Although we often think the benefits of yoga have to do with developing flexibility and strength, yoga practice can also help us fight off disease. Yoga strengthens the immune system by reducing stress and by stimulating the lymphatic system.
Stress weakens immune system. When we are stressed our bodies release a variety of hormones that inhibit the effectiveness of the immune system. When psychologically stressed we respond the same as if physically threatened. “Fight or flight” hormones are released into the blood stream which cause heart rate to increase, digestion to slow down, breathing to increase - all so that we are ready to face whatever perceived danger is present. These stress hormones also slow the production of germ fighting cells. When we are chronically stressed, we are in the alert mode all the time and our immune systems are compromised.
The lymphatic system is a main player in our immune systems. Lymphatic fluid moves through the body collecting the toxins, invading bacteria and viruses and eventually deposits the waste into the blood stream. The lymph system does not have a pumping mechanism to move the fluid through the body. An efficient lymph system depends on muscle contraction and gravity to do its job.
Where does yoga fit in? First, Yoga offers us a way to relax the nervous system, slow the heart rate and breathing rate, and allow the “fight or flight” response to calm down. Production of germ fighting cells increases as our hormone production becomes balanced. Second, the muscle actions we use to move into and out of poses contract and release our muscles and provide the needed pumping action to move lymphatic fluid through our bodies. Inversions put us in positions where gravity also enhances the flow of lymphatic fluid.
Stay healthy, fight disease, be flexible, be strong, be relaxed. Come to class!