Words by Louise Longson
Find out how yoga can give your immune system a boost for a happy, healthy winter.
‘Tis the season of sniffles, coughs and colds, but without hiding away until spring it’s hard to avoid. Now is the time to build up your immune system as much as possible and your yoga practice can help. As we get busier in the lead up to Christmas it can be difficult to keep up with your usual yoga practice but making time for yoga could be your best defence against infections. Here’s why.
How Stress Affects Immunity
Let’s start with our old friend stress. Stress lowers our number of lymphocyte cells, the white blood cells that fight off infection. In addition, long term exposure to the stress hormone cortisol weakens your immune system leaving you vulnerable to any passing germs.
A regular yoga or meditation practice can help to reduce stress and give your immune system a break. Now is the time to really listen to your body. If you’re already feeling under the weather or exhausted from cramming in Christmas shopping and parties around work, you may be better off with a gentle or restorative practice, even if you’re normally a sweaty, fast paced vinyasa kind of person. According to Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, soothing, restorative postures build ojas, or vital essence, which supports the immune system.
How Movement Affects Immunity
Having said that, if you feel up to some flow in your practice then go for it. Movement creates muscle contractions that support our bodies lymphatic system. This moves lymph fluid around the body filtering out toxins, waste and bacteria as well as transporting antibodies and those all-important lymphocyte cells.
Practicing inversions such as downward facing dog and headstand is also a great way to help the lymphatic system along. Dropping your head below your heart helps to move lymph into the upper respiratory tract, filtering out those nasties and draining them away once upright. Inversions are also calming for the central nervous system, helping to reduce stress and therefore boosting the immune system.
Yoga Can Help
Back to those flu fighting lymphocyte cells. The thymus gland, which sits just above the heart and between the lungs, is the place where immature T-cells (a type of lymphocyte cell) are developed into strong fighting forces against viruses and bacteria. Practicing heart opening backbends such as cobra and camel can stimulate the thymus gland leading to a stronger immune system. Backbends also activate the heart chakra, increasing our capacity for unconditional love and compassion. It’s easy to feel anger towards our fellow humans when we’re battling through crowds of Christmas shoppers fighting over the last bag of sprouts. But replacing that anger with compassion and love will help you stay not only calmer, but healthier too. Feeling compassion instead of anger reduces stress, which leads to a stronger immune system.
So trying to find a little time to fit in your yoga practice, even when the Christmas chaos really kicks in, will help you to have a happier, healthier winter.
Here are a couple of nourishing restorative poses to try, to give your immune system a boost.
Supported Fish Pose - Matsyasana
Lying on your back, placing a block under the bottom tips of your shoulder blades and a lower block under your head. Improvise with a rolled blanket under your back and a small cushion under your head if you don’t have any blocks. This pose will stimulate the thymus gland and heart chakra without the energy normally required for backbending poses. Rest here for a few minutes to really reap the benefits.
Legs up the Wall – Viparita Karani
This is a beautiful restorative inversion to calm the central nervous system and encourage lymph drainage. Lying on the floor, bring your bottom right up to the wall and then swing your legs up to rest against the wall. Placing a block (or cushion) under the hips will elevate you into a higher inversion. As you rest here, close your eyes and focus your awareness on your breath.
Louise is a yoga teacher and forever a yoga student. She loves to share the yoga philosophy and practices that have transformed her life, helping students to find a sense of peace and balance during class that carries over in to their daily lives. She is passionate about following a vegan lifestyle and loves to cook nourishing, tasty food, especially when sharing it with friends. www.louiselongsonyoga.co.uk
Facebook – Louise Longson Yoga
More Yoga on Balance Garden