It probably comes as no surprise to you that Yoga develops flexibility, strength, and balance. What many people don’t know is that Yoga, when done correctly, also has a profound impact on all of the body’s internal systems like the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems. Understanding how opening and balancing the outside of the body affects the inside of the body is crucial if you’re going to get the most out of your practice. This wicked flu season we’re all trying to avoid or recuperate from is a perfect example. Yoga can actually be one of your strongest aids in boosting your immune system to prevent or speed up recovery from sickness.
Even the most basic and uninformed Yoga practices will support the immune system to a certain degree because movement encourages blood flow. When you vary the movements by practicing different Yoga postures you’re helping the blood circulate throughout more of the body. That means that blood coming from the heart, which is rich in oxygen, flows into more of the tissues and those same tissues are better able to dump the waste products they need to get rid of.
That’s common sense, and although it is helpful to general health, it’s not necessarily powerful enough to significantly support the immune system in the face of disease. To do this, we need to practice chest openers and inversions.
Opening the chest should be a major focus in all of your Yoga postures, because we’re all prone to “the slouch”. When the shoulders go up towards the ears and roll in towards the chest the heart and lungs are compromised. All organs suffer when they have less space and function better when they have more space. But when we’re specifically targeting the immune system we want to maximize the space in the chest, so we rely on supine postures and use props to create that space.
Sit on the floor and lay back over some folded blankets or a good Yoga bolster. The support should be even and exactly along the spine, firm yet not too hard. Put another blanket under your head. This doesn’t sound impressive and if you do it when you’re healthy you won’t feel much except a pleasant relaxation, but do it when you’re feeling low energy, having a breathing issue, or sick and you’ll experience it’s strong effect. The support under the spine pushes the chest up, which literally opens the bronchioles of the lungs. You’ll find yourself breathing easier and if you consciously relax in this position for at least 10 minutes you’ll feel better. Obviously this won’t cure a cold or flu, but if you follow it up with other postures that have a similar effect on the chest you will have a significant effect. There are many supine poses that can be modified with props to create more space in the chest. The more you do the deeper the effect will be.
Anyone can learn the supine chest openers and do them with simple props found at home, like firm pillows, blankets, or even towels, so this is the place to start. But if you want to hugely boost the immune system, get yourself upside down and stay there for a while.
The simplest inversion is laying on your back with the legs up the wall, and the more sophisticated ones are called headstand and shoulderstand. Being upside down is amazing for the blood and lymphatic circulation, but the biggest deal is that the brain is bathed in oxygenated blood. The endocrine system regulates the chemical balance of the body, telling the various glands what they need to do via hormones. The hormones travel in the bloodstream and the master gland of the endocrine system is in the brain. So when you spend time upside down you are flushing lots of healthy blood through the endocrine system and significantly supporting it’s function in regulating the body’s chemical balance.
Increasing blood and lymph flow and helping the endocrine system function at mach speed directly translates to fortifying the immune system.
Yoga is about practice, not theory. This information is only valuable if you practice it, and unlike taking a pill you have to do it consistently, at least for a few days in a row to get an effect. Do the supine chest opener I suggested for 10 minutes, then lay on your back with the legs up the wall for another 10 minutes, then repeat the first pose for another 10 minutes. If you’re sick or low energy do this simple sequence a couple times per day for a few days and you’ll be convinced, not because the theory makes sense but because you feel better. If you’re inspired, learn how to do the headstand and shoulderstand properly with props and you will be absolutely amazed at how effectively you can naturally support your body’s healing powers.
Christian Leeby has been practicing and teaching Yoga for over 25 years. Please visit him at www.miracleofyoga.com