the immune system with yoga
by Jeff Migdow, M.D.
of us, the arrival of autumn means it's time to stock up on
Kleenex and cough drops. Along with seasonal allergies, autumn
means colder weather that can bring with it colds and flu. But
yoga can help by strengthening and balancing your basic weapon
against sinus conditions -- the immune system. Yoga postures,
pranayama, relaxation and meditation are powerful tools for
helping to stimulate or calm the immune response depending on
allergy symptoms indicate that your immune system is working
overtime. A stuffy nose, ears and sinuses, inflamed eyes, headaches,
sore throat and difficulty breathing are all caused by the mucus-producing
process of the inmmune system attacking innocuous invaders.
Through relaxation, the nervous system can tell the immune system
to settle down and stop attacking the foreign bodies, which
are naturally cleared out in a non-allergic person by sneezing
once or twice a day. When the immune system backs off, inflammation
and mucus decrease and symptoms diminish.
any yoga posture in a relaxing way with slow deep breathing
and the intention to let go and relax the nervous system can
be very beneficial in decreasing the symptoms of allergies.
Kapalabhati breathing is great for allergies as it forces out
the mucus. (Don't forget to keep tissues within easy reach!)
The relaxation time at the end of a yoga class can also be an
important part of decreasing allergic immune response. Encourage
your students to relax and affirm that the relaxation will help
decrease their reaction to allergens. However, be aware that
students suffering from allergies may become too congested when
lying on their backs; you can suggest they lie on the stomach
or side if that's more comfortable.
the nervous system has been shown to help direct the immune
system to attack the viruses and bacteria that increase in colder
weather. Colds are caused by bacteria and affect the upper respiratory
system, causing stuffiness, coughing, sore throat, etc. If the
immune system is weak, the bacteria can go into the lungs and
cause bronchitis or pneumonia. Viruses go deeper into the system,
causing chills, fever or pain and aching in the joints.
But a strong
immune system can frost the invaders within a few days, preventing
more extreme manifestations of the illness and in fact strengthening
the immune system. Again, yoga postures done in a relaxed way
and slow, deep pranayama can help relax the nervous system and
boost the immune response.
way to build the immune system and improve sinus-related conditions
is to focus on the thymus gland. Located in the chest, the thymus
gland is the locus of the immune system. Thus both the thymus
gland and the immune system are stimulated by any posture in
which we open the chest and breathe deeply into it. The most
beneficial postures for this purpose are the Cobra, the Pigeon,
the Fish, the Boat, the Bow and the Bridge.
thymus gland corresponds to the fourth chakra, these postures
can be enhanced by including chakra sounds such as the fourth
chakra bij mantra "yum" or the fourth chakra vowel sound "ay."
Kapalabhati breathing or slow deep ujjayi breathing in postures
where the chest is open can also be beneficial. Experiment with
practicing the postures as you breathe deeply into the chest
and sound the mantras. My audiotape on Prana Yoga, send out
through KYTA last spring, will help guide you in combining the
mantras with the postures.
relaxed nervous system and a focused and revitalized immune
system, you'll find you're able to resist autumn allergens and
throw off winter's infections more readily.
M.D., a former director of Kripalu
Yoga Teacher Training, is the developer and director of Prana
Yoga Teacher Training. For information about workshops at
the Open Center in New York City and his Prana Yoga Teacher
Training, call 212-219-2527. For information about Jeff's medical
practice, call 413-448-3446.
with permission from the Kripalu
Yoga Teachers Association Yoga Bulletin.