Your immune system is complex and multilayered. It includes seemingly unrelated parts of your body, like skin, mucus and tears; a range of organs and tissues, like bone marrow, thymus, spleen and lymph nodes; and a whole lot of cells and chemicals, like antibodies, lymphocytes, cytokines, B cells, T cells and many, many others. Despite all this complexity, all parts of your immune system are concerned with one single task: to identify what belongs in your body and what doesn’t, and then destroy what doesn’t belong if it’s deemed harmful.
We all want our immune systems to work properly, to protect our bodies from dangerous invaders and not mistake our own healthy cells for threats. It is understandable that we would want to use our yoga practice to support our immune function, but we cannot be cavalier and assume that by stretching here and squeezing there we would have a significant impact on how the immune system does its job. In yoga, when we work with incredibly complex aspects of our physiology, we focus more on the movement of energy throughout the body and placement of attention. With that approach, our yoga poses become “energetic pumps” that move energy and nourishment to different parts of the system and support their function. According to the yoga tradition, energy also follows attention, so by bringing our attention to specific organs and body parts we invigorate them.
When we view yoga poses as “energy pumps”, it becomes less important which poses we use, and more important how we use them to direct energy and nourishment to specific places. To illustrate that point, in all four yoga practices below we use different adaptations of Ardha Utkatasana (Chair pose) to support different aspects of your immune system. In total, we use about 15 different adaptations of Chair pose for a variety of purposes. This doesn’t mean that Chair pose is uniquely useful for working with immunity. It means that yoga poses are incredibly versatile, and can be used as tools for achieving specific goals, depending on how they are adapted and what context they are placed in.
Please keep all these ideas in mind when you try the yoga practices below. Try to approach those practices with intention of purposefully directing your energy and attention, and use them to tune in to your immune system, become aware of its many facets, and develop greater interoception (inner awareness).
In this practice, we use different adaptations of Chair pose with ankle movement to facilitate a steady lymph flow throughout the system to support our immune function. The practice includes other yoga poses that serve the same purpose, as well as breath awareness and guided relaxation at the end. This practice also helps to warm up and strengthen your ankles, knees, thighs and hips, while awakening your upper back and neck, so it is very useful if you sit a lot during the day. View practice sequence >
In this practice, we use different adaptations of Chair pose (and other poses) to bring your attention to the left side of your mid back where your spleen is located and give it a gentle visceral massage. In addition, this practice helps to relieve tension in your mid back, strengthen your core and loosen up the muscles that bind your shoulder blades to your ribcage and your spine. View practice sequence >
The main goal of this practice is to actively move your body to flush the stress hormones out of your system. But this practice will also help you relieve tension in your neck, hips and back, increase the sense of spaciousness in your body and settle your nervous system. View practice sequence >
In this yoga short yoga practice, we focus on envisioning and sensing the four lines of defense of your immune system: the skin barrier, the mucous lining, the white blood cells and the lymph. We use different combinations of Chair pose to warm up the body and prepare it for comfortable sitting; Vyana Vayu breath to create a sense of spaciousness inside and direct the energy flow from the heart outward to the rest of the body; Garuda mudra to improve circulation and invigorate the entire system; and meditation to sense the flow of blood and lymph throughout the body. View practice sequence >