Can Yoga Help Improve Your Immune Function?

It’s that time of year when many of us start to fall victim to the colds, flu, and other lurgies doing the rounds.

I get asked often…

“Can yoga help with my immune function?”

To answer this question it helps to remember that there are many factors that actually impact our immune function:

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle/ exercise
  • Work/ living environments
  • Sleep

But one of the biggest factors impacting on immune function and the one that is often underestimated in its impact is STRESS.

We know that long-standing psychological stress actually disrupts the interaction between the nervous system and the immune system.

There was a scientific review written in 2006 that discussed some of the significant health consequences of stress on immunity and included;

  • Reduced immune response to vaccines (this is one I’ve been hearing a lot lately)
  • Slower wound healing
  • Reactivation of latent viruses like herpes
  • Increase of more severe infectious disease

The researchers also mentioned that chronic stress can increase the production of pro inflammatory molecules that are responsible for communicating with our cells (cytokines)

Anyway these molecules are elevated during chronic stress and increase the inflammatory response in our bodies. They have been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

We can’t underestimate the impact that stress has on our immune function!

If you have issues with immune function and are on and off antibiotics, needing to take sick leave often, and constantly feeling like you’re coming down with some nasty, I strongly suggest you do your diaphragmatic breathing.

Another study published in 2011 looked at immune function in men with prostate cancer pre and post surgery; 159 men were divided into 2 groups, one that was taught diaphragmatic breathing, guided imagery, and the control group were given a medical interview.

Blood samples were taken before and after surgery. The results showed the breathing group had significantly better immune parameters after surgery and they had decreased pre-surgical mood disturbance. Now I’m constantly harping on about the breathing in class but here you have it, this study didn’t even involve any yoga postures!!

Simple breathing and visualization… its quiet possibly the cheapest way to see improvements in your immune system.

Remember! Frequency is the key.

Godbout JP, Glaser R. Stress-induced immune dysregulation: implications for wound healing, infectious disease and cancer. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2006 Dec;1(4):421-7.

Cohen L1, Parker PA, Vence L, Savary C, Kentor D, Pettaway C, Babaian R, Pisters L, Miles B, Wei Q, Wiltz L, Patel T, Radvanyi L. Presurgical stress management improves postoperative immune function in men with prostate cancer undergoing radical prostatectomy. Psychosom Med. 2011 Apr;73(3):218-25.