Support Your Immune System
While the asanas make up the cornerstone of infection prevention, yoga's benefits don't stop there. Since both colds and flu attack the bronchial passages, it makes sense that conditioning the lungs and maximizing one's breathing capacity through pranayama would build resistance to preying organisms. Kraftsow, in his recent book Yoga for Wellness (Penguin, 1999), explains that cold and flu infections, allergies, asthma, and other chronic respiratory conditions are "directly linked to a weakened immune response" due to "disturbed, irregular habits of breathing." Drs. Robin Monro, R. Nagarathna, and H.R. Nagendra, authors of Yoga for Common Ailments (Fireside, 1991), also emphasize breathing exercises. Sectional breathing and rapid abdominal breathing (Kapalabhati) "increase the resistance of your respiratory tract," they advise, while the nasal wash and alternate-nostril breathing "increase the resistance of your sinuses." Recent findings from a Penn State University study involving 294 college students support this. Those who irrigated daily with saline experienced a significant reduction in colds.
Finally, meditation also reduces the incidence of infectious ailments by de-stressing the body and mind. Ample research has shown that just 20 minutes of meditation a day increases endorphins, decreases cortisol levels, and fosters positive states of mind to promote better health.
So how does one begin an immune-boosting yoga program? Rest assured that whatever your current yoga practice entails, it already strengthens your resistance. But if you want to take extra steps to avoid infection, take this advice from Richard Rosen, frequent YJ contributor and instructor at Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, California. He explains that modified versions of forward bends, backbends, and twists can all lend a hand in supporting and strengthening the immune system. Practice the sequence regularly throughout the winter to better your chances of staying healthy. And if you do succumb to illness, you'll find these poses provide just the R & R you need to get better.
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