Chances are, you spend a lot of your life around large groups of people — in the office, at school, or even out shopping. And you know that along with shared experiences and shared conversation come shared colds and flus. You probably already do a lot of things to avoid catching them, from taking vitamin C and eating foods rich in immunity-boosting phytochemicals to trying to get enough sleep. But, one facet of preventative health you might not be taking full advantage of is your yoga practice. Stress is a key factor in lowering your resistance to any disease, from the common cold to life-threatening ones like cancer and heart disease. Yoga tackles stress head-on, moving your mind and body from a state of dis-ease into one of a balance of ease and stimulation.
You know firsthand how much hitting the mat can help you release pressure and calm down. And, that feeling of peace does a lot more than just help you unwind. "When your body is relaxed," as Jeff Migdow, founder of Prana Yoga Teacher Training, points out, "it helps your immune system focus on fighting off only the infections that it needs to, rather than overreacting to your environment."
"When you’re stressed," he adds, "your immune system tends to lash out even at harmless allergens, making it harder to resist the germs that are going around."
It’s a great example of just how powerful your body can be left to its own devices. And, you can bring that insight to your mat. Next time you practice, try meditating on your body’s reaction to its environment. Do you feel hot? Cold? Are you registering those sensations as painful or are you just observing them?
As a next step, consider how to change that. Reactivity is a major cause of stress. You start to feel that things happen to you; that’s you’re just a victim of change. Start practicing thought patterns that move your mind away from a reactive position. If you feel cold, notice how drawing breath fully into your body creates a sensation of warmth spreading through your cells. If you’re too hot, curl your tongue, exhale through your mouth, and feel the heat dissipating as the warm air leaves your body. Every second of your practice offers choices. By cultivating discernment rather than just reacting, you start to learn to choose how best to fill that pose with what’s available to you in that moment. Instead of stressing out, you can relax into each asana — opening new places in your body, encouraging better circulation, and aiding your body in coming to its own defense.
So, to fight off the sniffles and take some steps toward improvement in your overall health, try these poses:
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)
Benefits: This pose gently opens your chest, helping to relieve congestion and encourage deeper breathing, which helps make you less vulnerable to germs.
How to do it: Begin in Dandasana (Staff Pose). Bend your left leg and slide it under your right knee, bringing your outer foot onto the floor outside your right hip. Cross the right leg over the same way and make sure your weight is evenly distributed between your hips. Reach your right arm to the side and turn your thumb toward the wall behind you. Bend your arm so that your forearm lies against your lower spine. Keep your elbow in towards your body. Reach your left arm in front of you. Turning your palm to the back wall, bend your arm and clasp your right hand or a strap. Stay in the pose for one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Balasana (Child's Pose)
Benefits: This restorative pose helps your body to relax, which powers up your immune system.
How to do it: Begin on your knees with your legs about hip-width apart. Touch your big toes together. Sink back into a sitting position. Lay your torso down over your thighs. Bring your hands along your sides, palms facing the ceiling. Notice how your inhale lifts your torso off of your thighs. Sink deeper as you relax on the exhale. Remain in this pose for anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes.
Stay on schedule. Easier said than done, but trying to keep yourself rested and working with your body’s clock helps your immune system function its best.
Cleanse your sinuses. Irrigating your sinuses with a neti pot using a saline wash can help reduce your vulnerability to colds.
Remember, too, that staying physically healthy is also a reflection of your mental state. Try not to get distracted by pressure. If it helps, set yourself a deadline for non-job-related work too. Maybe try not to run errands after 10 P.M., for example. And, don’t fret over anything you can’t fix! Most “problems” are really solutions—or at least suggestions—for new directions in your life.