Immune system and Yoga
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
The Yogic lifestyle results in firm, healthy bodies which are not prone to diseases. This much can be clearly seen in almost every practitioner. There are several reasons for this. The regular exercise works out your whole musculature. The breathing exercises keep your insides clean. Also, eating a sattvic diet will provide many nutrients that are essential for a healthy body. Certain things that are not so clearly visible are things like what the yogic lifestyle does for your glands and internal systems. One of these is the immune system.
The immune system is a complex and necessary system that regulates our responses to bacteria, viruses and even plays a part in our aging process. Let's look at the components of this system and see how Yoga can help in maintaining and regulating them.
Components of an immune system
There are 2 main parts to the Immune system which are:
The Innate immune system - The organs and white blood cells that you are born with.
The Acquired immune system - The antibodies which are produced in response to the the diseases that the body is exposed to.
The components of the immune system include :
First and foremost is always going to be the diet. A yogic diet is a natural and healthy way to ensure that the body has all the ammunition it needs to fight off diseases. The best way to prevent diseases is for the body to have healthy barriers to the absorption of microbes.
The easiest way to do this is to have healthy mucous membranes. These membranes exist in various places of the body such as the throat, stomach and bowels. A sattvic diet will provide you all the nutrients you need while avoiding the acidic foods that can cause damage to these linings. Foods like okra and aloe will also help in keeping these membranes coated to prevent harm and repair damage.
Yoga exercises will also compress and decompress theses linings helping them in their healthy functioning.
Forward Bend Pose
Tonsils fulfill an important function in the immune system. They are responsible for stopping germs and infections that are ingested through breathing and the throat cavity. They also contain white blood cells that are responsible for killing off germs.
Yoga breathing exercises like Pranayama clean the throat passages and enhances blood flow to these regions which keep the tonsils performing in a healthy manner. Also, the humming associated with chanting mantras keeps theses areas healthy. Certain Kriyas like Kunjal Kriya and Jala Neti are also directed at keeping these areas clean and healthy. We will delve into Kriyas in a later post since they require some supervision and should be done with a trained practitioner. Regular Pranayama practice is more than enough for the beginner.
This system is the consists of lymph fluids and lymph nodes. To be fair, the lymphoid tissue in the mucous membranes can also be called part of this system. However, since we already talked about mucous, let's keep this point just for lymph fluid and lymph nodes to keep this easy to understand.
The lymph vessels are like your blood vessels and they carry lymph fluid all around your body. Lymph fluid is a clear-to-white fluid that is mainly made up of white blood cells. Lymph nodes have the job of monitoring and filtering impurities and toxins from this lymph fluid. Together, these 3 perform some important bodily functions like controlling immune response, maintaining bodily fluid levels, and absorption of fats from the digestive system.
The lymphatic system lacks a pump like the heart. It operates under very low pressure, and relies on muscle contractions to move lymph fluid around properly. Inversions and then the return to upright positions are one of the best ways for proper draining of the lymph system. Yoga helps lymph move around efficiently because Yoga exercises affect every single part of your body.
The spleen relies on blood circulation to flush itself. Its main function is to remove impurities from the bloodstream. It also stores white blood cells and removes abnormal or old red blood cells. Healthy blood circulation is important for a clean spleen. Yoga exercises promote healthy blood circulation very easily and various poses will also help in massaging this organ and keeping it functioning properly. The sattvic diet also plays an important role by keeping many of the impurities away from the body to begin with.
Low Lunge Pose
Thymus - the immune system gland
The Thymus is an important gland in the immune system. White blood cells pass through the Thymus and get turned into T-cells, which are then stored in your Lymph nodes and are used to fight infections and diseases. Yoga poses that open up the chest and various forms of breathing exercises both help to stimulate the Thymus and regulate its secretions. There are also techniques like Thymus Tapping that are said to stimulate this gland. Regulation of the Heart Chakra will also keep this gland functioning properly.
Your bone marrow also stores white blood cells and stem cells that are then moved to the peripheral circulation and then into the bloodstream. Yoga helps in the mobilization of theses stem cells. The Pranayama exercises together with the vigorous asanas also subject the body to intermittent hypoxia which also aids in the movement of these cells, thereby helping the body repair itself and fight off infections. A yogic diet with a good amount of lentils and nuts and green vegetables will give you the nutrients you need to promote healthy bone marrow production.
Among adult humans, the appendix is thought to be involved primarily in immune functions. Lymphoid tissue begins to accumulate in the appendix shortly after birth and reaches a peak between the second and third decades of life, decreasing rapidly thereafter and practically disappearing after the age of 60. During the early years of development, however, the appendix has been shown to function as a lymphoid organ, assisting with the maturation of B lymphocytes (one variety of white blood cell) and in the production of the class of antibodies known as immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies.
Appendicitis is the blockage of the appendix. However, if detected in early stages Yoga asanas can help alleviate the problems and in some cases even prevent surgery. Yoga asanas practiced with proper alignment will massage and regulate internal organs including the appendix.
General benefits to the immune system
Meditation helps reduce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which have a negative effect on the immune system.
Yoga promotes healthy blood circulation and reduces the chances of blockage in arteries. Due to this your blood can transport the necessary proteins and white blood cells that patrol the body looking for microbes and antigens.
Various Ayurvedic herbs exist, which help you to strengthen the immune system. The major one among them is Giloy. Drinking Giloy juice with a few Tulsi leaves will help you increase your platelet count.
A healthy immune system will dramatically increase the quality of your life. The yogic lifestyle can help make that a reality.