Photo credits: Diyako Mohammadi
Besides eating superfoods, vitamins, and supplements, you can do more to boost your immune system. Maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly, are just a few essential ways to strengthen your natural immunity.
When it comes to exercise, it’s smart to include different types of workouts. Along with your regular strength or cardio workouts, did you know that incorporating some yoga will improve your immune system? Yes, yoga!
If you’re curious to discover more, read on to find out why trying yoga for stress relief and mental well-being will boost your immune system.
How yoga affects your body systems
Some of the body systems we all have include the circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, nervous, musculoskeletal, reproductive, and respiratory systems. Each of them needs to function effectively as they not only perform crucial jobs for the body but they all affect each other.
When your parasympathetic nervous system leads, your blood pressure drops and you will feel calm, relaxed, and less stressed.
For example, if your circulatory system isn’t doing its job well, your reproductive system will underperform. In other words, if your heart doesn’t push enough blood to your cells, your reproductive system won’t be able to generate new skin cells or even brain cells. That sounds scary, right? If that should happen, it would be alarming for this reason: new cells are vital for our bodies to grow and develop.
Another example is when you are under any stress – should it be mental or physical, perceived or real. Your sympathetic nervous system (the one responsible for your ‘fight-or-flight’ response) begins to dominate and your physiology changes.
As a result, your body will make fighting the ‘threat’ (your stress) its priority, which may cause some of your body systems to malfunction: your digestive system may not produce enough energy and your immune system may stop fighting back against bacteria, viruses or parasites. That’s something none of us want, especially in this challenging year of 2020.
Instead, what we want is the dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system (the one responsible for ‘rest and digest’). When your parasympathetic nervous system leads, your blood pressure drops and you will feel calm, relaxed, and less stressed.
All these are benefits of a good yoga practice – with enhanced blood flow that allows oxygen and other substances to move freely in the body.
When the parasympathetic nervous system is in charge, your immune system and other body systems will function well.
Yoga for boosting the immunity
As we discussed in this article, yoga is not about stretching but about feeling connected to ourselves and making the body function as a whole.
Yoga is a ‘work-in’ (rather than a workout) so as a practice it’s more about how you feel than how you look. But what does a ‘work-in’ mean exactly? What happens inside?
“Yoga is when every cell of the body sings the song of the soul.”
– B.K.S. Iyengar, Indian yoga master.
This quote points out a fundamental principle of yoga: the linked relationship of the body and mind. In other words, when you do yoga correctly, you’ll feel connected to yourself both physically and mentally. Along with the feeling of connectedness, the aim is to feel fully engaged both physically and mentally in the practice, and when that happens, yoga becomes a mindfulness practice!
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, and it comes with numerous benefits, including decreased stress, improved self-awareness, increased levels of focus, better sleep, or lowered blood pressure.
HINT: Did you know that guided deep breathing exercises are also mindful practices?
Fortunately for you, we created Serene™, a smart coaching feature for mindful breathing. It’s available in the Polar Vantage series, the most recent Polar fitness watches, and the Polar Grit X outdoor watch.
A mindful yoga practice will also help remove internal blockages and let blood and energy flow freely across and within the body. This will lead to a good circulatory system, a calm nervous system, and as a result, a well-functioning immune system too.
Yoga for stress relief and other immunity-boosting practices
Today’s wide selection of yoga styles provides the opportunity for us to choose from different levels of intensity and types of classes. One thing they all have in common is a positive impact on our health. Most classes come with the great benefit of relieving stress/anxiety and calming the nervous system, which are both keys to increasing our immune response capability.
Let’s look at some common yoga-related concepts that help us in stress reduction and becoming healthier.
BODY AND BREATH AWARENESS
Asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control) are two of the ‘eight limbs of yoga’ – the basic principles of practicing yoga both in ancient times and today. Asana teaches us about anatomy, posture, and looks that are associated with the musculoskeletal system, while pranayama is tied to different breathing techniques that happen through the respiratory system.
When the two are combined and we let the breath guide us through postures and movements, it has an amazing effect on our physiology. Asana and pranayama get the whole body in sync, promoting blood flow in the circulatory system.
As we mentioned above, a good yoga practice makes us feel connected and lets the body function as a whole. This effectively means that all your body’s cells speak the same common language.
The body-mind (or mind-body) connection is about our physical, mental, and emotional experiences and their effect on each other. Yoga teaches us how quieting the mind can relax the body, and vice versa: relaxing the body can quiet the mind. It’s an important skill to learn, especially if we want less stress and an efficient immune system.
Do you think meditation means sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position with closed eyes? Think again. Meditation is about being aware of your thoughts, observing them, getting a healthy sense of perspective, and learning to understand them.
Meditation means you stop worrying about the past and the future. Instead, you embrace the present. Although meditation and mindfulness are not exactly the same, the two concepts go hand-in-hand. When done right, meditation relaxes the body, calms the nervous system, and enhances blood circulation.
Did you know smell is the strongest of the senses? Burning scented candles and using essential oils are often part of modern yoga classes. They not only lift the vibe of the class but also reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
A study has shown that aromatherapy is a very effective stress management method as it can strongly influence brain activity. Some of the most popular soothing scents are lavender, rosemary, peppermint, ylang-ylang, and lemon.
Do you want to reduce stress, stimulate your digestive system, activate your immune system, or simply be in a better mood? Go and inhale some essential oils!
Can our wellbeing be enhanced by being grateful? Science says, yes. Positive psychology and mental health researchers have established a powerful connection between gratitude and good health.
Among its endless benefits, expressing gratitude regularly helps in stress regulation, reduces anxiety, increases positive emotions and thoughts, improves sleep, and even strengthens the immune system. While focusing on gratitude has nothing to do with yoga, feeling grateful to your body and to your yoga practice does have a positive impact on your wellbeing, including your immunity.
TL;DR (AKA A QUICK SUMMARY)
So, to answer the question: can regular yoga practice boost your immunity? Yes.
Your immune system works most efficiently when all other human body systems – such as the nervous system, circulatory system, and digestive system – do their job properly.
That’s where yoga comes in, helping the body systems to function optimally by:
- Increasing blood circulation without putting too much stress on the body.
- Calming the nervous system.
- Teaching the body and mind to connect.
- Improving overall well-being.
The concept of yoga for stress relief and relaxation goes hand-in-hand with a strong immune system.
Feel like giving yoga for stress relief a try? Here’s a 30-minute session that’s suitable for both first-timers and advanced practitioners.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.