What is immunity?
Immunity is the body’s ability to avoid infection, disease, and other unwanted biological invasions by resisting harmful microorganisms or viruses. We have different types of immunity.
- Innate immunity is used to describe our body’s barriers to infection. These include our skin, tears, saliva and mucus, acid in our stomachs and engulfing cells in our bloodstream that eat up pathogens and foreign materials (phagocytes). These defenses are built in, we are born with them. They are the frontline troops that are replenished constantly. Our innate immunity can be supported by looking after the associated systems. eg. keeping hydrated to look after your skin, a healthy digestive system to have proper hydrochloric acid regulation etc.
- This is your second line of defense, your cavalry, and is a more complicated bunch. They are very specific; adapting to a situation, overcoming it and remembering from experience (how we learn and live in life). By adapting to a particular bacteria or virus, and remembering them, our bodies can become immune to future invasions. These cells are pretty aggressive. They check the protein markers of all cell membranes.. like a ticket inspector.. making sure they are meant to be there. If they are not, it goes into terminator mode.
- We also can acquire immunity. Antibodies and immune cells are passed on by our mothers through breast milk, and we can acquire antibodies from getting exposed to a certain environment and living organism in food, water, soil etc. More controversial way of acquiring immunity is with a low-grade version of a disease that’s active enough to stimulate our immune response but not make us feel sick (e.g. vaccines).
We have several different types of fighting cells including T-cells, B-cells, which depending on the pathogen (the baddie), further, divide up into even more fighting cells. These guys react in different ways depending on what they are fighting and their defence tactics are top-notch and complicated. The most important thing to realise is that our body has a well-organised army on hand to protect you!
An interplay between the systems.
You could look at the workings of our body in terms of systems. All of our systems can be ‘separate” yet also one of a whole working system. They rely on each other and if one is out of balance, it will knock all the others out of whack too! Our immune system is complicated and a beautiful example of the intricacies of our body. Our immune system works across most of our body’s systems, so in order to support our immune system, we have to support our entire body. Our lymphatic, circulatory, endocrine (gland/ hormone) and nervous system are the major players when it comes to our immunity.
So how can we support our immune system?
The most important thing you can do is support the overall health of your body. This means we need to try to live healthily. Eat well, exercise, feel well in body and mind, have a good work-life balance, have well-honed stress management skills etc. Don’t forget the important link between the mind-body connection. Your mental health is also just as important.
As I just mentioned above we have a few systems that work very closely with our immunity and I want to briefly talk about them so that you can understand why it’s a good idea to support their functions in order to boost your health and immunity.
- The Lymphatic System
Our lymphatic system plays a very important role in our immunity and overall health. The main mode of transport of our lymphocytes (immune cells) is through our lymphatic system.
It’s like our internal plumbing! Our lymph vessels are found running alongside our blood vessels and capillaries. They pick up the waste material and other substances that are too large to be taken by our blood and carry it to lymph nodes.
We have many nodes in our body found in places like our groin, armpits, back of the knees and throat. They are like water treatment facilities. They filter out the lymph, eating up waste material and baddies and even infuse our lymph with fresh immune cells.
Our nodes are the site of antibody production so when we are ill or about to get ill, we can often find our nodes to be swollen (swollen glands in our neck for example) because they are working hard at protecting us. From these nodes, lymph is moved along to our ducts – which release the cleaned material which is now full of antibodies back into the bloodstream.
- The Circulatory System
Our circulatory system is basically our heart and our blood. Our blood carries oxygen, nutrients and our immune cells to all the different parts of our body. This ensures that we get enough food, energy, oxygen and immune cells. It makes sure that our immune cells get to the site of infection.
- The Endocrine System
Our endocrine system, also known as our hormonal system, is one of the big bosses of our body. Together with our nervous system, it regulates our bodily systems. Glands like our thyroid, hypothalamus and adrenal are just but a few included in our endocrine system.
Our hormones influence every cell, organ and function in our body and regulate our mood, growth, development, reproduction etc. Certain hormones produced by our endocrine system are responsible for the maturation of our T-cell lymphocytes.
So the maturity of our immune system is directly linked to our endocrine system.
- The Nervous System
The other ‘big boss’ of our body, our nervous system controls our bodily movements, conscious and unconscious. It is also responsible for stimulating our stress response (fight or flight) and our relaxation response (rest and digest).
When our stress response is stimulated our adrenal glands release stress hormones into our blood which can stifle our immune response. To cut a long story short, being and feeling stress negatively affects your immune system.
Our nervous system also directly affects our endocrine system which then affects our immunity and so on.
Supporting your immunity with yoga
You can help support these systems specifically with targeted classes and non-specifically with a general regular yoga practice.
By cultivating balance in our body systems, and in our body, in general, we can support, nourish, strengthen and build our health, immunity, energy and quality of life.