As winter trudges on for 6 more weeks, it seems impossible to escape the outbreak of colds, flus, and other nasty contagions that make this season so unbearable. The best way to avoid illness is to take preventative measures. This includes washing hands frequently, eating foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, and exercising! Too many of us make excuses during wintertime to avoid our usual workout, which can lead to weakened immune systems, fatigue, and illness. Yoga practice is an excellent way to get in a great workout, despite the weather. When you strengthen your body from the inside out, you can boost your own immune system. How does this work?, you may be wondering. Well, it is actually pretty simple. Yoga, like most exercise, makes our bodies and minds stronger in a few specific ways, allowing us to fight disease more effectively.
Improving your physique is about way more than how you look; it is also about how you feel and how efficiently your body is working. In addition to strengthening your biceps and glutes, you are also giving your vital organs a workout and increasing their stamina. When your heart rate is increased through exercise, the white blood cells that are responsible for locating and attacking pathogens in the body are able to travel faster, which allows them to destroy harmful cells more quickly. During yoga, your internal body temperature increases, which some experts believe plays an important role in controlling the spread of harmful bacteria. Poses that incorporate an inversion, such as Downward Dog, Head or Shoulder Stands, and Legs up the Wall can aid in lymphatic system efficiency by helping to drain the lymph, which is a fluid that travels through the lymph nodes, gathering pathogens in the body and filtering them out. The thymus, a specialized immune system organ that is responsible for producing and directing our T cells (sometimes referred to as “killer T cells” for their ability to locate and destroy pathogens) is located in the chest cavity behind the breastbone. Chest opening poses, such as Cobra and Camel, can help to energize and stimulate the thymus, which encourages those T cells to do their job.
Experts are finally beginning to study the effects of stress on our health, and the results are pretty astounding. In a study by Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that people who experience psychological stress were more likely to develop the common cold because their immune cells were unable to respond to hormonal signals that control inflammation. Because inflammation is also a key component in many other illnesses, such as asthma and cardiovascular disease, the effects of stress can be quite far-reaching. Luckily, yoga practice can help us reduce our stressors through meditation and mindfulness. If you are not a regular meditator, start small. On your morning commute, remind yourself of the things you are looking forward to, rather than those you are dreading. Find time throughout the day to appreciate yourself and those around you and take time to quiet your mind before bed. It may seem miniscule, but when it comes to your health, any little bit helps!