The holidays are a wonderful time to reconnect with family and enjoy the goodwill and peace of the season. Unfortunately, in order to create this kind of magic there is at least a month (or more) of preparation: the baking, shopping, wrapping, and decorating all take up a good portion of our free time. The lack of free time to rest and rejuvenate our physical selves, in combination with fluctuating weather conditions, can spell trouble for even the most seasoned of yoga practitioners. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it can be easy to let go of the time you’ve been spending nourishing your body and mind through regular yoga practice in lieu of having extra time to prepare. On the other hand, continuing yoga practice during even the most hectic times in our lives is an excellent way to keep healthy and ready to enjoy the best of the season.
Yoga provides an excellent means of keeping our bodies healthy and preventing illness. It’s a fact that eventually even the healthiest person will feel under the weather at some point or other. Yoga practitioners often suffer from fewer episodes of colds and flu, as well as a decreased duration and intensity of symptoms. Yoga is a way of healthy living that keeps our bodies strong. And while it’s true that any form of exercise will keep our bodies fit, yoga actually strengthens both immune function and promotes better health through greater physical and psychological awareness.
Stress is one of the number one reasons your body gets sick in the first place: a body that’s been overworked, a mind with too much to think about and soon enough you’re in bed with the sniffles feeling like your world is coming to an end. Yoga further helps prevent illness because it provides a sense of harmony and allows for introspective and restorative thought. This inward focus will help you recognize better when your body is feeling worn down and when you might need more rest. Since yoga is an excellent means of combating stress, our bodies will be less likely to get run down in the first place.
In addition to the psychological and physical benefits of a regular yoga practice, the physical stimulation of your endocrine glands has also been proven to naturally boost your immune system meaning you’re more able to fight off that cold or flu. Your body will become more efficient in fending off these diseases so you’ll be sick for a shorter time, and less often.
Despite your best efforts, at some point everyone gets sick. Thankfully yoga is a gentle exercise which unlike many other aerobic exercises can be continued when sick and even offers relief from many of the symptoms such as runny nose, congestion and cough. The following poses have been shown to alleviate symptoms and help a regular practitioner feel back to normal more quickly.
Upper back bends – Cobra, Pigeon, Fish, Boat, Bow and Bridge all activate the thymus gland, which strengthens the immune system’s function.
Inversions – Shoulderstand, headstand, plow and legs up the wall increase the circulation of the lymphatic system, which feeds the immune system.
Twists and Hip Openers – These yogic poses remove toxins and activate the spleen and lymph nodes, both of which are critical to fighting infection and illness.
Breath Work (Pranayama) – Five to ten minutes of regular yoga practice per day can have a strong impact on cold prevention simply because of yoga’s emphasis on breathing. Certain breathing techniques are also extremely beneficial in opening the respiratory passages. Kapalabhati (Cleansing Breath) clears the mucus from the nasal passage, while the Bhastrika (Bellows) helps prevent colds by oxygenating and energizing the body, removing toxins and has even been shown to alleviate asthma and lung infections. We highly recommend that you talk with a trained yoga instructor before practicing these pranayama techniques (especially if you have asthma) to ensure the practice is suitable and that you are doing it correctly and safely.