How does yoga boost the immune system?

In winter, we are more susceptible to illness. Maybe you have already caught a flu or a cold. But if you haven’t yet, I have good news for you: yoga may help you to protect yourself from disease! Here is three ways in which yoga can boost the immune system.

  1. Improving immune cell production

Firstly, yoga postures have an effect on the organs and endocrine glands in the body. By stretching and compressing specific areas in a pose, more blood will flow to these areas and the organs will have more space. One of the organs that plays an essential role in the immune system is the thymus. The thymus produces T-cells, a type of white blood cell, that help to remove pathogens from the body.

The thymus is located in the upper chest, so yoga poses that stretch and compress the chest will help to improve its functioning. Examples of such poses are halasana (plough pose) and matsyasana (fish pose), shown in the pictures below.

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Plough pose (left) and fish pose (right) improve functioning of the thymus, thereby boosting the immune system.

2. Releasing toxins from the body

Secondly, yoga affects the lymphatic system. This is one of the systems in the body that receives less attention, but nevertheless is vital in maintaining overall health. The lymphatic system carries fluid through the body that contains immune cells, and also removes toxins – including pathogens – which it is often said that it has a detoxing effect.

Yoga postures work the whole body, contracting and releasing muscles everywhere. This is very important to keep circulating lymph through the system. In our usual posture and other forms of exercise, some parts of the body may be ignored, blocking the flow of lymph in some parts of the body. Twists (such as ardha matsyendrasana, see below) and inversions (such as headstand or shoulder stand) are especially effective for the stimulation of the lymphatic system.

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Twists have a detox effect on the body by increasing circulation in the lymphatic system.

3. Reducing stress

Last but not least, reducing stress is key in preventing illness. A famous study by Segerstrom and Miller (2004) showed that the stress response suppresses the immune system. Yoga, in turn, has a strong stress-reducing effect, thereby countering the suppression of the immune response.

One of the most simple and effective yoga exercises that help to reduce stress is the abdominal breath. Just sit down and breathe towards your lower belly, winding down and relaxing.

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Breathing exercises are helpful to reduce stress.

Hopefully this article has clarified how yoga may help to boost the immune system. The conclusion must be clear: take a yoga class regularly and you will significantly reduce the chance of catching illnesses! If you did despite your efforts, get well soon.

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