Sniffle, sniffle. Cough, cough. Oh, the sounds of fall and winter. Living in a city, constantly changing weather, busy days, not enough sleep...it can all weaken our immune systems. I used to not miss a single virus that was circulating around the office. I think I had bird flu and swine flu in the same year. When I started practicing yoga, I noticed a slow shift. Sure, I still get sick, but I seem to get sick less often. As I've studied yoga, I've learned more about why: yoga supports the immune system. No, sadly, it will not make you invincible and I'm not peddling snake oil for all that ails ye here. But yoga is a science and that science is really smart when it comes to supporting immunity.
So what is the "immune system." Well, I'm not a doctor, sweet reader, unless you count extensive WebMD usage as medical training. But, as I understand it, two components of the immune system are the glandular system (which controls and produces hormones) and the lymphatic system (which produces disease-fighting cells).
So how does yoga figure in? Well, in roughly a bajillion ways. But we will use yoga in two major ways to strengthen immunity this week. First, the lymphatic system actually does not have a pump, as the blood system does. This means that it's possible for lymph to stagnate and become a less-effective germ fighter, making you more susceptible to the dude that coughing all over you on the bus. Yoga asana, when used in targeted ways, can help to stimulate and flush the lymphatic system, helping it operate more effectively.
Second, it is a well-known fact that mental and emotional stress affects the physical body. Stress freaks out the adrenal glands, which must pump out more and more stress hormones to deal with your inbox. Over time, this can lead to a cascade of negative effects throughout the body, including getting the flu. We all know this, but sometimes life gets in the way of taking the time out to relax deeply. That doesn't change the fact that your body desperately (desperately!) needs some time to chill out. Science is now supporting this, with a study recently released that showed that genetic expression is favorably altered in response to deeply relaxing. This means that the genes you're born with change how they actually operate in the body and how they affect your health. And the genetic changes the researchers found were specifically related to immunity. This may be because yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body to shift into a restorative mode that facilitates healing. The good news? Small changes in routine pay off big time.
Want to make a change? A consistent yoga practice can be a great place to start. Want some guidance? That's where your yoga teacher comes in! See you at class this weekend (Saturday 8:30a, Sunday 2pm or 6pm, Monday 10a; click for deets), where we'll explore how with a specialized practice in support of immunity and resilience, both physical and mental.
Wishing you healing and balance,