Immunity and Neurology: Role of Yoga

Immunity and Neurology: Role of Yoga

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 23 May 2016 - 10:25


The connection between neurological function and immunity was neglected area of search. It was the official view that there is no connection between the two in spite of the fact that many neurological disorders have shown to be immune mediated also. For example, it is well known that multiple sclerosis patients have immune mediated injury to myelin sheath (covering of nerve fibers).

Lack or compromised immunity is also seen in many other brain related problems from autism to Alzheimer's disease. Though this clinical picture has been observed over many years, the brain-immune connection was found only very recently. Recent work at the University Of Virginia Health System has opened the door for this physiological connection between brain and the immune system.

The dark green lymphatic vessels above the neck going up the cortex is found recently (in the last one year) which seems to envelop the entire brain! How such an extensive network of vessels went unnoticed for a long time is a mystery in itself. Anyway, with this newly discovered anatomy, it is now possible to go back to the drawing board to see the problems that a compromised immune system could affect brain functioning [1].

“These structures express all of the molecular hallmarks of lymphatic endothelial cells, are able to carry both fluid and immune cells from the cerebrospinal fluid, and are connected to the deep cervical lymph nodes… The discovery of the central nervous system lymphatic system may call for a reassessment of basic assumptions in neuro-immunology and sheds new light on the etiology of neuro-inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases associated with immune system dysfunction” [1].


Lymphatic system consists of lymph vessels, lymph nodes, and related organs. Fig 2 shows the major organs associated with lymphatic flow. Lymphatic system absorbs fluid that is filtered from the vasculature and returns them to the venous system. It also absorbs fat from food and transports it to the liver.

The loss of lymphatic fluid is associated with decrease in immunoglobulins (antibodies), loss of clotting factors leading to bleeding, and hypoalbuminemia resulting in generalized edema. There are conditions in which lymph collects in pleural cavity termed chylothorax or in the abdomen termed chylous ascites due to defects in the development of lymphatics. The lymph vessels are similar to veins, with valves to maintain flow in one direction.

Contraction of skeletal muscles aids in the movement of lymph fluid and hence muscle activity is vital for this fluid flow. Bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes form the important function of protecting the body from invading organisms. The lymph organs produce lymphocytes (both B- and T-cells), monocytes, leukocytes – all of which are important in providing immune response in a person. The spleen is a reservoir of blood and filters and purifies both the blood and the lymphatic fluid that flows through it.

All the organs of lymphatic system as well as the vessels of this system should be intact for proper immune response. For example, after a radiation therapy for cancer, if the radiation is close to groin or axilla (under arm), it is likely the lymph nodes at those locations will be damaged, losing ability to move lymph fluids beyond the point of damage. As a consequence, the distal parts (legs or arms) retain the fluids and the size of the limb increases.

This condition is called lymphedema and is unfortunately, very common in many post-treatment conditions. Thus the causes for lymphedema include: blockage of lymph nodes and vessels by cancer growth itself; surgical removal of lymph nodes to avoid spread of cancer; radiation therapy used in cancer treatment of organs close lymph nodes etc. There are many ways to counter the condition and facilitate lymphatic flow.

Some methods are: mild exercise, wrapping arm or leg with a compress, special lymphatic massage procedure, pneumatic compression, compression garments, and last not the least, vascular surgery to facilitate collateral flow. Bacterial (filariasis) or fungal infection not related to cancer which involves lymphatic system could also cause lymphedema.


As mentioned earlier, exercise wherein movements of various skeletal muscles are activated is a good facilitator of lymphatic flow. Thus proper asanas targeting muscles around the lymph node that is blocked could bring relief to the patient. Pranayama is known to aid in the control of venous pressure. This in its turn, could aid in lymphatic drainage. “Lymph drains into the venous system when intra-thoracic pressure decreases in inspiration, whereas expiration allows flow of lymph from extremities. We used yoga to replace central Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD) during the treatment of lower extremity lymphedema”[2].

This is an excellent method reported by the authors and could be of great use by patients with this condition. Two types of pressure waves are measured in the pulsatile flow of lymphatic fluid. Low amplitude (3 mm Hg) pressure waves related to respiration: The Immune System of the Body May 2016 17 20 Yoga Sudha and high amplitude (6 mm Hg) waves going through the system. Any breathing practice in synchrony with the flow could also facilitate lymphatic flow.

Further, deep inhalation which produces negative pressure in the thorax could as mentioned earlier, increase lymphatic flow. Thus, careful breathing pattern could enhance the venous return and also lymphatic flow. Most inverted asanas could facilitate drainage of lymphatic fluid. Further, compressing abdomen as in Pavanamuktasana could also help this process.

If Pavanamuktasana is carried out dynamically (holding and pulling the folded legs towards the torso as one lies on the back) and in synchrony with breathing, then this could augment the lymph flow also.


Immunity is intimately connected to lymphatic flow. Actually, lymphatic system in the entirely body is intended to take immune components for active defense purposes. Blood flow and lymphatic flow are interconnected; thus, any activity that enhances blood flow could also enhance lymphatic flow and hence improve immunity. All the above practices of asanas and breathing exercises are thought to be of importance and research should be carried out to make sure these ideas are relevant in lymphatic drainage.

In summary, inverted asanas, abdominal pressure with synchronized breathing, deep inhalation, moving the neck in the vertical place (touching the chest with the chin and lifting the head to look at the ceiling) could all help in lymph flow to and from the cranium. Free flow of lymph fluids improves immunity, especially needed in the management of immune deficiency associated with neurological problems.


Reference: Yog Sudha - May, 2016 (S-VYASA)


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