Updated: Mar 3
Hopefully by now you are already aware of the numerous reasons why maintaining a regular good-quality Yoga practice can transform your life for the better! If you are new to the subject, check out our previous article on why you should start practicing Yoga during lockdown and our F.A.Q. page for more information on the subject.
So today I wanted to focus on a very important aspect of your Yoga practice – its effect on your immune system.
Practicing Yoga reduces stress
Stress is one of the biggest barriers to a fully functioning immune system. Although acute stress is part of most people’s everyday lives, chronic (long-lasting) stress causes a steady rise in the body’s circulating levels of cortisol, impacting the normal functioning of our immune systems – and with it, their ability to fight disease and maintain health and balance.
As we explore in a previous article, Yoga has proven to be an incredibly powerful anti-stress tool that will help you not only relax, but boost your immune system in the process.
Yoga reduces inflammation in the body
Several chronic disease processes are characterised by some degree of ongoing inflammation – a body’s defence mechanism against injury, inflammation is a very effective instrument in the short term but it can perpetuate disease processes in the long run.
The past decade has produced interesting research projects that looked at the relationship between Yoga and the overall levels of inflammation in the body inflammation. The results are encouraging: Yoga practice has shown to reduce the circulating pro-inflammatory markers in the body, while potentially increasing the levels of anti-inflammatory markers. Researchers explain that:
“[...] these results imply that Yoga may be implemented as a complementary intervention for populations at risk or already suffering from diseases with an inflammatory component. Beyond this, yoga practice may exert further beneficial effects by enhancing cell-mediated and mucosal immunity.”
(Falkenberg, R. I., Eising, C., & Peters, M. L. (2018). Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 41(4), 467–482. doi:10.1007/s10865-018-9914-y)
This particular benefit of our yoga practice cannot be overstated when the world is going through a global pandemic with a disease that causes extreme levels of both local and systemic body inflammation. Last year, a group of researchers from reputable institutions like the MIT, UCSD and Harvard University reviewed the available literature on the subject and concluded that:
‘‘[...] certain meditation, yoga asana (postures), and pranayama (breathing) practices may possibly be effective adjunctive means of treating and/or preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection.’
(Bushell, W., Castle, R., Williams, M. A., Brouwer, K. C., Tanzi, R. E., Chopra, D., & Mills, P. J. (2020). Meditation and Yoga Practices as Potential Adjunctive Treatment of SARS-CoV-2 Infection and COVID-19: A Brief Overview of Key Subjects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. doi:10.1089/acm.2020.0177)
Kriyá - Organic cleansing and strengthening exercises
Amongst all of the different Yoga disciplines, Kriyá can be seen as a true arsenal of immune-system boosters. It comprises exercises like:
Kapálabháti – literally meaning ‘to make the skull shine’, this exercise promotes a complete cleansing of the upper and lower airways and sinuses, as well as improving the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the brain, while stimulating abdominal muscles and abdominal organs
Trátaka – a variety of exercises aimed at the eye globes that can improve visual acuity and stimulate local immunity through the production/release of prolactin. In a time when most of us are working more from home and spending hours on end in front of a computer screen, these exercises can prove invaluable in maintaining visual health and relieving eye strain and tiredness.
Nauli Kriyá – a powerful exercise that actively engages all core abdominal muscles and our diaphragm, it is a complete abdominal massage that promotes local immunity and stimulates all abdominal organs including the pancreas and intestines, promoting regular and healthy gut motility.
Néti Kriyá – practiced correctly, this exercise will cleanse the upper airways, improving airflow and local immunity
In practicing these exercises under the guidance and supervision of a qualified yoga teacher, one can experience Yoga’s immune-system-boosting abilities firsthand.
Additionally, the more a yogi practices Kriyá, the more one changes their mindset from a detoxification mentality to one of anti-intoxication (from treatment to prevention). This helps us make healthier life choices that can have tremendous health benefits in the long run.
DISCLAIMER: During the COVID-19 pandemic, avoid touching your eyes with your hands. Instead, let your hands hover over your eyes, keeping them at a safe distance. Feel the warmth restore and recharge your eyes all the same.
Pránáyáma – Energetic and neuro-vegetative breathing exercises
There’s a lot to say about the different Pránáyáma techniques and its effects on the body – check out our previous blog about "learning how to breathe" for a small teaser of some of the potentialities of this technical discipline, although this could be another set of blog posts entirely in its own right!
Overall, Pránáyáma improves the capacity of a yogi’s respiratory system; actively engages the autonomic nervous system (with special emphasis on the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing vagal tone which reduces heart rate and blood pressure) and the lymphatic system (important component of the body’s immune system); promotes oxygenation and detoxication.
Integral part of any good quality Yoga class, this technical discipline is another of the Yoga’s powerful tools to boost the immune system and promote health.
Dhyána/Samyama – true meditation through the control of the brainwave frequencies
Advanced yogi has long acknowledged the benefits of authentic Yoga meditation techniques, and modern science is finally tuning in on it.
Several studies have been conducted in the past decade. Some of them showing that deep meditation practices not only promote concentration and relaxation, they actually cause changes on the molecular level (eg. Interfering with circulating levels of amyloid-beta proteins, which is known to be linked to dementia and depression) and even in the genome (eg. Promoting increasing telomerase activity – an enzyme that promotes telomere length, as opposed to natural-occurring telomere shortening processes, linked to a number of chronic illnesses).
These studies are confirming what the Yoga tradition has known for millennia – the regular practice of traditional meditation has a substantial and long-standing impact on one’s health and immunity.
These are just a few examples of how Yoga can significantly improve a yogi’s health, by boosting their immune system. But don’t take our word for it – sign up for your 14-day free trial here.