When cold and flu season strikes, most people go to great lengths to boost their immune system to avoid getting sick. Repetitive hand washing until the skin cracks, disinfectant wipes galore, and most people are still missing the boat. Studies show that avid exercisers contract fewer illnesses and get over the ones that they do get quicker than most people. Yoga, in particular, protects the immune system like a suit of armor.
Exercise for Immunity
Most studies out there can attest that though vigorous exercise works wonders too, moderate exercise is the best way to protect the body. The most important result is the body’s use of oxygen during exercise, which acts like a natural disinfectant in your bloodstream. One of the core elements of yoga practice is using the breath, cleaning out the body as you practice, exercising the respiratory system, and preparing the body to take on those nasty invaders.
The increase in oxygen also triggers lymph to move through the body. The lymph nodes are set into action with gentle movement–thank you, yoga!–and increased oxygen. The purpose of lymph is to travel through the body, picking up foreign substances and filtering it out using white blood cells. Both gentle movement and increased oxygen are elements of yoga.
It’s Getting Hot in Here!
Evidence suggests that one of the other benefits of exercise and immunity is the increase in body temperature, which inhibits bacteria from growing out of control. Just like your body runs a fever when you have an infection to fight bacteria, the increase in your body’s heat works the same way. This would also suggest that practicing Bikram yoga or other forms of yoga in a heated room would aid in that anti-bacterial feature, not to mention the increased blood flow bringing even more oxygen with it.
De-stress for Your Health
There is no doubt that stress can lead to poor immune response, and allows your body to contract more common illnesses like colds and flu, but can also lead to more serious diseases as well. Yogis de-stress each time they practice, improving the immune system’s ability to ward off illness. In some countries, yoga and other meditative practices like tai chi are even prescribed as another step in addition to medicinal recovery to patients with disease. These exercises are considered better for your immune system than vigorous exercise, since it doesn’t zap energy like running or other cardio exercises.
Pose Your Way Healthy
There are certain poses that encourage health on a more immediate basis as they work to strengthen your body on a long- term basis:
Downward Facing Dog
Upside down V-shape, like a plank with backside up. This common and easy pose causes blood to flow to the sinuses, bringing oxygen to this commonly affected region. Try it when you feel a cold coming on!
Crunched in a ball on your knees, like you have pushed back from plank position, arms stretched out. This pose helps stretch the back and open the chest to help respiration.
A plank with lower body flat on the ground, arms straight, looking up toward the ceiling. Like child’s pose, this position opens the chest and stretches the abdominal area to aid in digestion.
Add yoga to your exercise routine and fight off those pathogens that are making everyone else sick. You just might make it out of flu season unscathed!