Boost your immune system with Yoga & food

supported shoulderstand yoga pose

This past weekend, a I taught a 2-hour workshop to help my students get ready for fall allergies and cold & flu season with yoga. So, I thought I’d  share it here so you can prime your body for winter health.   From myofascial massage to poses that support the lymphatic system & thyroid, this home sequence will help  get you ready for the freeze.   

The Lymphatic System

Unlike blood, which moves as a result of the heart pumping, lymph moves by muscular contractions. Physical exercise, such as yoga, is key for keeping lymph flowing. The movement of lymph is also affected by gravity, so anytime your head is below your heart—for example, in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)—lymph moves into the respiratory organs, where germs often enter the body. When you return to an upright position, gravity drains the lymph, sending it through your lymph nodes for cleansing.

The Thyroid & Digestive Tract

Poses that put pressure on the thyroid gland at the base of the throat, stimulating the endocrine system, which works with the nervous system and the immune system to help the body cope with stresses and fight invaders.   Plus, when we stimulate the thyroid, we stimulate the tonsils.  The tonsils and adenoid are part of the Waldeyer ring, which is a ring of lymphoid tissue found in the pharynx. The lymphoid tissue in this ring provides defense against pathogens.
Poses that stimulate the areas around the digestive organs improve immunity.  Our ‘gut’ is inhabited by trillions of healthy flora or ‘good bacteria’ that play a crucial role in health.

Fascia

Fascia is a web of connective tissue that binds together muscles, tendons, groups of muscles, nerves and vascular structures.  If you think of fascia like violin strings that move like tectonic plates, you’ll begin to understand that fascia helps some muscles and tendons move in sync while gliding over or alongside of others.  Sometimes these fibers break or tear.  If they heal incorrectly, we develop adhesions (or scar tissue) which inhibits movement.  Breaking up these adhesions with myfascial realease — or gentle, sustained pressure on the soft tissues while applying traction to the fascia breaks up adhesions, and gets blood flowing.

Starting your practice with some myofascial release using a foam roller and a tennis ball can help loosen muscles and bring relief to trouble spots.  Apply gentle pressure as you roll over tight muscles.  Start with the back body from the calves to the glutes, move to the front body and massage the quads, then move to the wall and use a tennis ball to gently release knots and tension in your scapula (upper back.)  You can even roll over the tennis ball with the arches of your feet.  You’ll notice that some areas are very tender, and these are typically the ones that need the most attention.  Be careful, however, not to use too much pressure or go for too long as you can trade adhesions for additional tissue damage.

Here’s a gentle home Immunity Boosting Yoga sequence you can do to get your body ready for fall and winter:

  1. Center in a comfortable seated position, breathe and set your intention for a few minutes
  2. Gentle neck stretches & shoulder shrugs
  3. Gentle seated forward fold stretch
  4. Roll to hands and knees for table top
  5. Cat lift, cat tuck several times using the breath to guide you
  6. Press back into downward facing dog. Take a couple of long breaths here.
  7. Slowly lower the hips and bring the body parallel to the floor, to plank pose.
  8. Lower knees chest and chin to the floor and slowly scoop up into a long gentle cobra pose
  9. On your next inhale, smoothly and fluidly move back to down dog by curling your toes under, press back into downward dog
  10. Repeat down dog sequence 3 times
  11. Sink into child’s pose and take several breaths
  12. Come to the wall, and set yourself up into downward facing dog with your heels against the wall. Extend your right leg up the wall into a supported standing split.  Hold for five breaths, release your foot to the ground and switch sides.
  13. Come onto your back with your feet on the floor knees hip width apart and parallel, arms are by your sides (heels are close enough to graze the fingertips)
  14. Press up into bridge pose and hold for a few breaths (do this 3-4 times)
  15. After your last time, place a foam block at the lowest level just below your sacrum (the flat bony part of your back above your bum).
  16. Lower down onto the block and extend the legs into the air for supported shoulderstand (arms slightly away from your sides palms up) hold for 2 minutes
  17. Lower your feet to the ground, remove your block, and lie on your back for several cleansing breaths
  18. Bend your knees and bring your feet flat on the mat, allow your knees to fall side to side to release your low back before coming into savasana
  19. Extend your legs long and come into savasana – final resting positon for at least 5 minutes
  20. When you slowly, gently come out of savasana, make your way to seated and return to your center and your intention. Namaste!

Here’s a bonus Better than Chicken Soup Recipe from Whole Foods for when you’re feeling punky (or when you just want some delicious-ness). This immune-boosting soup recipe from Whole Foods is made with a virtual garden of powerful ingredients that contain beneficial nutrients for your immune system.

Ingredients:

* 1 small yellow onion, chopped

* 4 cloves garlic, sliced

* 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

* 1 teaspoon ground turmeric

* 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced

* 4 cups low-sodium mushroom, vegetable or chicken broth

* 1 1/2 cup julienned fresh kale

* 1 cup cubed butternut squash

* 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

* 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

* 6 slices astragalus root (optional)

* 1 fresh lemon, Juice of

* 1 teaspoon miso

 Method:

In a sauce pot over medium-high heat, saute onion and garlic in oil 3 minutes. Add turmeric and mushrooms. Saute 2 minutes. Add broth, kale, squash, ginger, cayenne and astragalus. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly, add lemon juice and miso (adding miso when still very hot will diminish its probiotic benefits). Cover and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Stay healthy!

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

Photo: Gaiam

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  10. First off I want to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.

    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before
    writing. I have had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out.
    I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are lost just trying to figure out how to
    begin. Any recommendations or tips? Kudos!

    • Thanks, Marie. There’s not really a formal process. I just write when something inspires me. The process usually starts itself 🙂

      Journaling everyday after meditation helps. Sometimes those entries turn into blog posts.

      Hope that helps!!

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