5 Yoga Poses to Boost Your OM-munity
Have you ever noticed that a day after you start your vacation you get sick? Or perhaps a sniffle or cough comes on right before your important work presentation? Or maybe you get taken out by a sore throat or ear ache when you have the most on your plate?
Sadly, bacteria and viruses don’t work around our schedule and can take up residence in your body whether you invite them in or not. The immune system has important job to do each and every day, and if we are sleep deprived, eating on the run, overwhelmed and stressed out, and not taking good care of our body, mind, and emotions, it has a profound effect on its ability to ward off dis-ease.
The health of a women’s immune system depends on the health of all our systems. For almost every health condition a woman faces, we can often trace it back to hormonal imbalances. Colds and flu included, since one of our many systems responsible for a strong immune system is the endocrine system, which includes your ovaries, pituitary, adrenals, thyroid, and hypothalamus. All these organs/ glands are also directly responsible for your monthly menstrual (moon) cycle and regulating hormones.
The nervous, digestive, and circulatory systems also work along with your endocrine system to boost your immune system’s response to invaders. However, if we are experiencing stress and overwhelm, for example, these system functions are jeopardized. This in turn influences your hormones causing you to become susceptible to sickness.
In addition, your emotional state affects your physical health so if you are feeling healthy and vibrant, mostly likely your immune system does too and the team of trillions on white blood cells will attack unwelcome invaders with no fear. Except that throughout a woman’s monthly cycle our emotions can be a roller coaster ride ultimately impacting our ability to stay healthy and virus free.
Our yoga asana practice is a refuge where we can go and take time to nourish and replenish all our systems so that they can function optimally. Yoga asana can help improve our circulation, support our central nervous system, clear the mind, balance emotions, and uplift the spirit. Each of these individual benefits will, collectively, assist in harmonizing the endocrine system and stabilize hormones.
In addition, we want to be sure that we get adequate sleep, 8-9 hours a night, eat foods high in vitamin C and A which stimulate our immunity, and surround ourselves with joy and laughter. Laughter also helps fuel and boost immunity and encourages a positive outlook which helps too!
Helps to increase upper body circulation, bring fresh blood to the brain, energizes the legs, and is soothing and calming for intense emotions especially when done with a block or bolster under the head. Calm and rejuvenate!
Puts pressure on the belly which increase blood flow to the abdominal organs which is full of the white blood cells that help us fight invaders. Bow also activates the thymus in the chest that is the primary immune system organ. Invigorate and enliven!
Is calming for the central nervous system and allows the adrenals to relax by receiving the ‘sign’ that there is no distress from your long, deep breaths. Then the immune and digestive systems can return to a balanced state and circulate freely to look for those pesky ‘invaders’. This pose can also be great right before bed to assist in a better nights sleep. Restore and relax!
Stimulates the spleen, kidneys, liver, and circulation to the belly and reproductive organs which produce immune cells. It also stimulates the flow of lymph fluid through the nodes in groin and the armpits. Replenish and renew!
Helps bring oxygenated blood to your thyroid and parathyroid glands, supports the lymphatic system in passive circulation, calms the mind and emotions, and soothes nerves if you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Moving in to Plow pose will also help to balance your entire endocrine system which in turn will balance your hormones and emotions.
I also suggest practicing according to your monthly cycle and changing what you practice when in accordance to where you are in your personal cycle. This will make these asanas even more potent and powerful keeping you healthy and balanced all year long. Read my article, Manage Your Mood: Balance Your Cycle With Your Practice to learn how to practice according to your monthly cycle.
Discipline & Surrender: The Art of Down Dog
I’m a yoga teacher who’s been teaching for over 20 years and doing down dog every day. So technically I can do the pose, but because of a pinched nerve in my elbow I’ve developed a problem akin to tennis elbow and it hurts like hell.
For years I’ve heard one student after another complain about down dog. They tell me it’s too hard, it’s boring and it sometimes hurts the hands and the feet. I would remind them about limitation, relaxing and letting go. “Breathe,” I would say.
I love down dog. It reminds me to surrender every part of my body to the pose. It requires discipline to first get into the pose and then a sense of surrender to maintain it. I remind my students that such is down dog, such is life. It takes discipline to stick to your goals and surrender to maintain them.
What I love about down dog is that it’s a one-for-all pose, meaning that it requires the integration of the whole body. It stretches the muscles of the back of the legs, shoulders, the belly and the back. It strengthens the arms, relieves neck tension and offers some of the benefits of inverted poses, such as cleaning the internal organs and relieving tension. It can be done for a warm up or a cool down.
Patanjali, who organized the knowledge of yoga into The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, understood down dog. His book compiles 196 sutras that are essentially a road map for life. The second sutra, if fully understood, is enough to understand yoga. The rest of the sutras only serve to explain. Basically the second sutra is about the modification of the mind or the balance between the two qualities of abhyasa and variragya or “discipline” and “surrender.” This is down dog.
These two qualities form the foundation of yoga. It’s the balancing and the blending of the two opposing forces of discipline (practice) and surrender (letting go) that create harmony. It’s precisely the physical discipline of moving into down dog and the letting go so as to maintain it: that is why I love down dog, and why I was so disappointed when my body would no longer allow me to embrace the pose.
Not to be one to give up, I saw my doctor who sent me to a physical therapist. For six weeks I worked to relieve the pain in my elbow so that I could return to the mat. It also took discipline to faithfully make time to see the physical therapist three times a week. It took a sense of surrender to let go and remain unattached to the outcome of my therapy. My focus was to establish that sense of balance between abhyasa and variragya.
This process of therapy was a discovery that called upon me to transcend my ego. I’ve always prided myself on being able to easily slip in and out of down dog. My body has always been strong, flexible and resilient. Now my body was tired and worn, and I had to let go of my self-imposed boundaries and admit that I too had my limitations. I’m the yoga teacher and I cannot do a down dog?! But like all things in life, this too shall pass. Everything changes. With time and a little rest my elbow improved, and before I knew it, I was back on the mat in down dog with my students.
But something changed. I no longer take for granted that my body will always respond with the discipline I impose. Sometimes we need to pull back and surrender to the flow of life, even if that flow is one that is not so pleasant. As I like to remind my students, everything has an element of good. We just need to surrender to it and quietly learn to accept. In that, we will discover a sense of discipline and the ability to surrender; and if truly understood, this is enough to understand yoga. The resting of my elbow, like the remaining sutras, simply served to instill in me the importance of balance and the modification of the mind.