As any long-term yogi will attest, a daily yoga practice does amazing things for the mind and body. Not only is yoga a great way to build resilience to common mental health concerns like stress and anxiety, it also nourishes our bodies, oxidises our brains and helps us walk through life more conscious, present and fulfilled.
Today, we’re facing a vicious and uncertain pandemic, and many people have lost access to their exercise routines and the social circles that nurture good health. As a consequence, our immune system might be absorbing a toll, and we might find ourselves more vulnerable than before to infection.
Here’s how yoga can support your immune system and keep your body healthy and free from infection.
1. Yoga helps lower stress hormones
Stress is something we all face, and in the right doses, cortisol (the stress hormone) can be healthy for you. For example, cortisol contributes to the regular functioning of things like blood sugar levels, inflammation reduction and metabolism.
But, as we’ve previously explained in this blog, stress is the modern mental bogeyman, and too much cortisol does more harm than good to our immune systems. It can raise our blood pressure and cause severe fatigue, irritability and muscle weakness, leaving us open to illness, disease and infection.
A regular yoga practice helps to counter the level of cortisol we store in our bodies. Pranayama exercises oxidise the body and help spread a feeling of peacefulness, for example, and poses like Corpse Pose or Shavasana help relax and calm the mind, all of which contribute to the proper regulation of the immune system.
2. Yoga stimulates the lymphatic system to oust toxins from the body
Your lymphatic system works to filter out harmful substances. In short, lymph fluid will carry potentially harmful toxins to your lymph nodes, where immune cells work to fight off infection and destroy germs that could make you sick.
Think of your lymph nodes as your body’s disposal system. Unfortunately, like a landfill with too much rubbish, your lymph nodes can only work so hard, and when your body is faced with more toxins than it can handle, it creates lymphatic congestion and build up. This weakens your immune system and leaves you more vulnerable to infection.
One way to make your lymphatic system more efficient and help regulate the clearance of toxins from your body is by regularly moving. Yoga twists, inversions and a vigorous flow routine will get your lymph nodes working more efficiently, helping them dump out the toxins from your body faster and restoring your overall health.
3. Yoga conditions the lungs and respiratory tract
Breathing and movement go hand-in-hand during yoga. Not only do movements help maintain muscle strength and well-oiled joints, but deep and controlled breathing helps to strengthen the lungs and improve the respiratory tract. And a well-regulated respiration system is essential to immune health.
Whether it’s air pollution, smoke, second-hand smoke or an unhealthy diet, we breathe in many toxins throughout the day. Pair this with often shallow and uncontrolled breathing as we experience feelings of stress and anxiety, the average person routinely fails to oxidise their lungs and properly circulate air around their body.
Poses like Bridge Pose, Cat-Cow and Cobra Pose (as well as basic Pranayama exercises) help to counteract this. These poses work to open up the chest, and they help the lungs take in more air. In turn, this improves circulation, clears stagnant air and flushes out the respiratory tract.
4. Yoga reduces inflammation
Inflammation is a natural part of the immune response, and it can help heal wounds and fight off infection. Like cortisol, however, chronic inflammation does more harm than good. If your body is in a constant state of ‘fight’, it can impede your immune health and make you vulnerable to illness.
However, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine discovered that yoga doesn’t just help to reduce pro-inflammatory markers like the cytokine (a signalling molecule) called IL-1beta, but it also helps to boost anti-inflammatory cytokines, too.
In short, a daily yoga practice can reduce and alleviate unnecessary inflammation caused by things like high cortisol levels, leaving your systems to instead focus on what they do best: regulate your body.
5. Yoga lubricates joints and stabilises muscles
Exposure to the elements can stiffen joints, dry skin and chill our bones. Because of this, our bodies must work harder than before to restore oil to the skin, synovial fluids to the joints and, well, warmth to our bones. This impedes our immune responses.
A regular yoga routine, however, will help strengthen and stabilise our muscles, as well as help lubricate joints for normal functioning. This reduces the strain your body has to go through to help maintain these essential bodily functions, meaning your immune system can continue clearing toxins from the body and working to its full potential.
Regular and consistent practice is key
With a rampant pandemic sitting right outside our doors and no vaccine to fight it off, our immune systems are our body’s best defence against COVID-19. Not only that, but our immune systems are the reason we can fight off any number of the 200 viruses that can enter our bodies throughout the day.
By performing a daily yoga practice, then, you’re helping to regulate every part of your body, from your lymphatic system to your respiratory system to your nervous system and beyond. This gives you the best chance possible to resist those everyday common sicknesses and fight off infections for good.