asana (the physical exercises), breathing techniques, diet, massage, relaxation and meditation.  Which means yoga can be used therapeutically, as my yoga teacher says:

The numerous exercises aim to bring together all the various aspects of ones being (the physical, mental and spiritual) in an integral psycho-physical system to work in harmony and stay balanced.  Duncan Hulin, from Devon School of Yoga

I’m not only aYoga Teacher and Therapist. I’m a researcher with a doctorate in the communication of risk and science.  So this blog will combine my geeky and inquisitive nature with my love of yoga.   My posts will include information on how yoga can be used as a therapy to manage particular health conditions.  I’ll explore academic research in relation to yoga, demonstrating what the experts are saying about its benefits.  I’ll also share useful tips and information on anything yoga related.