Yoga for Immunity: How to Practice Your Way to Optimal Health
There are literally hundreds of viruses going around this time of year, it’s hard not to catch one of them.
From the common cold to the flu, ‘cold season’ has officially arrived.
And while there are many ways to stay healthy this time of year, yoga has proven to be one of the best ways to not only avoid getting sick, but to strengthen your overall immune system along the way.
In addition to the basic measures taken this time of year—getting enough sleep, eating whole foods, stressing less—yoga is a proactive way to take control of your health so you can feel good, all year long.
We’ve rounded up a few ways, along with specific asanas (postures) you can practice, to help you keep your immune system rock solid so you can thrive—even when everyone else isn’t.
Get Upside Down!
Asanas make up the largest part of boosting our immune systems within yoga.
Practicing inversions and forward folds is one of the best ways to strengthen our systems.
When we go upside down, we encourage blood flow through our lymphatic system, which is the system that cleanses toxins and moves immune-strengthening cells throughout our bodies.
As well as waking up the lymphatic system, inversions circulate our blood to our sinuses, which eases congestion as well as helps drain the lungs, protecting them from infection.
Poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), Halasana (Plow Pose) and Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall) are all great options for going upside down and getting your blood flowing.
Open Your Heart
Heart openers, or any pose that expands and widens the chest, are great for defending against any lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
These asanas also help with blood circulation around the chest and lungs, spreading healthy, virus-killing cells throughout this vulnerable area.
These postures are especially useful for anybody who sits at a desk all day long and needs to nourish their vital organs.
Twist It Out
While many viruses affect mostly the nasal and bronchial passages, our digestive systems can play a major part in strengthening our immunity. Imbalance in our digestive tract can build up toxins, creating disease in the body.
To maintain a healthy digestive tract and prevent toxins from finding their home in your digestion, include lots of twists into your practice.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose), Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose) and Jathara Parivartanasana (Reclined Spinal Twist) will all help you detox and twist your way to good health!
Breathing exercises can help strengthen the lungs, clear nasal passages and fortify the respiratory system.
And since most illnesses attack these exact areas, it only makes sense to train our lungs and maximize our breath capacity to help keep them at bay.
Practicing Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire) and Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) are two of the best ways to strengthen lung capacity and clear out sinuses, creating a strong resistance to infection.
Spice It Up
While not technically yoga, eating or drinking spicy foods and beverages before and after practicing will keep your body warm and your blood flowing. This will get your digestive system moving, clearing out all those nasty toxins.
Try a warm, spicy tea before practicing and then afterward sprinkle some turmeric or ginger onto steamed veggies or cinnamon and cardamom with hot oatmeal.
Last but not least, in order to stay healthy all year long, we’ve got to keep our stress levels to a minimum.
Meditation is known to help ease anxiety and stress due its calming effects on the body and mind. As we slow down our breath and focus on the present moment, it becomes much easier to let our worries slip away.
And it doesn’t take much—as little as twenty minutes per day is all you need to begin reducing stress for good.
As we stress ourselves out, we exhaust our bodies over time. This inhibits our immune system’s ability to protect us from viruses that are trying to attack our bodies from the outside in.
Meditation increases endorphins and lowers our cortisol levels, in turn creating a more positive mind-space and outlook on life.
De-stressing the body in this way leaves more energy for it to fight against viruses and harmful bacteria.
If you’re new to meditation, start by finding a comfortable seat. You can sit unsupported on the floor, with your back against a wall or in a chair with a supportive back.
Sit up tall and close your eyes. Slow down your breath and turn your attention to the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe in and out.
Remember, meditation is not about not thinking—it’s about training the brain to come back to the present moment, regardless of the thoughts that pass through our minds.
Sit and watch your breath. As you notice your mind drift away from the present—which it undoubtedly will at one point or another, and that’s okay—gently bring yourself back, with compassion and without judgment.
If you need a little help getting started, try listening to some guided meditations. You can purchase these or listen free online. Check out these free ones from UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.
The good news is your yoga practice is already strengthening your immune system whether you meant it to or not.
But by incorporating these practices into your current routine, you’ll be able to boost your immune system even more and stay healthy all year long!
What are some of your favorite ways to boost immunity? Let us know in the comments!
Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, Yoganonymous, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of Siddhi Yoga International, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).