YOGA & THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
You might notice, at this time of year, a natural urge to move towards certain asana in your home practice, and these same asana cropping up in sequences your yoga teacher guides you through in class. This is no coincidence! Our bodies are more intelligent than we give them credit for. Nature is in tune with the seasons, and sometimes we forget we are part of nature. Winter moves us into darkness and colder weather, and is the time to explore grounding (forward bends & seated) and warming asana (twists & inversions).
Late nights, Christmas parties, foods you may not usually indulge in and the mayhem of Christmas prep – all put a strain on our immune system. Yoga stimulates four systems which boost our immunity – circulation, digestion, nervous & endocrine. Twists and inversions tick all four of these boxes. The practice also brings our attention to the breath – expanding and slowing our breath down soothes the nervous system and helps our lungs fight off respiratory infections over the winter months.
Twists massage and bring fresh blood flow to all the internal organs – stimulating the digestive system for maximum nutrient absorption; the liver and kidneys to remove toxins; and the lymph system which supports white blood cell production. It also stokes your internal prana (life energy) generator and helps you stay warm from within over the colder periods from within. Click this link to get a full list of twists.
Inversions can evoke different responses. For many of us turning the world upside down can be a bit daunting and make us feel quite vulnerable. But you don’t have to spend your day Instagramming yourself in handstand to take an inversion! Inversions are any asana where the heart is above the head – standing forward bends, Adho Mukha Svanasana/Downward Facing Dog, Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/Bridge and of course the lovely restorative Viparita Kiranai/Legs up the wall. Inversions get the blood flowing through your whole body – stimulating the digestive, nervous & endocrine systems. They also relieve stress and help with infertility, insomnia and sinusitis. Some inversions are grounding (forward bends, shoulderstand & headstand) and others are energising (handstand & peacock). Click this link to get a full list of inversions.
In yoga philosophy it’s said that there is a fluid secreted by the pineal gland in the head called Amriti, also known as the ‘fluid of immortality’. In our everyday upright position the Amriti flows down the body and is burnt up by prana energy. Inversions pool the Amriti back into the crown of the head and bring with them regeneration and vibrant health, allowing us to experiencing life at a higher resolution. This is a lovely idea and it's easy to see why inversions are considered the king of all yoga asana! Practising any of the inversions on a regular bases definitely brings a yoga glow to your complexion and gives you a different perspective on the world.
No article about boosting the immune system would be complete without mentioning the relationship between stress and its effect on the immune system. Stress-related illness, ranging from the common cold to obesity, heart disease and depression, are unfortunately rapidly increasing. It is well documented that yoga has a very calming and grounding effect – reducing stress, anxiety and tension in the body, a topic warranting a post of its own which will follow soon.
Click on the sequence above and try to get onto your mat as often as you can over the coming months to support your immune system. Just 10 minutes of Surya Namaskara/Sun Salutations over the festive period and into the new year will make a difference you'll notice.
Ruth Delahunty Yogaru