Can Yoga Therapy increase immunity during the COVID-19 crisis?
Scientists are hard at work researching just what makes Covid-19 tick. This new virus appears to play havoc with the immune system and possibly the blood and blood vessels, causing low oxygen levels.
While treatment approaches or ‘herd immunity’ means humans are not-there-yet when it comes to adapting protectively and specifically, how might an appropriate and regular Yoga practice still benefit our clients?
While yoga is not an impermeable shield in the face of Covid-19, it offers a tangible focus for the mind as well as practices to support us physically, energetically and spiritually.
Other than conscious physical distancing and hand washing, supporting our body’s ability to protect itself is rather ignored. The immune system, coupled with the lymphatic system, is responsible for defending against invading germs, and removing damaged and mutant cells. However, it is also involved in inappropriate immune responses that can lead to allergies and auto-immune diseases.
Chronic inflammation increases our risk of disease and an article recently published in The Lancet states, “Accumulating evidence suggests that a subgroup of patients with severe COVID-19 might have a cytokine storm syndrome [an immune system “gone wild”]. We recommend identification and treatment of hyperinflammation using existing, approved therapies with proven safety profiles to address the immediate need to reduce the rising mortality.”
Did I lose you there?
The “approved therapies” referred to are medical interventions like steroids and intravenous immunoglobulin.
Before this time and unrelated to this current challenge, a systematic review of 15 random controlled trials published in 2018 affirmed that “a general pattern emerged suggesting that yoga can downregulate pro-inflammatory markers [markers of inflammation].” The researchers also found evidence that,
“yoga practice may exert further beneficial effects by enhancing cell-mediated [e.g. white blood cells that fight infection] and mucosal immunity [lymphoid tissues].”
Let’s be clear, yoga is not a treatment for this virus, but an incredibly valuable ally for the context and repercussions of it.
Individualised Yoga Therapy practices can provide a complementary intervention for at risk populations in general (not specifically with regard to COVID-19). At risk populations can relate not only to pre-existing or chronic health conditions, but also to disability, low income, the elderly and more.
Those already affected by diseases with an inflammatory component may benefit from the ongoing support and targeted practices of Yoga Therapy, including meditation, which have been shown to lessen inflammation by modulating the stress response, which in turn might reduce the risk of infections.
Sustained adherence to practice appears to be important in terms of achieving consistent effects, notable on circulating inflammatory markers.
Yoga practices, including a restorative evening practice invoking the relaxation response, also contributes to higher quality sleep, which gives the body and brain the opportunity to recuperate.
Adapted pranayama (controlled breathing practices) such as Viloma Krama (brief pauses during inhalation and exhalation) can strengthen respiratory function and support the body to release toxins.
Therefore, while it may feel that everything is out of our individual control as we face truly global challenges, a regular, dedicated yoga practice gives us the opportunity to influence certain aspects of life such as bolstering the quality of our sleep, reducing inflammation, easing the mind and supporting our immunity.
Trials affirmed that “yoga can downregulate pro-inflammatory markers.”
Individualised Yoga Therapy practices can provide a complementary intervention for people at risk
Falkenberg R.I., Eising C., Peters M.L., (2018) Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials Journal of Behavioral Medicine Vol 41, Issue 4, pp 467–482. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30628-0/fulltext
Zope, S. A. & Zope, R. A. (2013) International Journal of Yoga “Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health” Jan-Jun; 6(1): 4-10 doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.105935 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/instance/3573542/
 Some examples include asthma, multiple sclerosis , sinusitis, chronic peptic ulcer, Chron’s Disease