Boost Immunity with Inversions


By Elizabeth Winter with Tias Little  |  

If you’d just as soon skip winter’s colds and flu this year, you may want to spend more time on your mat. Tias Little, director of Prajna Yoga, believes a practice that includes supported and inverted poses increases circulation of lymph—a clear, watery fluid that moves through the body picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out via the lymph nodes.

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.

How to Increase Lymph Flow in Yoga Poses

In each pose, Little recommends resting your head on a support to allow your neck, throat, and tongue to relax fully, thereby encouraging the lymph to flow freely through the nose and throat. Hold each pose for two to five minutes, breathing deeply from your diaphragm the entire time.

Don’t wait until the first sign of sniffles to attempt this practice—by that point inversions could agitate both body and mind. Instead, use this sequence to build up your immunity throughout the winter and keep common colds at bay.

See also Boost Your Immune System with Self-Massage

Before You Begin

Breath

Take a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and breathe, focusing on lengthening the duration of both the inhalation and the exhalation over time. Visualize the skin around the throat, jaw, and mouth softening.

Salute

Practice 3 to 5 rounds of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) of your choice.

1 Balasana (Child’s Pose), supported

Begin by sitting on your feet, with your knees separated and your big toes touching. With your eyes closed, fold your torso forward, letting your forehead rest on the floor or on a support such as a bolster, blanket, or block so your head and neck can rest more fully. Place your arms on the floor in front of you, allowing the elbows to bend out to the sides.

Balasana (Child's Pose), supported

2 Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), supported

From Balasana, press your hands into the floor, tuck your toes under, and lift your hips up and back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Rest your head on a support. Extend through your inner arms while pressing the tops of your thighbones firmly back and away from your face.

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), supported

3 Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)

From Adho Mukha Svanasana, walk your feet until they are in line with your hands and come up to standing, maintaining a flat back. Bring your feet about 4 feet apart and fold your torso forward, resting your head on the floor or on a support. Place your hands on the floor to the inside of your feet.

 Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend)

4 Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), supported

From Prasarita Padottanasana, place your hands on your hips and, maintaining a flat back, come up to standing. Bring your feet hip-width apart and on an exhalation, fold forward, resting your head on a support. Clasp the back of your heels with your hands, gently bringing your torso toward your legs.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), supported

5 Sirsasana (Headstand)

Editor’s note: If you’ve never attempted Headstand before, do so with the aid of an experienced teacher. Performing the pose incorrectly can put your neck at risk.

Release Uttanasana and come down to your hands and knees. Interlock your fingers and place your outer forearms against the floor. Tuck your chin and place the back of your head in the cup made by your hands. Straighten your legs, coming up onto the crown of your head. Lift your legs overhead to vertical. For additional support, rest your knuckles against the baseboard of the wall and kick up onto the wall. Rest in Balasana after coming down.

Sirsasana (Headstand)

6 Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), supported

Lie on your back with your shoulders on the folded edge of one or more blankets. The shoulders are supported by the blanket, and your head, but not your neck, rests on the ground. Lift your legs to vertical, supporting your midback with your hands and keeping your upper arms and elbows parallel to each other.

Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), supported

7 Halasana (Plow Pose), supported

From Sarvangasana, lower your legs over your head until your tucked toes touch the ground. Interlock your hands behind your back, straighten your arms, and powerfully press them into the floor. Engage your quadriceps to press your femur bones up and away from your face. To come out of the pose, separate your hands and slowly roll down out of the pose while maintaining full extension in the arms.

Halasana (Plow Pose), supported

8 Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose)

Lying on your back on the floor, draw your knees into your chest. Keep the left side of your back in contact with the floor, extend both legs straight out toward the right, and hold the outer edge of your left foot with either your right hand or a strap. If you experience pain in your lower back, keep your knees bent. With each exhalation, rotate your belly in the direction opposite your legs. Repeat on the left side.

Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose)

9 Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), supported

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips and place a block (standing on its tall end) underneath your sacrum. Ground the outer border of your shoulders into the floor and lift the sides of your torso up, keeping your front ribs, sternum, and collarbones broad.

Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Banda Sarvangasana)

10 Siddhasana (Adept’s Pose)

Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the edge of one or more folded blankets, making sure that your knees are lower than the top of your pelvis. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing down. Elongate the sides of your torso and lift your sternum. Create space under your armpits by imagining you have a small balloon under each arm. Breathe fully, focusing on the inhalation.

Sukhasana (Easy Pose)

After You Finish

Rest

Take Savasana (Corpse Pose), supporting your head on a folded blanket and releasing the arms and back fully into the floor.

Want more? Also try these 16 Poses to Boost Your Immune System