With winter upon us, the flu running rampant, and COVID still lingering in the community, we’re all looking for ways to ward off the winter sniffles.
One great way to do that, is to get stuck into Pilates to boost your immune system.
Most of us are aware of the positive effect Pilates has on the musculoskeletal system, as well as our mental wellbeing, but have you ever thought about its ability to support the immune system?
This was exactly what Joseph Pilates intended when he designed Contrology, or the Pilates Method. When Pilates is performed correctly – rhythmically with deep full breaths and a co-ordinated body & mind – you are likely to feel a flush through your body, or what Joseph Pilates termed an ‘internal shower’.
Pilates’ idea was that every last atom of old air should be squeezed from the lungs so that fresh invigorating oxygen could flood the body through the circulatory and lymphatic systems. The exercises help pump oxygenated blood all the way through the body to the furthest capillaries, nourishing them & carrying away old debris.
This, in part, forms the basis of everyone’s favourite exercise, the hundred, as well as many of Pilates’ rolling exercises – rolling like a ball, roll ups, and rollover.
Rolling the body in and out, as well as the dynamic pumping of breath and limbs, is the perfect way to stimulate and maintain the health of the lymphatic system.
Often regarded as the lesser sister of the circulatory system, the lymphatic system plays a crucial role in your body’s ability to protect against disease and heal from injury. The lymphatic system acts as a purification system, draining dirty fluid from the tissues and returning it once cleansed.
Strung along the lymphatic vessels, like pearls knotted on a string, are lymph nodes that serve as a series of filters. Lymph tissue also generates and stores white blood cells, which are the ones that fight infection. Bacteria, toxins, and other microbes are picked up in the lymphatic fluid, trapped in the lymph nodes where they are attacked and destroyed by the white blood cells, supporting the immune system. Purified lymph (clean fluid) is then returned via the vessels to just above your heart, where it re-enters the blood stream.
Unfortunately, the lymphatic system doesn’t have its own pump like the circulatory system does. It is powered by breath & the movement of your muscles, making the Pilates method the ideal driving force.
Pilates exercises not only focus on breath, but continuously mobilise the hip and shoulder joints where lymph nodes are located, creating a pumping action for the lymphatic system. Just a few examples include leg and foot work, single leg stretch, double leg stretch, and the hundred.
Much of the repertoire is also conducted in a supine or lying position, reducing gravity’s impact on the flow of this system. Inverted exercises such as long spinal, handstand, and candle, also assist in the same way.
Finally, Pilates focuses on ‘core’ movement which helps stimulate the flow of lymph in the cysterna chyli, an important collection point for lymph, which is positioned in the abdominal cavity.
By keeping your lymphatic system flowing, you support every other system in your body, especially the immune & digestive systems. Many believe that poor lymph health underlies a host of conditions from cancer to cellulite, as well as your ability to ward off the common cold or flu, and potentially the Coronavirus.
So, let’s keep breathing, rolling, pumping, and inverting just like Joe Pilates intended. After all, at age 86 he said:
“I must be right. Never an aspirin. Never injured a day in my life. The whole country, the whole world, should be doing my exercises. They’d be happier.”