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To prime your body for winter health, try this gentle sequence designed to support the lymphatic system.
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 any time your head is below your heart— for example, in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported 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.
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.
Breathe: 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 of your choice.
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 like 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.
Downward-Facing Dog Pose, supported
Adho Mukha Svanasana
From Child’s Pose, press your hands into the floor, tuck your toes under, and lift your hips up and back into Down Dog. 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.
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
From Down Dog, walk your feet up until they are in line with your hands and come up to standing. 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 inside your feet.
Standing Forward Bend, supported
From Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend, place your hands on your hips and 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.
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 Child’s Pose after coming down.
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.
Plow Pose, supported
From Supported Shoulderstand, 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, separate your hands and slowly roll down out of the pose while maintaining full extension in the arms.
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.
Bridge Pose, supported
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
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, keeping your front ribs, sternum, and collarbones broad.
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. Breathe fully, focusing on the inhalation.
Rest: Take Savasana (Corpse Pose), supporting your head on a folded blanket and releasing the arms, legs, and back fully into the floor.
ABOUT OUR PROS
Teacher Tias Little is co-founder of Prajna Yoga in Sante Fe, New Mexico. Model Catherine Shaddix is a San Francisco–based yoga and meditation teacher. Writer Elizabeth Winter is a former Yoga Journal assistant editor.