Yoga, stress, and immunity

By Ann Swanson

During challenging times, stress takes a toll on the mind and the body. Stress can lead to compromised immunity, increased inflammation, poor sleep, and exhaustion. Regular yoga practice offers a chance to create the opposite for ourselves.

Your immune system protects you by fighting off invaders like viruses. Your body intrinsically has the capacity to heal, and yoga—which includes meditation—can help in a number of ways.

Yoga boosts your immunity, helping you get sick less often and, when you do, less intensely. A review of relevant research shows that a regular yoga practice improves immune function (including mucosal and cell-mediated immunity, key aspects of your body’s first-line and sustained defenses) and reduces inflammatory markers (particularly IL-1beta, IL-6, and TNF-alpha).

Researchers believe that chronic inflammation leads to a higher risk of disease. Yoga and meditation lessen inflammation by downregulating the stress response, which may reduce risk of infections.

Another key to be your healthiest, strongest self: rest and rejuvenation. Research shows that yoga can improve sleep quality; this has been seen in several populations including older adults and nurses. Yoga improves sleep and stress because of its profound effects on your nervous system, which in turn affects your whole body and overall well-being. Yoga directly targets the autonomic nervous system, your body’s master control system. Calming the nervous system—going into the relaxation response more often—helps your organs to function optimally, giving your body greater capacity to fight invaders and heal. Yoga has been shown to lead to “reduced fatigue and increased vigor” in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome.

If you, too, could use some vigor and vitality right now—and who couldn’t?—try some therapeutic yoga today, wherever you are. It can be as simple as meditating for 5 minutes. Try this meditation for stressful times and feel the effects for yourself:

To help you manage stress and boost immunity, find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here. Many offer online sessions one-to-one or in small groups.

Ann Swanson, MS, C-IAYT, LMT, E-RYT 500, has a Master of Science in Yoga Therapy and is the author of Science of Yoga. She helps people safely manage stress and chronic pain online, including via free video practices and information on online yoga therapy.


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