YOGA FOR THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
In the winter, we tend to be more sensitive to illnesses and viruses. Thankfully, there are certain yoga poses that can have specific effects on the body, stimulating and fortifying the immune system, for example, to improve our overall health. Here are a few poses that act on the thyroid gland, increase blood and lymphatic flow, and improve digestion, all to help build up the body’s defenses. These six poses, or asanas, will get you winter-ready in no time!
To start, do a few cat-cow poses to connect with your breath, wake up your spine, and warm up your body:
1. Get down on your hand and knees.
2. Inhale deeply, pressing your toes to the floor. Let your belly and belly button fall to the floor and raise your tail bone as you look upwards.
3. As you exhale, curve your back and spine, and tuck in your tail bone, lowering your head to gaze toward your belly button.
Repeat 4 times and move into downward dog by raising your hips high. Bend your knees slightly and float the tail bone up. The neck is relaxed. Hold the pose for 15 seconds before sitting down on your knees.
BOAT POSE (Paripurna Navasana)
- In a seated position, extend your legs in front of you, keeping your back straight and your hands by your sides, palms touching the ground. You are in staff pose. Now, lean back a little with your knees slightly bent, supporting yourself on your hands, which are just behind the hips, fingers pointed forward.
- Breathe in deeply. As you breathe out, raise your feet off the ground and lean your shoulders back slightly. Find your balance on a point between the tail bone and the pelvic bone.
- Raise your legs higher, to about a 45degree angle, and lift your arms to either side of the body.
4 Activate your abdominal muscles, making sure to keep the back straight, the neck extended and in line with the spine in order to keep your balance. Stretch your arms out and extend your fingers.
5 Hold the pose for 1020 seconds, making sure to breathe in and out fully.
Benefits: Relieves thyroid problems, stimulates digestion, strengthens the abdominals, hip flexors, spinal column and thighs.
Not recommended if: You have a neck injury, are prone to headaches, or have lower back pain.
BRIDGE POSE (Setu Bandhasana)
- Lying on your back, bend your knees to bring your heels close to your buttocks. Your palms should be face down on the floor alongside your body.
- Breathe in. As you breathe out, push with your feet in order to raise your buttocks off the floor. The feet are hip-distance apart, and the arms are pushing into the floor.
- Extend your neck away from the shoulders to create space between the neck and chin, making sure to avoid turning your head to either side. Raise your hips higher and float your chest up to the sky.
- Maintain the pose for 3060 seconds, breathing deeply. To get out of the pose, wait until you breathe out to unfurl your spine and bring it back to the ground one vertebrae at a time. Repeat at least once.
Benefits: Reduces stress, strengthens the thighs and buttocks, stimulates the thyroid glad and stretches the spine and chest.
Not recommended if: You have a shoulder or back injury or if you have back problems.
SHOULDERSTAND (Salamba Sarvangasana)
1 Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your arms along your sides.
2 Engaging your abdominals, straighten your legs as you raise them up into the air, feet to the sky. Inhale, exhale, and with your arms pressed firmly against the ground, bring your knees toward your face, rolling your spine vertebrae by vertebrae to lift the back off the ground until your weight rests on your shoulders. Put your hands on your lower back and bring your elbows together, making sure to keep your head straight.
3 Breathe in, tuck in your pelvis and straighten your legs. Your chest should be perpendicular to the ground.
4 With your next inhale, extend your legs to the sky, straightening your hips as you lift up. Engage your buttocks and press your elbows to the ground to create a straight line from the chest all the way to the feet.
5 Hold the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. To get out of the pose, bend your knees and fold your hips to lower your torso all the way to the ground.
Tip: Start by holding the pose for short periods of time, and try not to strain your neck. Relax your chest.
Benefits: Inversions place your heart above your head, which inverses the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine systems to speed up blood flow and cleanse lung tissue. They relieve stress, stimulate the digestive system, and stretch out the shoulders, the back of the neck, and the upper spinal column.
Not recommended if: You have high blood pressure, neck problems, headaches, sinus inflammation or an ear infection.
SEATED TWIST (Bharadvajasana)
- Sit down on the floor, taking staff pose. Shift your weight to your right buttock and bend your knees so that your toes point toward the left hip. The left thigh should be resting on top of the right shin, and the left ankle should be resting on top of the right foot.
- Inhale and lift your heart in order to straighten the spine. Exhale and twist to the right, gazing past your right shoulder. Put your left hand near your left knee and your right hand on the ground beside the right hip.
- Deepen the twist with each exhale, making sure to keep the chest straight and the shoulders relaxed and away from the ears.
- Hold the pose for 3060 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Stretches the spinal column, shoulders and hips, stimulates the digestive system, relieves stress.
Not recommended if: You have high or low blood pressure, you suffer from diarrhea.
LOCUST POSE (Salabhasana)
1 Lie down on your belly, with your arms to your sides, palms turned down, and your forehead on the ground. Make sure your knees are touching the ground.
2 Activating your buttocks, breathe in and lift your head, chest, arms and legs off the ground. Stretch your arms and legs behind you, with your arms parallel to the ground. Lift your body off the ground as much as you can, using the pelvis and lower abdominal muscles to stabilize your body. The head should be in a neutral position.
3 Hold the pose for 3060 seconds, repeating once or twice.
Benefits: Strengthens the spine, buttocks, arms and legs. Stimulates the digestive system and massages the internal organs.
Not recommended if: You have a back injury.
BOW POSE (Dhanurasana)
1 Lie down on your belly with your arms stretched along your sides and your palms turned up.
2 Rest your chin on the ground. As you exhale, bend your knees and stretch your arms out so that your hands touch your feet. Grab the outside of your ankles.
3 Inhale and lift your chest off the ground, pulling on your ankles to lift your knees and thighs off the ground at the same time. Shift your weight onto your abdominal muscles.
4 Keep your head in a neutral position and make sure to keep your knees hip-length apart. Tuck your tailbone in.
5 Hold the pose for 2030 seconds. Then, on an exhale, let go of the ankles to lie back down on your belly.
Benefits: Stimulates digestion, massages the internal organs, strengthens the spinal column, stretches the abdominals, chest, hip flexors and quadriceps.
Not recommended if: You suffer from headaches, high or low blood pressure, or a back injury.
To complete your yoga practice, take Child’s Pose, and give yourself all the time you need to feel the full benefits of this pose.
Take care of yourself, for a healthy body and a happy mind.
Véronique Briand is a Yoga teacher in Gatineau, massage therapist and Rose Buddha ambassador