Using Yoga to Strengthen the Immune System

The Immune system is comprised of the thymus gland, spleen, lymphatic system, bone marrow, white blood cells, antibodies and compliment systems.  The function of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign invaders, diseases and keep us healthy.

The thymus gland is located under the neck at the thoracic region and chest.  Functions include production and secretion of the hormone thymosins, which control t-cells and other immune functions and development of the t-cells.

The spleen is located between the 9th and 12th thoracic ribs in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen.  The spleen removes old red blood cells.  It synthesizes antibodies and removes bacteria through the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system includes the tonsils and lymph nodes, which are located in the chest, neck, pelvis, armpit and groin. Leukocytes which are white blood cells are created in the bone marrow. Lymph, and lymphatic vessels carry the lymph fluid throughout the body.  The digestive system also has lymphatic vessels lining the intestines.

Practicing yoga asanas and pranayama lowers the stress hormones produced in the body, strengthens the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulates the lymphatic system to process and expel more toxins, and increases oxygenated blood and blood circulation.

Inverted asanas such as sirsasana and sarvangasana increase blood circulation to the head, sinus, chest and lungs which strengthens these systems during colds, allowing the lungs and sinuses to drain of fluid.  Inversions are also useful for the lymphatic system drainage.

Standing forward bends increase blood to sinuses and drains the lungs; a few examples are  adho muka svansana and uttanasana.  Another forward bend, ardha baddha padmottansana also stimulates the lymph nodes in the abdominal and pelvic area in addition to its other benefits.

Asanas that open the chest and stimulate the thymus gland and respiratory system are kurmasana, and supta kurmasana. Suitable backbends are ushtrasana, matsyasana, bhujangasana and sethu bandhasana.

The lymph nodes can be massaged and stimulated as well. Asanas targeting the lymph nodes in arm pit are bakasana and twisting poses using arms, vakrasana; hip openers like frog pose, bhekasana, target the groin and lion pose, simhasa, targets the neck.

Digestive problems can cause a buildup of phlegm, mucus and toxins which hinder the immune system.  Asanas that compress, extend and twist the stomach can help release these.  Examples are navasana, pawan muktasana and forward bends engaging uddiyanda.

Nodi shodna pranayama helps to open the chest, strengthen the respiratory system and stimulate the thymus.  If you have a fever practicing the cooling pranayamas sitali and sitkari help to reduce fever.

In addition to asanas and pranayama, cleansing techniques are helpful in strengthening the immune system.  Kapalabhati cleanses the lungs and bronchial tubes and neti cleanses the nasal passages.

Following a sattvic diet full of fruits, vegetables and fatty acids builds and maintains the immune system.  Meditation is always useful in calming the body and mind.  Meditating focusing on the 4th and 5th chakras, anahata and vishuddha, can also help to open chest and throat areas of the body.