By Amit Younger
Our immune system is like a network of channels and nodes that delivers immune cells and removes pathogens via the lymphatic fluid. The key to keeping it working well and free of blockages is (yes… you guessed right…) to MOVE. If you are mostly sedentary and if your muscles are tight, the lymph nodes accumulate waste and decrease your ability to fight illness. Moving, stretching and walking stimulate the flow of lymph and help keep your lymphatic system free of “blockages”, thus helping your immune system keep you healthy.
Here is how even 10 or 20 minutes of regular Pilates classes can help keep you fit and healthy:
Active breathing: Deep inhalations and exhalations are key to staying healthy. This idea was one of the motivations behind the work created for us by Joe Pilates. So many of the exercises hold the potential to increasing your lung capacity, allowing you to take in more fresh air and expel more used, stale air out of your lungs.
Opening the Rib-Cage: Stretching the big muscles that hold your rib cage tight as well as the intercostals- the smaller muscles between the ribs, goes hand in hand with increasing lung capacity (as well as making you cough better). Pilates exercises move your rib cage in all directions- forward, backward, sideways and in rotation, stretching and strengthening rib cage muscles; opening your lungs and wringing them out completely.
Here is a simple exercise to make you feel how much your rib cage can restrict your breath and how much moving it can be beneficial for you: Bend your head and spine a little forward and take a few breaths…see how much breath you can draw in… now lift your head and spine and see how much air goes into your lungs. Similarly, bend your head and spine to the right and take a few breaths and then to the left and do the same. You may realise that your body is much more “comfortable” when you lean into one side but that your breath capacity is more restricted in that same side of the ribs.
Stretching chest and armpit muscles: Any movement that stretches your arms out to sides, diagonally up or over-head will stretch the chest and armpit muscles; and as you know, we have plenty of those movements in Pilates! Stretching and opening chest and armpit muscles can de-congest lymph sites in the chest, lungs and armpits. It will help you open up the front of the body and draw air into your lungs. It will also help stretch the muscles used to cough and not to forget… it feels great :)
Mobilising neck and throat: Joe Pilates incorporated a lot of neck movements into the work; chin to chest, chin away from chest, looking to the sides, rotating and bending at the same time (like in The Saw) are all neck movements that we do in Pilates all the time. These movements will help move the lymph through the throat and neck and sooth sore throat muscles.
Opening the hips: Inner thigh stretches that open the hips will also encourage better lymph flow through the large nodes in the groin. If you are taking a short class, try spending a couple of minutes at the end of it stretching your inner thighs. Lie on the floor with sit bones against the wall. Reach legs up the wall and then allow legs to open out to sides as far as you can while keeping them pretty straight. Enjoy the stretch… but don’t stay there for too long…
Mobilising the lower body: Pumping the lymphatic fluid through the lower part of the body is extremely important. As we get older, this becomes even more important as lack of movement results in accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the lower legs and ankle area, leading to discomfort and ill-health. From feet to ankle to knee and hip exercises, Pilates is packed full of movements that will move, stretch and strengthen your lower limbs and will flush the lymph through your system.
As always, a combination of Pilates exercises with a simple walk in the fresh air or any other form of light cardiovascular activity will do you wonders. If it is too chilly outside for a walk, a short Pilates class will make you feel good and stimulate your defences; and if you feel a cold or sore throat coming on, take it easy - go for a gentle class that will help your body flush out the toxins and draw in fresh air and new energy.