We have come to the time of year where we are more likely to suffer with illness, whether it be a common cold or the dreaded flu. And of course, at the time of writing this we are still in the midst of the covid 19 epidemic. So how can we protect our health as the winter draws closer?
Yoga is a wonderful way to start because, as a mind and body practice it goes a long way to reducing stress which in turn, reduces inflammation in the body. When we have less inflammation the body can work and defend itself better.
There are certain yoga tools that are more helpful than others and the good news is, they can be practised even if you are not feeling 100%. They work because they support our immunity from the inside out. Let’s look 4 of my favourite.
The simple act of breathing (but I mean breathing WELL) can really boost your immunity. When we train our lungs and diaphragm there are less likely to be ‘attacked’ by illnesses. As most attack the lungs first, it makes sense to start here. Also, spending time connecting with our breath teaches you to relax and breathe deeply, which can reduce stress, calm the nervous system and help remove toxins from the body (which all support your immunity). Here is one of my favourite breathing exercises.
Deep Yogi Breath
This breath is the one we are all familiar with but I practice it every single day and I come back to it again and again because I know I feel so much calmer and alive afterwards.
How to do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position on the floor or in a chair (if you are short, like me place a bolster or a couple of blocks underneath the feet so that they are flat on the floor).
- Make sure that your posture is tall (head over heart, heart over pelvis) and think about rooting down through the sit bones and lifting up and out of the crown of the head.
- Inhale, and imagine you are filling up an imaginary balloon from the belly, all the way to the crown of your head.
- Exhale and empty the balloon sending the breath down to your feet.
- Continue for at least 10 deep breaths (more if possible) and then relax.
Other helpful breathing exercises are Nadi Shodhana and Ujjayi Breath (Ocean Breath).
2. Do The Twist
What Yoga does really well is to make sure that we rotate the spine. This is something that in our day to day lives doesn’t happen very often, but it is a vital way of keeping not only our spines healthy, but also the inner workings of our body. Twists directly improve the health of our digestive system. Any imbalances can allow toxins to build up which can cause inflammation in the body and contribute to illness. Below are just two examples of great twists, but you can chop and change to suit your mood and need.
Jathara Parivartanasana (Reclined Spinal Twist)
I teach Jathara Parivartanasana a lot in my classes because it simply ‘does the job’. This twist is working the pelvis; the shoulders and the upper back stay still.
How To Do It.
- Come into a semi supine position with the feet flat on the floor.
- Settle the body and connect to the breath.
- As you exhale, simply drop the knees to the right.
- Inhale come back to centre and then as you exhale again, drop the knees to the left.
- Continue moving from side to side and then after you have done 3 rounds hold the position on each side for 5-10 breaths.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes)
This is a twist which involves the upper body. The lower body stays still. It is always good to include both upper body and lower body twist variations because they target slightly different areas of the body.
How To Do It.
- Come to a seated position with the leg stretched out in front of you bend your right leg and placed the right foot on the outside of your left leg so the sole of your right foot is on the mat.
- Keep the extended left foot flexed and the leg active. Think also about rolling the inner leg down towards the floor.
- On an inhale plant your right palm directly behind your lower back and bring your left elbow to the outside of your right knee.
- Inhale and lengthen through the spine.
- As you exhale, connect to your waist muscles and twist from the navel up toward the right knee. Allow your gaze to follow but do not force the action with your arms – they are just guiders.
- Stay for five breaths on each side.
3. Backbends/Chest openers
Backbends or any pose which opens up and expands the chest are great for building our immunity. Not only do they help us to breathe deeply and efficiently, but they encourage good blood circulation around the chest and lungs, which is very protective and immunity boosting. In addition, they help stimulate the digestive system by massaging the internal organs which as we saw above, is also helpful for starving off illness.
Snake Pose (Sarpasana),
This pose is slightly more accessible for all body types. It can also be used a preparatory pose for Bhujangasana (Cobra) and other deeper backbends.
How To Do It.
- Lay down on your belly ( prone position) with your forehead flat to the mat.
- Clasp your hands together behind you, just above your tailbone.
- Point your toes and press the feet and heels together. Roll the inner thighs up towards the sky.
- Wake up your legs by lifting the muscles around the kneecaps. Guide the tailbone downwards to feel the engagement of your glutes.
- Take a deep inhale and lift your head, chest, shoulders off the mat.
- Contract the back muscles and send your clasped knuckles towards your feet.
- Simultaneously, reach your sternum forward (or breastbone) feeling the chest open.
- Release your shoulders down your back, away from your ears.
- Hold for 8 breaths, or as long as feels comfortable.
- Slowly lower vertebra by vertebra.
Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana Variation)
How To Do It.
- Grab 2 blocks and place them as shown in the photograph.
- Line your body up so that when you lay down onto the blocks your head rests on the highest one and your shoulder blades are on top of the other.
- Relax the chest and shoulders and let your arms open wide, palms facing up.
- Get comfortable, tune inwards and observe the breath. You can close the eyes if that helps.
- Begin a full yogic breath by inhaling into the belly, inflating the ribs (like an internal balloon) and widening the chest. On the exhale, empty the lungs fully.
- Continue this wide and full breath for 2-5 minutes.
This final group of poses bring a huge amount of benefits to our body and mind and you really don’t need to do the more energetic versions like headstand and handstand. When we go upside down we help our lymphatic system to circulate better. This is so important as our lymphatic system cleanses the toxins out of our system. Other benefits include clearing our nostrils (and the lungs for that matter)which helps to keep them healthy and strong. Here are two of my favourite ‘simple’ inversions.
Uttanasana (standing forward fold).
I chose this one as it is one of the most familiar and practised yoga poses in a class. You don’t need any props or even a yoga mat to practice it.
How To Do It.
- Come to a standing position with the feet hip width apart.
- Slowly hinge at the hips keeping a bend in your knees and come into a gentle forward fold.
- If you wish you can come into a ragdoll version where you allow your knees to bend generously and hug each elbow with opposite hands or you can come into the more conventional pose where the hands come to the floor; the legs can be bent or slightly straighter.
- Stay here in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths or as long as it feels good. To come out simply bend the knees, drop the tail bone down scoop the hip points in and up. Roll yourself up to standing nice and slowly, leaving the head to come up last.
Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)
This has got to be my absolute favourite restorative inversion; it is so good for rejuvenating yourself and your energy levels along with reducing any stress.
How To Do It.
- Sit about 3 inches away from an empty wall sideways on.
- Swing your legs up on to the wall and come down onto your back.
- Once then, see if you can scoot your sit bones as close to the wall as possible.
- Allow your entire spine to rest heavy on the mat or floor beneath you and relax your arms by side with the palms up to help open the chest.
- Stay here and relax for as long as you like (anytime from three minutes).
- To come out simply bend the knees and rollover to either the left or right side and then push yourself up to a seat with your hands .
Top tip: Sometimes I like to put a sandbag on top of my feet because it helps me to feel even more connected to the floor and helps promote relaxation
Closing Thoughts, extra reading and a couple of Yoga videos to try:
So there you have it; my top 4 poses to help boost your immunity. Try and include one of each pose in your yoga practice throughout Autumn.
- If you would like to no more ways you can support your health and wellbeing during Autumn why not catch up on my other blogs on this subject.
2. Head over to YouTube and try a yoga class to help support your Autumn immunity.
I hope you will incorporate the above poses (or similar) into your practice. Do you have any other ways in which you support your health during the Autumn months? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.