Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
‘Tis the season for the sniffles. A cold, stuffy or runny nose, itchy throat—all of these things may have you thinking you shouldn’t practice yoga, but yoga can actually have healing benefits that’ll help you feel better faster.
Practicing yoga when you’re not feeling well can actually help you fight your illness by boosting your immunity. The best part? I’ve created this sequence so it includes supported, restorative postures that require very little energy. Once you set yourself up with the appropriate props, you can just relax and let the pose do the work.
These postures will help open and stretch your intercostal muscles, which support the lungs, making breathing easier. The gentle inversions, Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose and Supported Shoulderstand, will help to get your blood and lymph fluids moving to naturally assist your own body in healing.
Try this home practice the next time you’re under the weather:
Supported Bridge Pose
Come onto your back and have your block by your side. Bend your knees, bringing your feet close to your hips and have your feet hip-width distance apart with your toes pointing directly forward. Press your feet down into the mat and lift your hips up off the ground. Place the block under your tailbone to support your hips. The block has three different heights and can go length-wise or width-wise beneath you. Try different heights to see what suits you best.
If you have a flexible spine, the highest height is probably good for you. If you are feeling stiff or weak, stay with one of the lower levels. Once you have the block placed firmly under you, lift your chest up slightly and walk your shoulders under you so you are not resting on your neck but rather propped up on your shoulders. You can interlace your hands or just have your arms resting by your sides.
Keep your gaze on the ceiling and resist the urge to move your head for the duration of the pose. Take at least 10 deep breaths here and when you’re ready to come out, push down with both feet evenly and lift your hips off the block. Gently slide the block out from underneath you and lower your hips to the floor. You can let your knees fall in towards each other, place your hands on your belly, and take a few deep breaths here before moving on.
Repeat the instructions from the first part of supported Bridge Pose. Once you’ve gotten yourself securely supported on the block, walk up onto your shoulders, laterally rotating your shoulders underneath you without pulling your shoulders down away from your ears. Place your left foot centered on the mat (toward your midline) and lift your right leg straight up into the air so it’s perpendicular to the floor. If you have tight hamstrings, it’s OK to have a slight bend in your top leg. Make sure you feel completely balanced on the block beneath you and then slowly lift your left leg up to meet the right. Feel your chest lifted and puffed up and make sure you’re not resting the weight of the pose on your neck and. Take a minimum 5 to 10 deep, slow breaths here, then carefully lower one leg at a time back down to Supported Bridge Pose. To exit completely, push your feet down, lift your hips up, and slide the block out from underneath you. Rest on your back for a minute here.
Reclining Spinal Twist
Staying on your back from the previous pose, draw your knees into your chest and rock a little side to side. After a few rocks, let both knees fall to the left side at the same time. Do your best to stack your knees. Place your left hand on your right knee and reach your right arm out at shoulder height, with your right palm facing the ceiling. Keep your neck neutral with your gaze on the ceiling but feel free to close your eyes. This twist will help stretch your intercostal muscles, which run between and around the lunges, so work on breathing more deeply while you’re here. After a few breaths, carefully lift your knees up and switch to the second side.
Supported Reclining Butterfly Pose
You can use two blocks, a bolster, or a few pillows for this supported posture. The goal is for the chest to stay lifted and open and for you to feel no strain in your neck, shoulders, or upper back. Place a stack of pillows (or a bolster) behind you on your mat; the pillows should run along the length of your spine. If you’re using a bolster, support the top side with a block so your head is higher than your hips. If you’re using pillows create a position that mimics a slide, make the side higher where your head will be placed.
Back your hips right up to the bottom edge of the pillow or bolster and lie down onto your back with your head at the highest point. Bend your knees and draw your heels up to your hips. Gently open your knees out to the sides of your mat and feel free to prop up your knees with pillows or blankets so you don’t feel too much pulling on your inner thighs. Allow your arms to rest off to the sides and turn your palms to face up toward the ceiling.
Close your eyes and rest here for a few minutes. Feel your breath moving into your upper chest and heart. See if you can deepen and slow your breathing down and of course feel free to breathe through your mouth if your nose is stuffed up. To come out, slowly lift your knees in toward each other and then roll over onto your right side, coming completely off your pillow or bolster set-up. Rest on your right side for a few breaths before coming up to a seated position.
See also 16 Poses to Boost Your Immune System
Shift all your props off your mat and come onto your hands and knees. Walk your hands one full hand print forward of your hands and knee position. Place your hands shoulder-distance apart, creases of your wrists parallel to the front edge of your mat, spread your fingers wide apart, and ground down evenly with the whole of each hand. If you know you are tight in your shoulders, take your hands slightly wider then shoulder-distance and turn your hands out a bit toward the edges of your mat. Tuck your toes under in the back and pushing down firmly with both hands, lift your hips up and back.
Take a moment here to peddle your legs, bending one knee as you stretch the opposite heel towards the floor. Go back and forth until your calves feel a bit more open. If you have tight hamstrings, make sure to keep a bend in both knees. If you feel open in your legs you can start to straighten your legs and work on reaching your heels towards the floor. Don’t worry if your heels don’t touch or even come close to touching the floor; that doesn’t matter at all. Take your gaze back toward your feet and make sure your feet are hip-width distance apart and that the inner edges of your feet are parallel to each other. Stay here for 5 to 10 breaths, then release back down to your hands and knees.
Supported Star Pose with a Side Stretch
Come to a seated position on your mat. Draw the inner edges of your feet together and take your feet a bit out in front of you so that your legs are in the shape of a diamond. Place the block on your feet and round your spine forward so your forehead is resting on the block. Depending on your flexibility, you may adjust the height of your block. Rest here for a few breaths, then slowly lift your head up and if 12 o’clock is directly in front of you, lift and shift your torso out toward 2 o’clock and see if you can walk your hands out in that direction. Crawl your left fingertips out and take a few deep breaths into your left rib cage. Gently lift up slightly and walk over toward 10 o’clock and repeat on the second side.
Move your mat over to a wall. Line up the short side of your mat against the wall. Sit sideways on your mat with your left hip touching the wall and carefully come onto your back, swinging your legs up the wall. Wiggle yourself as close to the wall as you can without over stretching your hamstrings. Place your hands on your belly or out to your sides in a goal post position. If you’d like to have a bit more of an inversion here, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the wall, lift your hips up and slide the block under your sacrum (the bony triangle at the base of your spine). Make sure your chest feels lifted in the same way that it did in Supported Bridge and Supported Shoulderstand. You may have to re-wiggle yourself closer to the wall again.
Bring your attention back to your breath and stay in the pose for a minimum of 10 breaths. If it’s comfortable, you can stay for as long as 5 minutes. To come out, bend your knees, lift your hips up, and take the block out from underneath you. Roll onto your right side and rest here for a few breaths.
See also Exercises for Altitude Sickness