Geeky wellbeing favourites: October
Back to basics, and a psychoneuroimmunology special
There is a very famous quote by Socrates, which goes something like this – “The more you know, the more you realise you know nothing”.
Over the past year I have learned so many interesting things about immunology, the field of science I have a PhD in; things that no one ever really discussed in my lab circles back then (granted, it was a long time ago), things that I rarely hear people who work in the field or are field-adjacent talk about even now.
It’s true, we all know to some extent that the mind affects the body, and therefore the immune system, but it’s something else entirely to know that there is scientific evidence around this. We do hear people talk about “boosting our immune system” (ugh, I hate this phrase), but it’s amazing to be able to say that there is research that yoga can have an effect on it (no boosting language though, please!).
So this month, I’m going back to basics, and looking at the mind–body–immune system connection. Maybe my excitement for this topic will spark something in someone else.
Exciting news! I have filmed a yoga programme on this exact topic, called “Yoga for immune balance” for MoreYoga Wellness TV (see how I didn’t say “for boosting your immune system? heh!). Details to follow soon.
This is the book that started my slight obsession with psychoneuroimmunology and the mind–body connection: Gabor Mate’s “When the body says no” (I’m not going to lie, the title did put me off initially).
The premise of the book is the hidden impact of stress on the body and how that can actually lead to the development of disease, for instance chronic disease (especially ones with an immune component). And although the idea of how we feel affecting our health is not new, it has always felt like something people say in self-help books and ‘healing circles’. What I loved about this is it brings in the scientific explanation rather than rely on anecdotal evidence (although the book is a very easy read because he goes through the stories of patients he has encountered over the years).
If you had to read one book on the mind–body connection, then this should be it.
Want to hear about how the mind affects the body, and the immune system in particular, straight from a scientist innovating in the field?
In this TED talk, Dr Asya Rolls argues that we have neglected for too long the role of the mind in medicine and that studying the brain (and the active neurons within) will offer us a much more holistic understand of how the body works.
Sometimes you just need a little boost (there it is again! Boost) and don’t really feel like you have time for a long yoga nidra. Well, I do for sure, and I’m assuming I’m not alone in this. I promise myself I will give myself (and my mind and immune system) the gift of yoga nidra three times a week, but I struggle to find the time.
Here’s a 15 minute yoga nidra that hits that fine balance of not too long but not too short that it doesn’t actually help you relax. Sometimes, it’s just what you need.
And practice some more
I owe some gratitude to Charlotte Watts, with whom I did the “Yoga for immune and respiratory health” course last year for inspiring me to put my immunology and yoga knowledge together – she doesn’t have any free content specifically on immune health practices, but here’s a short meditation for restoring calm. It’s particularly suitable to any of you who like a fully led practice with no silence.
Yoga science highlights
Not a great month for interesting studies (nothing seemed particularly groundbreaking, and pretty much all studies had very small sample sizes). But here is my pick of the research published this month:
Yoga supports mothers post-partum: New mothers who took part in a yoga programme showed significant improvements in post-traumatic growth and quality of life, compared with mothers who didn’t. This was a 10-week yoga programme where they practiced every weekday (so not sure if that means every day or 5 times a week), and the sample size was actually not too bad (160 mothers in total). Something for doctors to consider?
If you are wondering what post-traumatic growth is, here’s an interesting article on post-traumatic growth in the context of the pandemic.
CBT, mindfulness and yoga for PTSD: An 8-week online programme of CBT, mindfulness exercises and yoga (including asana and pranayama), combined with an hour of counselling each week, led to improvements in PTSD severity, depression, anxiety and mindfulness. Although the results were statistically significant, the sample size was very small (46 participants between 18 and 35 years of age) and the study had no control (so they didn’t compare the intervention with doing nothing at all or doing something else like listening to music or going for walks).
Yoga helps with painful periods: Young women who took part in a 12-week yoga programme, practicing once a week, experienced a significant reduction in pain during their periods; this was not the case for women who were part of the same study but did not practice yoga (control group). Another small study (and I don’t have access to the paper to check on methodology), but interesting nonetheless – could it be linked to the its effects on stress again (which also influence our hormones and would therefore influence our periods too).
From the blog this month
What’s so special about yoga? – [this one that triggered a lot of Facebook discussion!] If modern postural yoga is basically Indian gymnastics, is it actually any different to other forms of exercise when it comes to health benefits? Is there something special about yoga that makes it different?
Well, duh! – It turns out someone has done research on the portrayal of yoga on Instagram and, shock-horror, most yogis don't use their cat as clickbait.
You may have missed
Intrigued by psychoneuroimmunology and where yoga fits it? Check out these posts:
Stress, gene expression, inflammation and where yoga might fit in – The science behind how yoga may help to tackle inflammation and support a balanced immune system. Start with this one!
What do depression, inflammation and yoga have in common? – Interested in mental health? Wondering how yoga helps in depression? Wondering what this has to do with psychoneuroimmunology? My favourite post on the topic yet!
Living with rheumatoid arthritis, could yoga help? – Theory is great, but wondering how this yoga–immune system link translates to real life? Check out this study on yoga as a way to support those living with rheumatoid arthritis, in conjunction with medication.
Until next month, less boosting, more yoga-based balancing!