Autoimmunity is a complex health issue, and treatment requires a nuanccd approach coordinated by health care professionals. Although it is not a magic bullet, yoga can address some of the shared challenges, both physical and mental. According to Fishman, moderate exercise like yoga gives you a sense ofcalm and well-being that lowers the body's production of physical and mental stressors that compromise the immune system.
On a physical level, studies show that yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming influence), which reduces the body's stress response. This can have a profound effect on the immune system. Furthermore, new studies show that moderate exercise can quell inflammation in the body, which is com mon with autoimmune disease. That's because the immune system sends out its army of white blood cells, but without a battle to fight, they inflame nearby tissue.
Still, reining in an autoimmune disease is hardly a simple matter of relaxing or getting regular exercise. Specialists do, however agree on one thing: "Yoga can help ease the considerable psychological challenges of living with a chronic condition. "One of yoga's most important gifts is an inner connection to the reality that you are not your diagnosis," says Gary Kraft-sow, founder and director of the American Viniyoga Institute. "People suffering from autoimmune disorders need to shift their fixation away from the body to something that is deeper, something that is unchanging. No matter whether you're happy or sad, in pain or not in pain, with or without a diagnosis, there is something unchanging in each of us, and that is fundamentally our awareness."
Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford University and the author of Toga for Pain Relief, sees a need for a similar shift in her work with people dealing with autoimmune disorders. 'A big part of yoga and meditation practice is learning how to choose the focus of your attention," she says. "Choosingwhat sensations in the body arc worth attending to, and how to let go of the rest."
That was the case for Kate Porter. In 200o, pervasive pain rendered her unable to walk without support and kept her housebound for nearly four years. Eventually, the diagnosis was lupus, an autoimmune disorder characterized by an inflammation of the connective tissue. A mixture of pain relievers and anti inflammatories got her back on her feet, but it wasn't until she discovered yoga that she made peace with her body "Yoga helped mc regain and maintain my health," she says. "But it also taught me to accept that sometimes I can only do a tiny bit ofwhat I'd like to do, that 'perfect' is the very best you can do on a particular day" Today Porter, 33, is a certified yoga instructor teaching a blend of hatha, vinyasa, and Iyengar yoga near her home in Singapore. She still has pain, which varies in intensity from week to week, and still takes pain relievers and anti-inflammatorics, but she feels that her yoga practice is the best medicine. ""Without exercise, my pain increases
One of yoga's important gifts is an inner connection to the reality that you are not your diagnosis.
intensely and alarmingly quickly," she says. "What makes yoga ideal is the multitude of variations and modifications of poses that makes them accessible regardless of my body's restrictions."
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