Yoga as an integrated system for boosting immunity: body purification, breathwork and postures
1. improve the circulation of white blood cells and lymph
2. stimulate the thymus gland and
3. clear the broncials.
Immune System 101
The immune system is made up of different organs, cells and proteins and aside from the nervous system – it is the most complex system of the human body. Its main tasks are to neutralize pathogens like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that have entered the body, and remove them from the body. It recognizes and neutralizes harmful substances from the environment, and the immune system fights against the body’s own cells that have changed due to an illness, for example cancerous cells. This site is a thorough read on the fascinating intricate workings of our immune system.
A quick search for immune boosting yoga the internet shows there are three main themes involved in poses that help bolster us against colds and flus: 1. improving the circulation of white blood cells and lymph, 2. stimulating the thymus gland and 3. clearing the broncials. See the postures at the end of this article to find the ones that work for you.
White Blood Cells + Lymph
White blood cells (WBCs), or leukocytes, are a part of the immune system and help our bodies fight infection. They circulate in the blood so that they can be transported to an area where an infection has developed. In a normal adult body there are 4,000 to 10,000 (average 7,000) WBCs per microliter of blood. When the number of WBCs in your blood increases, this is a sign of an infection somewhere in your body. Get your heart going with yoga and you’ll help bring WBCs to the locations it’s most needed.
The lymph system is the body’s drainage system. It is composed of a network of vessels and small structures called lymph nodes. The lymph vessels convey excess fluid collected from all over the body back into the blood circulation. Along the way, however, these fluids are forced to percolate through the lymph nodes so that they can be filtered. Harmful organisms are trapped and destroyed by the specialized white blood cells, called lymphocytes, that are present in these nodes. Lymphocytes are also added to the lymph that flows out of nodes and back to the bloodstream.
Unlike blood, which moves as a result of the heart pumping, lymph moves by muscular contractions. Yoga and other forms of physical exercise, is key for keeping lymph flowing. Gravity also affects lymph flow, so any time your head is below your heart—for example, in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)—lymph moves into the respiratory organs, where germs often enter the body. When you return to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph, sending it through your lymph nodes for cleansing. Dry brushing is yet another way to keep your lymph system flushingly healthy.
Thymus GlandNestled behind the breast bone, the thymus gland has been called the gland that protects you long after it’s gone. Before birth and throughout childhood, the thymus is instrumental in the production and maturation of T-lymphocytes or T cells, a specific type of white blood cell that protects the body from certain threats, including viruses and infections. For example, Cytotoxic T cells (TC cells, or CTLs) destroy virally infected cells and tumor cells. Memory T cells are a subset of antigen-specific T cells that persist long-term after an infection has resolved, thus providing the immune system with “memory” against past infections. Regulatory T cells (Treg cells) are crucial for the maintenance of immunological tolerance. Their major role is to shut down T cell-mediated immunity toward the end of an immune reaction.
Clearing the bronchialsHere, you’re physically clearing out the bronchials of any debris caused by the body’s response to disease.
Inhaled air enters the nose and mouth and then travels into the windpipe, or trachea. The bronchial tubes are large passageways that direct air from the trachea into smaller airways called bronchioles. From there, air travels into the smaller branches and air sacs of the lungs. The bronchial tubes engage several defense mechanisms to battle possible infections. One of these defenses is inflammation of the bronchial lining. This inflammation leads to increased mucus production, congestion and cough.
In addition to clearing the bronchials, Neti (Sanskrit: नेति) is an important part of Hindu Shatkarma (a.k.a. Shatkriya), the yogic system of body cleansing techniques integral part of Hinduism that can help during cold and flu season. It is intended mainly to the cleaning of the sinuses in the head.Hatha Yoga usually attribute to Neti many beneficial effects that range from profound physiological ones on the body, mind and personality to even clairvoyance, working on the third eye. The two main variants are jala neti (जलनेति) using water and the more advanced sutra neti (सूत्रनेति) using string.
Asanas (yoga postures) for the Immune System:
If any of these pique your interest, we encourage you to ask the yoga or meditation instructors at Root for a demonstration.
Check out our most recent yoga schedule here.
Shatkarma (Body Purification):
Kapalabhati/Breath of Fire – increases resistance of respiratory tract, forces out mucus
Nadi Shodhana/Alternate Nostril Breath – increases resistance of sinuses
Navasana/Boat– stimulatesimmune system and thymus gland
Gomukasana/Cow Face Pose – relieves bronchial congestion
Ustrasana/Camel – relieves bronchial congestion
Balasana/Child’s Pose – relieves bronchial congestion
Bhujangasana/Cobra – opens chest, prevents pneumonia, stimulates immune system & thymus gland
Dhanurasana/Bow – stimulates immune system & thymus gland
Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog – opens sinuses
Eka Pada Rajakapotasana/Pigeon – stimulates immune system and thymus gland
Kurmasana/Tortoise – stimulates thymus gland
Setu Bhandasana/Bridge – stimulates immune system and thymus gland
Matsyasana/Fish – stimulates immune system and thymus gland
Viparita Karani/Legs up the Wall Pose– boosts immune system