How can Yoga Therapy increase immunity during the Covid-19 crisis?
Following on from our blog about Ayurveda, immunity and COVID-19, we are focusing on Yoga therapy and immunity today. 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 both a tangible focus for the mind and practices to support us physically, energetically and spiritually as we move through each day.
As we aim for physical distancing and regular hand-washing, awareness of our body’s immunity may never have been so acute. The immune system, coupled with the lymphatic system, is responsible for defending against invading pathogens, removing damaged cells and identifying and destroying 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. 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.” The approved therapies referred to include “steroids, intravenous immunoglobulin, selective cytokine blockade (eg, anakinra or tocilizumab) and JAK inhibition.”
Before this time and unrelated to this current challenge, a systematic review of fifteen random controlled trials published in 2018 affirmed that “a general pattern emerged suggesting that yoga can downregulate pro-inflammatory markers.” The researchers also found evidence that, “yoga practice may exert further beneficial effects by enhancing cell-mediated and mucosal immunity.” Again, let’s be clear, Yoga is not a treatment for this virus, but an incredibly valuable ally for the context and repercussions of it.
What does this mean for Yoga therapists and their clients?
- 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, or vulnerability, can relate not only to pre-existing or chronic health conditions, but also to disability, low income, geography, LGBTQ+ and the elderly.
- Those already affected by diseases with an inflammatory component may benefit from the on-going 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 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 practices such as good breathing technique, Surya Bhedhana, Viloma Krama can both 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. Beyond these, Yoga reminds us we are part of the whole, subject to the laws of nature. While we still lack ‘herd immunity’, we are ‘herd’ beings, supported in our sense of belonging through Satsang and our connection to this vast tradition that offers us a template to navigating life in even the most challenging times.