I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are enjoying these crisp new days of 2018 thus far. I was in a super fun, yet super exhausting wedding over New Years and am recovering from a cold that followed. I love how the yoga practice can enhance functionality of the lymphatic system and encourage the healing process. Today I wanted to share with you some of my favorite poses for preventing/healing these winter sicknesses and to boost your immune system from here on out.
Some science for those interested: These first two poses specifically help to stimulate the lymphatic system in the body, which is basically your body’s drainage system. It aids in the absorption and transportation of excess fluid in the body and the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes hold important cells (called B and T cells) which are often much more effective in fighting foreign substances (like bacteria, viruses etc) than your average immune cell. These special cells are only present in the lymphatic system so to encourage the interaction between the foreign substance and and the B and T cells we need to get the lymphatic system working. The ironic part is that the lymph moves from your feet toward your neck, which is not how we are normally oriented. Yoga is a really great tool for encouraging this process to take place on a regular basis!
Legs up the wall. Help start the process of getting the lymph moving in the right direction (from the feet toward the torso). This pose also increases circulation and is very calming for the nervous system. Elevating your hips onto a blanket or block is even more beneficial!
Recommended hold time: 7 min
Dangling. To continue moving lymph in the right direction – this pose will help the tissue transition from the hips/midsection toward the head and neck. I would recommend modifying this by deeply bending your knees if you are already congested since it might be difficult holding the head heavy once you are stopped up.
Recommended hold time: 5 min
Supine Twist. Twists are an obvious choice for getting healthy. As you’ve probably heard before, the twists help aid in the detoxification process. When you breathe in a resting twist, you gently massage the internal organs encouraging your body to move out of the stagnant state that sickness lends itself to. Twists also help open up the chest and shoulders where we hold the stress of congestion in the body.
Recommended hold time: 3-5 min each side
Reclined Fish. Matsyasana has been known as the “destroyer of all diseases”. Quite a title, I must say! I do have to agree that this pose offers many wonderful physical and mental benefits worth noting. This pose opens your chest, releases tension through the hip flexors and with your head dropped below the heart it aids in lymph movement through the body. My favorite benefit is that it opens up the chest and allows more space for the breath – which is your most important aspect in immunity!
Recommended hold time: 5 min
Bridge. A classic! Bridge pose stretches the front body, encourages the blood to circulate, eases the nervous system (encouraging the parasympathetic nervous system to activate), and stimulates the lungs, thyroid glands, and abdominal organs which all take a hit when we are under the weather. You can start in an active variation holding about 5 breaths for several rounds and then rest in supported bridge (pictured below) for several minutes.
Recommended hold time: 5 min (supported bridge)
Breathe. As I mentioned above, your breath has a very powerful impact on your overall health. Countless studies have been done highlighting the importance of deep belly breathing. Move through ujjayi breaths, brahmari, alternate nostril (nadi shodanam) breaths for several rounds in the mornings and evenings on a regular basis and I promise you will notice a phenomenal difference.
Water. I know you’ve heard it countless times – “drink more water!”. It really is true. Water helps flush out ingested toxins and hydrate the body which improves overall functionality of all systems. If you drink anything dehydrating (coffee, black tea, alcohol etc) – drink twice that amount in water afterward.
Juice. I’m a big fan of juicing. It’s a great way to quickly absorb the nutrient density available to us in raw fruits and vegetables. Some of my favorite ingredients for immunity are: ginger, turmeric, lemon, apples, and oranges. Here’s a favorite juice for you to check out.
Neti Pot. After I got over how weird the concept of a neti pot was – I was totally hooked. Neti pots are little pots of warm/hot water with a diluted saline solution that you run through the nasal passageway to thin mucus and clear the junk and allergens that acquire in the body through our noses and throats. These work best to prevent colds or help you flush out the last of the congestion after a cold is almost gone. I use mine whenever I feel something weird coming on and usually try to do it at least once a week for maintenance.
Garlic. There are about a million supplements I could recommend, but my favorite is garlic. It sounds gross but there are many pills that are not odorous at all! You can take quite a bit throughout the day (I do 3 pills, 3x day) to aid in reducing the severity of the cold and/or flu boosting the body’s immune response.
Rest. The most helpful thing you can do for yourself to prevent and treat any kind of sickness is allowing your body to rest and not over exert. Though some movement is incredibly helpful, the more you can sleep and generally be still – the better. In many cultures these days, we are constantly moving. Rest feels almost counter-cultural to our bodies and is incredibly nourishing because of that. We are often over-caffeinated and under-rested, so do your best to get 8+ hours of sleep when you can and especially when you are sick!