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Yoga, the Stress Response, and a Healthy Immune System

We can’t really know certain things by talking about them alone.   Love, happiness, grief are only truly known through experience.  No one needs to hear a verbal definition of stress right now.  One new virus has given us all the experience we need.  As yoga practitioners, I know that you have had the experience of the well being, calm and inner peace that yoga can provide.  If you are on this mailing list, I don’t have to sell you on that.  But it may be a time to strengthen your resolve to practice in order to help get you and your loved ones through this trying time. (This too shall pass).

Why yoga for the immune system?  The immune system includes the tonsils, adenoids, thymus gland, lymph nodes, bone marrow, white blood cells, spleen and appendix.  Immune cells are circulating constantly throughout the body and some are stationed permanently in organs and tissues.  A competent immune system needs healthy skin, lungs, and gut which all rely on a healthy circulatory system.  Immune cells travel through the blood stream and lymphatic system.  The heart provides the pump for blood circulation, but the lymph system has no such pump and must rely on our daily movement to circulate properly and deliver immune cells to their proper checkpoints and target sites.

Yoga asanas move the body in every direction, stretching not only muscle but also skin and organs.  They squeeze and soak the tissues providing healthy circulation of nutrients, hormones and immune cells to every part of the body.  Committing to as little as 10 minutes of daily asana practice that includes a pose from each class of asana (standing pose, forward bend, backbend, twist, side bend, and inversion) can improve circulation and range of motion.  Practicing as little as 10 minutes 3 times a week can provide improvement in overall posture and thus circulation.  I happen to live with someone who is proof of the latter and will probably agree with me!

Perhaps even more crucial in these times is to mitigate mental stress with deep breathing and meditation.  How we react to stress has more influence on immunity than the stressful event itself.  Shallow, agitated respiration is read as danger in the body.  Studies have proven over and over, as I hope has your own experience, that deep, paced breathing and relaxation break the stress response and stimulate the relaxation response. The stress response triggers the adrenals, suppressing the immune system and causing one to feel as if everything is a crisis.  Taking some deep breaths breaks that cycle and brings about the dominance of the rest and digest response.   A 5 minute daily practice (2 minutes of full deep breathing and 3 minutes of sitting ENJOYING the quiet effect) can be a life changer, and maybe a life saver.  Of course these would be the minimum daily dosages.   When you have time for more, the benefits will multiply…but please DON’T stress over it!

Stay well, Be Well




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