Yoga asana, or postures, carry a tremendous number of benefits, and a gentle practice can help to support the immune system all year long. Yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and lowers stress hormone levels. It gives a boost to the circulatory and respiratory systems, and supports the lymphatic system to eliminate toxins. All of this leads to greater health and overall well-being.
At this time of year, every little bit helps. Here are five gentle poses to activate your immune system and bring balance to your whole body.
Kneel on your mat with your knees hips-width distance apart and your big toes touching behind you. As you exhale, drop your hips back toward your heel and allow your torso to drape over your thighs. Reach your arms out in front of you, and drop the elbows down toward the floor. Roll your shoulders away from the ears and let the neck grow long by reaching the crown forward. Breathe deeply here, and rest for a few breaths or a few minutes.
Child’s pose supports the nervous system and adrenal glands, encouraging relaxation through the whole body. Forward folds like these are good for encouraging deep sleep. This pose also powers up your immune system by stimulating the lymphatic system.
Lie on your mat, belly down, legs long behind you, forehead and tops of the feet on the floor. Rest your hands, palms facing the mat, fingertips underneath the shoulders. Inhaling deeply, lift your head, neck, and chest upward. Draw the shoulders back and down away from the ears, and take care not to press into the palms. Breathe fully and hold the pose for a few breaths. On a deep exhale, return your forehead to the floor and extend your arms alongside the body on the mat.
This powers your immunity by stimulating the digestive system. Cobra pose allows the lungs to expand, strengthening the respiratory system and easing stress. Try rolling cobra by lifting the head and chest on the inhale, and returning the forehead to the floor on the exhale.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Bring your feet about twice as wide as your hips. Press down through all four corners of the feet and lift the crown tall. Bring your hands to your hips, inhale and slowly fold forward from the waist. Place your hands on the floor or a block. Bring the top of the crown toward the floor, or extend the spine long with a flat back. Take several deep breaths here, remaining for up to a minute or two. Press down through your feet, place your hands on your hips, and lift the chest and torso up to stand.
This simple inversion assists your lymphatic system in cleansing your body of tox-ins, therefore boosting your immune strength. This pose also strengthens your circulatory system and brings mental clarity.
Supported Bridge Pose
Lie down on the mat with your feet on the floor, knees in the air. Rest your hands on either side of the body. Inhale deeply and press down strongly through the feet and legs, lifting the hips and chest. Slide a block underneath your hips and rest your sacrum, or lower part of the spine, over the block. Make sure the block is supporting the hips and spine — this shouldn’t be uncomfortable. When you’re ready, press through the feet again, lift the hips, remove the block, and return to the floor.
This backbend creates expansiveness in the heart, lungs, and upper chest. The pose stimulates the thymus gland and circulatory system, which increases the body’s ability to fight infection. While this is a backbend, and therefore energizing, adding the block creates a restorative, balancing effect for the body.
Sit on the floor with the spine long and tall, and the legs straight in front of you. Flex the feet and bend the right knee. Place the foot on the inside of the left thigh. (Note: This is a gentler version than ones you might have seen, but I quite enjoy it.) Begin to rotate from the waist toward the right leg. Keep the hips grounded, place the right hand behind your hips. Bring the left arm to the outside of the right leg, maybe hooking the left elbow on the outside of the knee. Breathe here for a few moments. Inhale deeply, rotate back to center, and switch sides.
This pose wrings out the whole body, compressing and then releasing the abdominal organs. This stimulates the digestive, circulatory, and lymphatic systems.
Legs Up the Wall Pose
Lie down on your yoga mat on your right side, buttocks close to the wall. Roll onto your back and let the legs swing up the wall. The body is at a perpendicular angle now, legs straight, heels resting against the wall. Rest your arms at your side, or bring your hands to your belly to rest. Breathe easefully and stay for a few minutes (up to 10). Close your eyes and allow your whole body to relax.
This inversion increases circulation to heart, brain, and digestive system. It is highly restorative and brings calm to both the body and the mind. This restorative effect is powerful for the immune system, since the parasympathetic nervous system is activated.
While this whole series could take as little as 10 minutes, it can have a huge impact on the body’s ability to maintain vitality and reduces the chance of getting every little cold. These poses are gentle enough for most bodies and aim to bring calm and well-being to the cold winter months.
Photo credits: Anne Wu, Nicholas A. Tonelli, Amy, Kennguru, and kellinahandbasket.