As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, we may have noticed our calendars are reminding us that the holiday season is fast approaching. That also means that cold and flu season is back! Unfortunately for some of us, it is once again time to prepare for those extra tissues, coughs, sniffles, and sneezes. But hold that thought… It’s not the cold weather that makes us sick, it’s the germs and the stress. These are really what chip away at our immune system.
When we’re tired and stressed, a cold or the flu has its best chance of bringing us down. That said, just because this happens during seasonal shifts doesn’t mean we are doomed to get sick. No! There are actually plenty of ways to protect our immune systems from that crummy cold and flu this season. One of our favorite ways to remain extra healthy this Fall and Winter is to maintain a regular movement practice with yoga!
What is particularly wonderful about a yoga practice is that it can be done pretty much anywhere. You can practice either at a local studio, a neighborhood gym, or in your own home. It doesn’t require much equipment at all; just you, your body, and your breath. Plus, the best part is you can stay in cozy clothes while you practice! What can be better than that when it’s cold and dreary outside, right? Here are our 10 favorite yoga poses that will help to improve your rest, boost your immune system and keep you healthy this cold and flu season:
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Let’s start with the basics. Child’s Pose is a definite “go-to” pose during cooler temps and stressful days. This simple resting pose eases us into a gentle practice that offers soft compression of the front of your hips, helps to lengthen your spine, decompresses your lower back, and enhances a deep connection with your surroundings. The act of resting your brow bone (Third Eye chakra) on the floor or a yoga block helps elicit a natural sense of grounding and allows us to become more present with our surroundings. We can also bring a pillow or bolster between our knees and under our belly for extra support. We love this pose because it offers us the opportunity to slow down and take stock of what we need in our lives.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
Cobra (Bhujangasana) is another basic yoga pose. It helps invigorate the back muscles, lengthens the spine, and brings some gentle heat into the body. What could be better in colder weather than a little extra warmth, right? This pose also improves flexibility and posture, alleviates chest congestion, reduces inflammation, and decreases depressive symptoms all while increasing our self-esteem, and toning our arms, back and glutes. How to do it: start by lying on your belly with your palms pressing into the floor. Point your elbows toward your heels and hug them to your ribs. When you inhale, press downward with your feet, thighs, stomach, and hands while lifting your ribs, upper chest, and head upwards. (You can stay lifted and continue breathing to intensify the benefits or come back down to the floor on your exhale if you’re new to the pose.) Practice this for 8-10 rounds of breath before moving on. Can you feel your chest open and breathe with ease? Maybe you feel a little taller? Whatever you may feel, we definitely recommend this pose as a staple pose this season.
Half Frog Pose (Ardha Mandukasana)
Need more time in bed? Perhaps you feel a little sluggish today? If so, we recommend the restorative variation of Half Frog Pose. This deeply relaxing variation is another prone pose (lying on your stomach) and comes quite naturally to belly sleepers. To practice this pose, begin by lying on your stomach with your hands under your forehead. Extend one leg straight while bringing the opposite thigh in line with your hips, bent 90 degrees at your knee. That’s it! For a stronger inner thigh stretch, place a folded blanket under your bent knee for gentle elevation. Restorative yoga classes highlight this pose often because it improves hip mobility, releases tension in the back, invites a sense of well-being, and eases stiff muscles. It also can be therapeutic for symptoms related to poor digestion, high blood pressure, insomnia, some cancer treatments, and stored emotional trauma. Overall, the Half Frog pose is a relaxing way to calm our busy minds and improve our health.
Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)
Are you looking for an easy pose that isn’t too strenuous? Then look no further than Sphinx Pose. Similar to Cobra Pose, this pose is done while lying on your belly on the floor. Simultaneously, we press both our forearms and hands into the mat while lifting our heads, shoulders, and chest up toward the sky. This passive backbend gently lengthens your spine, invigorates the Heart chakra, and strengthens your entire back. It also stretches the front of your hips by targeting the psoas muscles, gently tones the glutes, elevates our moods, and fires up the digestive system. Plus, it helps improve menstrual cramps and irregularities for ladies. So, as the weather continues to turn colder, this is another “go-to” pose in those moments when we need a gentle reminder to take care of ourselves.
Easy Pose with Mindful Breathwork (Sukhasana & Sama Vrtti Pranayama)
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or run down and need a few extra minutes to yourself, then try practicing Easy Pose (Sukhasana) with some deep, even-paced breathing. Sukha – meaning ‘of ease’ and Asana – meaning ‘posture,’ is a seated pose with one leg crossed in front of the other. (Remember sitting on the floor as a kid? Yeah… just like that.) This basic yoga pose helps us to feel grounded in our environment and encourages us to sit tall and breathe deeply. It also helps decrease stress, improves lung function, reduces blood pressure, enhances cognition and awareness, and improves sleep quality. All of which help to keep our immune systems in balance. Plus, if you can’t sit on the floor for very long, you can do this pose while seated on a cushion or bolster with your back against a wall, in a chair, or supported on pillows right before bed.
Seated Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Moving on to another seated posture, Seated Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana) serves as a rejuvenating and mild strengthening pose. It helps to bring our attention to the trunk of the body (the core) while offering a gentle massage to our vital organs. In yoga theory, practicing twists help to “wring out” stagnant energy, fire up our digestion, and encourage detoxification of the systems that keep us feeling vital. To come into the pose, sit with one leg resting on the floor, bent at the knee with the foot pulled in close to your bum. Cross the opposite leg over the bottom leg and plant the sole of that foot on the floor. Next, twist through your torso in the same direction as the leg on top. Use your hands to anchor yourself into the twist while keeping your spine lifting up. (FYI, this pose can be practiced with your bottom leg extended or instead of bent at the knee.) Maintain steady breathing while settling into the twist. Stay for 8-10 rounds of slow, easy breaths. P.S. you can deepen the pose by looking away from your knees and over the shoulder in the direction you are twisting.
Supported Revolved Head to Knee Pose (Parivrrta Janu Sirsasana)
We get it… This is a mouthful and sounds crazy, but we promise you can do it! Supported Revolved Head-to-Knee pose is our final seated yoga pose that utilizes several yoga props to support you the whole time. When practiced it lengthens and strengthens the lateral body, which runs down the sides of the body as compared to the front and back. It stimulates our internal organs, especially the kidneys and our liver; both of which tend to ‘feel sluggish’ in colder weather. Plus, this pose also aids in overall digestion and gently stimulates the lymphatic pools in our armpits and inner groin. In this pose, these systems are cleared of stagnant materials, thereby enhancing our whole-body immunity. Want to give it a try? Come to a seated position on the folded ‘edge’ of a blanket. Pull one heel in towards your groin while extending the opposite leg out to the side. Place a yoga block next to your straight leg. On an inhale, raise both arms overhead. On the exhale, lean over toward your extended leg and rest your closest elbow on the block. Here you can support your head in your hand. The other arm continues to reach overhead toward your extended foot. You can either flow with your breath or stay in the pose for a minute or two. Come back to the center slowly and repeat on the other side.
Legs up the Wall Pose (Viparita Kirani)
Truthfully, this is one of our all-time favorite poses! All you need is a wall and a firm pillow or thick blanket. Start by sitting on the floor facing the wall, then lie all the way back. Next, ‘scooch’ your hips close to the wall and place them on the pillow or blanket. Once situated, place your arms out to either side in a natural position and straighten your legs up the wall. When we have our hips elevated above our hearts, it brings the body into a gently inverted position, which regulates blood flow and moves metabolic waste materials out of the areas of the body that are typically forgotten. Legs Up the Wall pose is incredibly restorative to our metabolism and immune system because it essentially flushes our system and stretches overworked muscles. We think this pose is a “must” to practice throughout Fall and Winter.
Reclined Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)
As we near the end of our list, you may see we are once again back on the floor. The poses listed above are meant to be nourishing, rejuvenating, and restorative for our immune system. Therefore, when we keep our yoga practice low and slow, we give our bodies the time they need to feel replenished. That brings us to our next pose, Reclined Supine Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana). This pose is done lying on our backs and can incorporate pillows or blocks if desired. Once on the floor, pull one knee to the chest and twist it across the opposite side. (Those extra blocks or pillows can support that leg if there is any tension in the hips or low back.) After settling into the twist, we let gravity assist our shoulders to ease into the floor. Finally, spread the arms out and slowly look the other way to experience the full twist. This pose acts as a mild cleanse for our overall digestive system and many metabolic pathways throughout the body. As mentioned above, when in a twist, we gently compress the vital organs; allowing freshly oxygenated blood to circulate in the body after releasing the twist. By keeping our systems refreshed this season, we better prepare ourselves to fight off those nasty cold and flu symptoms.
Supported Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Finally, we made it to our last pose, which also happens to be our favorite! Many of you may know that Corpse Pose (Savasana) is the pose typically practiced at the end of most yoga classes. It looks very much like one would expect; lying on our backs with our arms and legs outstretched like a corpse. (Pillows and blankets can also be used to support our heads and under our knees to deepen the sense of relaxation.) That said, even though we may look like a corpse, we are far from that ‘final rest’ in this pose! Supported Corpse Pose allows the body the time needed to integrate all of the benefits from the previous poses. And although it is incredibly restful, falling asleep is not the ultimate goal here. Instead, this is the time when the mind strives to calm and quiet as a means of tapping into our higher sense of consciousness. If practiced regularly, this pose can also serve as a direct channel to a stronger connection with the world around us. When we can achieve that, we experience improved health, a clear mind, and a more present spirit.
Just a Note
These poses can be practiced individually or as an entire sequence. Whichever you choose, just know these poses will help to keep you feeling replenished as the seasons’ shift. And if you do start to feel a little run-down, these poses can help bring you back into balance.
Stay well and happy practicing!