4 Ways Yoga Helps Your Immune System

By: 
Nina Zolotow, RYT 500

One of the effective ways you can foster healthy aging is to use yoga to support your immune system. An immune system that is functioning well prevents illness and promotes healing by fighting off common infections, healing wounds, and scavenging early cancer molecules. You can also use yoga to complement Western medical treatments for a wide range of illnesses, including:

  • Flu and other common infections

  • Rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis

  • Conditions that can affect your immune system indirectly, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer recovery, and many others

  • For those with immune system disorders, such as HIV/AIDS and adrenal insufficiency, you can boost immune system functioning while also fostering your physical and emotional wellbeing.

Exercise

Using your active asana practice for exercise promotes your overall health, keeping your body strong and flexible, and by helping your cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory systems function optimally. By improving your balance and agility, your asana practice prevents injuries that result from falling, and which weaken your immune system.

You can also improve your immune system’s lymphatic circulation with your asana practice. Practicing dynamic poses and flow sequences, where you move in and out of poses with your breath, naturally pumps your muscles, improving the flow of the lymphatic fluids through your body. Although not as effective as moving dynamically, you can even use your static poses to improve lymphatic circulation by rhythmically contracting and relaxing as many muscle groups as possible.

Over-exercising can increase inflammation, but gradually introducing appropriate amounts of exercise can be very beneficial, reducing inflammation and improving overall immune system function. So if you’re suffering from an inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, be careful to ease gradually into an active asana practice, starting with the gentlest practices.

Stress Management

Because chronic stress weakens your immune system, using yoga’s stress management techniques to keep stress levels in check helps keep your immune system strong. And because your immune system works most efficiently when you’re in rest-and-digest state, spending as much time as possible in this state will bolster your immune system, whether you are healthy or ill.

Recent research also indicates yoga’s stress management tools lower stress hormones and other pro-inflammatory molecules in our bodies, so yoga also helps with chronic inflammation, which can be caused by aging. Even newer studies suggest that yoga may turn on beneficial genes in some of our white blood cells, which may ultimately improve our overall immune function. 

Yoga’s stress management tools can also help reduce stress-related eating and other unhealthy stress-related behaviors that negatively impact the immune system. While we can’t say that any of the stress management techniques are better than others, you may find that one or two work best for you.

So if possible, practice all of them periodically to be familiar with all of them. You can practice any of these stress management techniques as a part of your regular asana practice or alone, at a different time of day.

Better Sleep

To help you stay healthy and keep your immune system functioning optimally, you need a good night’s sleep. Yoga can be really helpful for improving sleep. Some sleep clinics around the U.S. are now offering yoga and meditation to promote healthy sleep.

Healthy Habits

A healthy diet that provides good nutrition is necessary for a strong immune system, so if you’re struggling with unhealthy eating habits, using yoga to support healthy eating habits will help your immune system function optimally.

Addiction to unhealthy substances such as cigarettes, drugs, or too much alcohol can weaken your immune system by damaging cells, suppressing immune function and causing inflammation. You can use yoga’s mindfulness techniques to assist in changing harmful habits. Meditation can help improve awareness of thought patterns and strengthen will power. 

More on your immune system from YogaUOnline and Dr. Bill Rawls

Another great article from YogaUOnline and Dr. Baxter Bell - Strength Building: How Long to Hold Poses.

Study with Baxter Bell, MD and YogaUOnline: Yoga for Heart Health-New Insights for Healthy Aging.

This article originally appeared on yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com   Reprinted with permission.

Nina ZolotowNina Zolotow, RYT 500, Editor-in-Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, is both a yoga writer and a yoga teacher. She trained to be a yoga teacher at The Yoga Room in Berkeley, California, has studied yoga therapy with Shari Ser and Bonnie Maeda, and is especially influenced by the teachings of Donald Moyer. She also studied extensively with Rodney Yee, and is inspired by the teachings of Patricia Walden on yoga for emotional healing. Her special area of expertise is yoga for emotional well-being (including yoga for stress, insomnia, depression, and anxiety) and she teaches workshops and series classes on yoga for emotional wellbeing, stress management, better sleep, home practice, and cultivating equanimity. Nina is the co-author, with Rodney Yee, of two books on yoga: Yoga: The Poetry of the Body and Moving Toward Balance, both of which are widely available, and is currently writing a book with Baxter Bell on Yoga for Healthy Aging for publication in 2017.