And relax a little 😉
By: Ashley Newell
It’s been quite interesting during this COVID-19 scare to hear so much about wearing masks and keeping your distance from others, while hearing so little about how to stay healthy and maintain a strong immune system. We should all be doing our best to stay healthy, now more than ever. One common way to do this is taking your vitamins and supplements. If you read our Feel Good Food blog, you would know you can even use food as medicine. And of course there is exercise. Moving your body and staying active in any way will always help strengthen your immune system.
But did you know that there are specific yoga poses you can do to target your immunity? Psychology Today explains how yoga has a promising anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Additionally, a 2011 study from International Journal of Yoga concludes that “the circulating levels of cytokines suggest that yoga also has a beneficial effect on the immune system of the individual.” Finally, yoga is known to relax you and reduce stress, which has been linked to improving the immune system, as well. Plus it makes you happy! So if you are feeling stressed, worn down and need a boost, try out some of these yoga poses and see how you feel!
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
When hearing the word “inversion” many people automatically think handstand or headstand and begin to feel intimidated. But all inversion means is simply having your head below your hips. Any type of inversion, no matter how simple, will give you the same amount of benefits. One of which is it reverses our blood flow. While your head is below your hips, the blood flow moves towards your upper body and head, giving your heart a moment to slow down, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. As you rise back up, fresh blood and oxygen pump through the body, carrying nutrients, ready to help heal and support your body’s systems and functions. Blood flow to the head can also allow for congested sinuses to drain. Additionally, inversions stimulate the lymphatic system, which can help remove toxins from the body and improve the immune system.
Seated Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
It is well known that spinal twists help decompress the spine and keep our back healthy. But many forget that we are using our entire torso to create these twists. Compressing and releasing our abdominal organs during a twist helps stimulate our digestive system. Poor or improper digestion can lead to a buildup of toxins. These toxins can often cause inflammation, infection or illness. So by stimulating our digestive system, we are aiding in the release of these toxins, thereby improving our immunity. It’s almost as if you are literally “wringing” out your body!
Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Not only is fish pose one of the best feel-good, relaxing poses, but it also does wonders for your immunity! This pose stretches and opens the abdominals, chest, lungs, and throat – all of which help us breath. We are able to create more room for bigger, deeper breaths this way. Additionally, it allows for better breath awareness. When we breathe deeply and most importantly, intentionally, through our bellies (not just our chest) we are activating the diaphragm. “As the diaphragm massages the internal organs and glands it helps move lymph (fluid containing the immune system’s white blood cells) throughout the body to their targeted locations.” This ensures proper functioning of the immune system. And a wonderful added bonus is that calm and controlled breathing is a great stress reducer!
*Tip: add a bolster underneath you to make it a more relaxing supported fish pose.
The major benefit to any backbend or chest-opening pose is the stimulation of the thymus gland. This gland can be found right in between your lungs, the center of your chest. As a child, the thymus is vital in the production T cells, which is a type of white blood cell that protects the body from viruses and infections. But it should be noted that after puberty, the gland begins to shrink and becomes less functional. However, the significance of the gland does not decrease. As we get older and our thymus gland turns to fatty tissue, our immune system starts to weaken. But it is believed by some that “regenerating the thymus could allow us to boost the immune system of older people so they can better fight infections.” Which is why it is so important to keep it activated! And in yoga, that means chest-openers.
Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
Legs up the wall might be the most popular yoga pose out there. It is quite relaxing and you’ll receive so many benefits from such a simple pose. Viparita literally means “inverted” and karani means “in action.” This means that we are actively inverting the typical actions in our body. Different from a forward fold inversion in number one where the blood flows from the torso to the head, legs up the wall allows for blood to flow from the feet to the torso, refreshing the legs and the reproductive system. You may also still find a small boost in the upper body. Best of all, when you hold this pose for a longer period of time and combine it with deep belly breathing, you will find yourself in a “rest and digest” mode of the nervous system. Stress has been directly linked to illness, so finding relaxation in this pose is absolutely significant for a better immune system.
*Tip: rest your hips and legs literally up the wall instead of on a block to find more relaxation.
Of course with any medicine, the key is the right dosage. Don’t expect major results after trying these poses only one or two times. Personally, I always feel great immediately after the pose, but if you want to maintain that feeling, you must make it a routine. Instead of waiting for those days that you are feeling worn down or super stressed, try to stay consistent, and then maybe you will be able to avoid feeling that way altogether.