When You Do Yoga, Every Cell Does Too!
Practicing yoga changes us and others see those changes. But there are also changes happening on a level that is not so obvious to the eye.
Our cells change too. Yogic breathing can make our cells less susceptible to oxidation and free radical damage. Slow and deep breathing decreases the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the lungs. As the body clears carbon dioxide, the pH of the blood increases: the blood is less acidic and more richly oxygenated. This change promotes wellness because we know that high blood acidity levels are associated with metabolic disorders, fatigue and many different disease states. Cell by cell, we are healthier.
Healthier cells organize themselves into smarter, more balanced and resilient systems – systems that are less susceptible to breakdown, inflammation and disease. It turns out that a regular yoga practice can reduce inflammation throughout the body and help tune the immune system.
A recent pair of preliminary studies does an elegant job of showing how a regular yoga practice can reduce inflammation in the body. Psychoneuroimmunologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and her colleagues study regular yoga practitioners and novices. In 2010, this research group published a study that focused on stress, inflammation and yoga. The key finding was that women who were novices to practicing yoga were less resilient to stress as measured by two different inflammatory markers that circulate in the blood. When compared to women who were regular yoga practitioners (more than one class per week for at least two years), novices were less resilient to stress as their interleukin 6 (IL-6) levels were 41% higher and their high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) levels were 4.75 times more likely to be elevated. IL-6 is an intercellular signaling molecule that stimulates a defensive immune response and hsCRP is an inflammation-related protein that is associated with increased risk of heart and arterial disease.
In a new study, the Kiecolt-Glaser group continues to dig deeper into how yoga can affect inflammatory responses at the cellular level. Now they are showing how the levels of proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory protein molecules shift as you continue practicing yoga over time. As before, some female study participants (50 in total) were novices and others had practiced yoga regularly for at least two years. The women in the two groups were well matched on many other variables except for their experience with yoga. Blood samples were drawn at three times and the concentration of two adipocytokines (inflammatory modulators that are secreted from body fat tissue) was analyzed. Adiponectin plays an anti-inflammatory role and showed a 28% increase in experts as compared to novices; while this change is in the positive, wellness-producing direction, it was not strong enough to reach statistical significance. The drop in the proinflammatory adipocytokine called leptin, however, was significant. The bodies of yoga experts were producing 36% less leptin, which is in good agreement with the 2010 results on IL-6.
To summarize, the proinflammatory cells were decreasing while the anti-inflammatory cells were increasing, though not as much. In other words, the body was less on the offense and a little bit less on the defense. This pattern makes sense as there needs to be ready defense mechanisms against external agents that would prompt inflammation and immune reactivity.
As Above, So Below
So we see mirrored for cells some of the very same changes that we see yoga producing on the psychological, behavioral and social levels. Practicing yoga makes us less toxic, less reactive, less inflamed, and more receptive to what comes our way without putting up a wall of automatic defenses. All are reasons that can inspire us to return to our mats, knowing that the benefits of each practice accumulate over time, giving us a transformation revolution, cell by cell.
Take care of your cells, your systems, your mind, and your relationships. Simply, do yoga.