How can Yoga & Pranayam help protecting against coronavirus and infections
Breathing exercise ( pranayama) is the most potent yogic practice for physical, mental and emotional health. It helps protecting from a variety of infections as well boosting immune system to fight against infections. Consistent Pranayama practice in a 12 weeks study has shown to increase “Natural Killer Cells” which are the body defences which become weak in coronavirus Covid19.
Taking daily conscious, mindful and effective deep breaths help to balance the nervous system, reinforces the respiratory system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and help activate the lymphatic system, which plays a major role in immune function.
Deep breathing practice like ‘Bhastrika’ (2.5 seconds breath-in and 2.5 seconds breath-out) helps stretching the lungs to full capacity. It helps building capacity of the lungs and diaphragm for maximising the oxygen inflow which becomes faulty in the coronavirus disease. You are thus creating additional capacities as well as building additional defence. In addition, lungs are your biggest lymph pumps, clearing out clutter and toxins and dep breathing activate it to maximum.
‘Kapal Bhatti’ which is a deep breath in followed by multiple expiration movements 1 per second squeeze the internal body organs and increase the lymph flow. Lymph has the white cells which are the immune active cells of the body. It also helps moving these to the target organs which are low in oxygen, i.e. infected or cancer cells. ‘Anulom Vilom’ breathing exercise which is a deep breath-in from one nostril and out from other in a rhythmic way tend to do ‘Nadi Shodhan’ (balance & nourish Ida and Pingla) and thus release physical and mental energy through enhanced fresh oxygen supply directly to brain & body. A regular practice of this Alternate Nostril Breathing technique will tend to keep your lung tubes clear of the virus on a regular basis and not let it settle and multiply at a rate which it would without it.
It also helps hyper-oxygenating the body and keep the system clean and removing the lurking bacterial and viral infections. These are relative terms as no process can guarantee 100% protection in view of virus being so aggressive, however if you prepare your body well in advance, your chances of being affected seriously become less.
‘Kapal Bhatti’ also squeeze and reinforce the immune system in gut, interestingly 80% of body immune system is located in the intestine. There are also some published work on deep belly breathing strengthening body defences and changing the gene expression of immune cells.
Pranayam and meditation reduce the stress , chronic stress is known to suppress and dysregulate the immune response. ‘Bhrahmri’, ‘Udgeeth’ and ‘Pranav’ are likely to offer great benefit reducing the stress as well as aligning the body and mind for better body defence although doing a randomised controlled trial to prove the statistical benefit is quite difficult.
Physical activity in specific yoga poses (asana) also increase the lymph flow and boost immunity.
These yoga poses and exercises build the physical capacity of body as well as respiratory system. It trains the body cells to utilise available oxygen to the best and function optimally.
A variety of yogic exercises and asanas increase the blood flow as well as lymph flow to build an optimistically strong and responsive body. Surya Namaskar is particularly helpful. Some other immune boosting Asanas are- Bhujangasana ( Cobra pose), Matsasana (fish pose), Adhomukhasvanasana ( downward dog pose), Uttanasana ((forward bend pose), Dhanurasana ( bow pose with back bending).
There are some other benefits of yoga which can be put in context of current Covid19 situation. It is also found in the studies that yoga increase insulin sensitivity of tissues and lessen the risk of diabetes, diabetes is a high risk factor and increase the morbidity and mortality for Covid19. Yoga also reduce obesity particularly with Kapal Bhatti, Surya Namaskar, Plough (Hala Asana), Shoulder Stand (Sarvang Asana), Bow Pose (Dhanur Asana) etc. We know that obesity increases the risk and make people venerable to coronavirus serious disease, now is thus the time to do yoga and at least offer as best protection to your body as you can.
Lastly, a balanced circadian clock (or your internal time-keeping for cycles of sleep and alertness) is directly linked to a strong immune system and yog-nidra immensely help repairing and rejuvenating all body systems.
Dr Rajeev Gupta,
MBBS, MRCP (UK), FRCPCH (UK), MD
Triple Accredited MBA (UK OUBS), AEQi, ACEI
Consultant Paediatrician and Emotional Intelligence Coach
Chairman CSAC Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health
Vice Chairman CESR Committee, Royal College
Chairman Regional Consultant Committee BMA Yorkshire
Recent Chairman Regional Council British Medical Association
Ex-Chairman British Society of Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
Chairman British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin Yorkshire
Hon Senior Clinical Lecturer
University of Sheffield
Barnsley Foundation Hospital