Yoga and the Immune System

Your immune system protects you in three different ways: as a first line of defence it creates a barrier that prevents bacteria and viruses from entering your body. However if a bacteria or virus does get into the body, the immune system tries to detect and eliminate it before it can make itself at home and reproduce. If the virus or bacteria is able to reproduce and start causing problems, your immune system develops further strategies to eliminate it.

The immune system is also in charge of cleaning up rogue cells like tumours and cancers that form within our own system.

According to various medical researchers, it has been found that 90 percent of illnesses and diseases, arising from a depressed immune system, are stress related. Chronic stress can lead to the body producing continuously high levels of cortisol which acts to suppress the immune system. A recent study has shown that a yoga session decreases the level of this stress hormone in the blood. After a yoga practice with its emphasis on long, deep breathing and conscious relaxation we feel soothed and calm. Other research has shown that just twenty minutes of meditation a day not only decreases cortisol levels but also increases the levels of endorphins which are mood lifters associated with feelings of well being and the modulation of pain.

A yoga practice with its twisting, stretching, squeezing and strengthening poses massages and brings fresh blood supply to the organs of the immune system like the spleen and thymus. It makes the support systems like the circulatory system, muscular system and digestive system more efficient at supplying nutrients and carrying away wastes.

The immune system uses the lymph nodes to fight invaders and the lymph channels carry the toxins to the blood stream for disposal. Physical activity and stretching propels lymph, and also develops strong muscles that encourage continual lymph movement. The lymphatic fluid normally circulates throughout the body once a day but with exercise the flow can be increased threefold or more, depending on how strenuous the exercise it. Dynamic flowing poses such as the Salute to the Sun series therefore have a beneficial effect on the lymphatic flow within the body, increasing its circulation and thus the ability of wastes to be eliminated and white blood cells to be activated and transported to trouble spots.

While yoga possesses such a strong support to the body’s healing mechanisms, it is important to view yoga as an adjunct or complementary therapy, and not rely upon it as the only therapy for healing disease.