Yoga For Stronger Immunity
WellBeing|Issue 194
In a time of collective ill health, you might be wondering what you can do to improve your immune system. Incorporating yoga into your routine can significantly bolster your body’s ability to combat sickness.
Mascha Coetzee

How is your immunity? Can you fight colds, viruses and bacteria with ease? Before COVID-19 hit, you probably didn’t think much about the strength of your immune system. In the post-pandemic world, though, many of us are now asking if there is anything we can do to build our immunity and keep ourselves resilient against viruses.

Thankfully, it is possible to boost your immunity with the integrated practice of yoga, meditation and breathwork — not to mention the other benefits you will no doubt reap from those practices, too.

While the focus here will be what yoga can do to keep your immune system strong, vitamin-rich foods, herbs, steam baths, essential oils and Ayurvedic practices should not be overlooked. Boosting your immunity naturally is best achieved through a holistic approach.

Much research has shown the beneficial effects of yoga, and a number of preliminary studies point to the effects of an integrated yoga practice (entailing postural yoga practice, breathwork and mindfulness) in improving immune functions and resisting the impairment of cellular immunity.

A randomised controlled pilot study, conducted by Sung-Ah Lim and KwangJo Cheong published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, concluded that regular yoga practice considerably decreases oxidative stress and improves antioxidant levels in the body, along with positively affecting stress hormone releases and partly improving immune function.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine indicates that yoga can be a helpful way to boost the immune system and decrease inflammation in the body among the populations at risk or affected by illnesses with an inflammatory component.

What is your immune system?

Our immune system is the body’s defence mechanism against disease. It fights viruses, parasites, toxins and bacterial infections.

Consisting of the innate (the one you were born with) and adaptive (acquired) immune systems, the immune system is a network of cells and tissues spread throughout the body. It comprises antibodies, white blood cells, chemicals, the lymphatic system, proteins, tissues, bone marrow, spleen and thymus.

Yoga, mindfulness and breathing practices for stronger immunity

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the lungs and the large intestine (colon) are responsible for immunity and govern the immune system. The yoga practice presented here is centred around stimulating the lungs and the large intestine meridians to support your immunity and to assist with stimulating the respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive systems, together with encouraging stress reduction.

Since movement and sweat play important roles in strengthening the immune system, incorporating 10 to 12 rounds of sun salutations, when you move steadily with ujjayi breath, is a beneficial addition to your practice, either prior to the commencement of the yin sequence outlined below or a standalone morning yoga practice.

Surya namaskar (sun salutations) are a series of postures linked together which integrate the body, breath and mind; they will warm up your body thoroughly and assist in supporting your heart and lungs by increasing blood circulation and lymphatic flow in the body, which are essential for the healthy functioning of the immune system.

For this deep yin yoga practice, you will need a bolster (or a stack of two to three rectangular pillows), a yoga block (or a cushion) and a folded or rolled blanket, or two for extra support if you require modifications.

The twisting poses in the practice will reinvigorate the organs of the digestive tract and help to detoxify the body. The forward fold will further add compression in the abdominal region, allowing the openness of the inner groin, thighs and the back body, inviting the breath into the back of the lungs, and bringing the enhanced circulation into the heart and digestive and reproductive organs upon the release from the pose.

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