Our Immune System (I.S.) basically works in two ways. Either we have innate immunity, that develops during early years of life and protects us from pathogen attacks, generally without us even noticing. Then, there is the acquired immunity that is triggered when specific cells of our systems meet with a “stranger”, not registered in our list of guests! A specific process starts which will bring into play, amongst others, our lymphocytes (a kind of white blood cell) who will set up an “army” to go fight the enemy. The multiplication of these specific blood cells happens in lymph nodes, which explains why when we are fighting an infection, these ganglions swell.
The thing is… in order for that process to be efficient, it needs to take place in a healthy body. Imagine creating a football team with tired or unhealthy players… you would not be able to train that team properly and certainly not win a match!
In order to keep the immune system healthy and efficient, it is important to eat well, sleep well, exercise, lower the stress level and not drink too much alcohol (even though in these difficult times one might be tempted to indulge in a few glasses of wine!).
Stress is the body’s reaction to any situation that requires an adjustment or response, it is part of our life and is an essential tool of our survival kit When the body is under sudden stress, it has a wide arsenal of possible responses through our sympathetic nervous system, including the production of cortisol. This has a positive effect in specific and short situations, but becomes harmful to the I.S. if the stress stays for long periods of time (chronic stress), as the production of cortisol continues.
Chronic stress arises from many different situations and it is sometimes hard to acknowledge and measure. How can we deal with it? The first answer is to run away from any stress trigger factor. Not always easy. The second answer is to teach our body and mind to be able to step back, in order not to suffer the consequences of this stress. Different tools are available, and it is important to choose the one that suits you best .
Yoga is a very effective tool through breathing, movement and meditation. To learn how to take control of breathing is a powerful antidote to stress. Combined with movement in a synchronised way, it becomes even more powerful. Why? Because all your attention is on the breathing and movement, and our brain finds it difficult enough to do 2 things at the same time, so it will not be able to think about a third thing whilst concentrating on breathing and moving! Guided meditations are also very interesting for the same reason, they keep the mind focused on the “story” and prevent it from ruminating on problems.
All that is needed is to try! Once it has been acknowledged that yes, it is possible to trick our mind, then the virtuous circle is engaged! As for most skills, it needs some training to be acquired but it is truly worth it.
Do not hesitate to contact me for more information.
*Sheena Cruickshank, Professor of Immunology at Manchester University
News on chronic back pain
“For most back pain, the best treatment is non-medical” (1)
Is it a coincidence that I just read extensive articles about chronic back pain (2) in The Economist (January 2020), a worldwide audience weekly magazine and in a French one, Sciences et Avenir (February 2020)? May be not.
Non-specific (3) chronic back pain is a major public health concern in “developed” countries, leading to tremendous financial costs and, alas, no result on most cases. On the patient’s side costs are also tremendous but in another way; intense pain, cessation of professional activity, withdrawal from social life, interruption of sports practice all leading to a miserable life and sometimes depression.
Back pain, as other pains, is experienced in the brain, when triggered for a specific reason and then stops when the stimuli is not active anymore. However, when the pain becomes chronic, researchers suggest that the pain’s “alarm switch” stays on, as if it had been damaged, suggesting that the recurring pain might be linked to other aspects of personal life. It is also suggested by S. Mc Mahon from King’s College London (1) after discovering that the development of specific drugs for chronic pain has a poor record, as patients on the trial had a range of other problems.
Evidence of ineffectiveness of widely prescribed treatments, such as operations and drugs, has not yet deterred doctors to doing so because this is actually what most insurances do reimburse. The claimed lack of evidence concerning the effect of alternative therapies is the reason for their shy promotion by the medical body. However, yoga and yoga therapy are gaining recognition and some complementary insurances do now reimburse part of the costs.
Many studies (available on line) on yoga and chronic back pain are showing the positive effect of a specific practice. In the USA the benefits of yoga on a number of issues (back pain, pain management, fibromyalgia, support during cancers…) has already been demonstrated and in France yoga therapy is steadily spreading as an alternative support treatment for many pathologies.
Yoga in the management of back pain has nothing to do with the yoga promoted on Instagram pictures where acrobatic asanas (postures) are performed by young sexy athletes!
Yoga therapy sessions are gentle and tailored to the need of the client. They include breath, movement, meditation and visualization. These last two are very powerful to engage the mind in the process of healing, like athletes use it to prepare for a competition, or musicians to rehearse a piece of music for example.
In the case of chronic back pain, the goal is to reconciliate with the body through a better understanding of the causes that lead to the onset and chronicity of the pain and to implement tools that will bring long lasting relief. The specificity of yoga therapy is its holistic approach. In that regard, yoga supports S. Mc Mahon’s statement. Engaging in the process, both physically and mentally, means that changes take place deep inside and affect different aspects of life therefore ensuring long term results.
1 Source: The Economist – January 18th 2020
2 A back pain is qualified chronic if it lasts more than 6 to 8 weeks
3 Non-specific back pain is defined as not attributable to any recognizable or known specific pathology
(e.g. infection, tumor, osteoporosis)
February 13th 2020