battling germs with yoga

As fall approaches, I look forward to dusting off my teapot, cozy hoodies and fluffiest slippers. I love the refreshing crisp air and the promise of bonfires, beautiful fall colors and the death/hibernation of many bugs. Ahhh! :) But one thing I do not look forward to is the inevitable influx of allergies and germs. I picture kids venturing back to school in close-quarters and wiping their grimy hands all over each other's stuff, spreading their little kid germs to their teachers, family, parents and eventually, co-workers of parents (ie. me). 

When I'm not blaming children for fall allergies and airborne germs, I'm actively studying home remedies, prevention and of course, yoga remedies. A regular yoga practice will already give you an advantage when it comes to your immune system, but if allergies already have you down, you're at a disadvantage.
“If you have allergy symptoms, your immune system is already working overtime. A stuffy nose, ears and sinuses, inflamed eyes, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing are all caused by the mucus-producing process of the immune system attacking innocuous invaders. Through relaxation, the nervous system can tell the immune system to settle down and stop attacking the foreign bodies, which are naturally cleared out in a non-allergic person by sneezing once or twice a day. When the immune system backs off, inflammation and mucus decrease and symptoms diminish.” -
These are scientific facts, people. Even if you don't want to get into the mental focus, spiritual aspect, chakra work or anything touchy-feely, it's still there and like it or not, it's effecting your entire endocrine system. So the question is: what's going on with your nervous system? Is it ignored, over-worked or rundown? Regardless of how you feel, if you're mentally run-down, your immune system is run-down, too.

In general, yoga helps to lower stress hormones that compromise the immune system, while also conditioning the lungs, respiratory tract and lymphatic system. But besides preventative practice, many yoga poses are specifically therapeutic to target certain glands, organs and bodily systems that, when stimulated, can help ease discomfort and speed recovery. I'm excited to be offering a workshop with a focus on the immune system. There's so much to learn, but when I feel like I'm coming down with a cold or am trying to get through one, I have a few powerful asanas that I focus on:

1.) Lion's Pose: Simultaneously one of the most-useful and most-intolerable yoga asanas, lion's pose is just normally one of those asanas you will prefer to practice alone.
yoga for the immune system : wholehearter
A few brave souls, photographed practicing Lion's Pose.... ;)
I've had amazing success with lion's pose instantly relieving sore throats, but the key to this pose is making an obnoxious face that involves sticking out your tongue as far as you can, looking upward and exhaling (or roaring) loudly. Needless to say, I don't cue it often in class. Even Yoga Journal makes fun of lion's pose under the Partnering section:
But in all seriousness, this asana has significant (often instantaneous) benefits. It doesn't feel so silly to practice once you realize how well it works. Lion's Pose relaxes the muscles of the neck and jaw, easing the pain of a sore throat or swollen glands and can also help to soothe a cough. During the "lion's roar," the nasal passages drain, expelling mucus from the lungs.

Lion's Pose is my first go-to asana when my throat doesn't feel quite right. Remember Lion's Pose during the first signs of your next sore throat and be amazed at the results!

2.) Inversions: There are many types of inversions from the very gentle (Downward Facing Dog, Forward Fold) to the advanced (Headstand, Scorpion...etc). Even a restorative Child's Pose is technically an inversion, since your head is resting lower than your heart.
yoga for the immune system : wholehearter
Any inversion is therapeutic for the lymphatic system, circulation and immune system.

Regardless of where you are in your practice or what you're comfortable with when you're ill, you can usually find some sort of helpful inversion. Any time your heart rests lower than your head, circulation of your lymphatic system is improved, which in turn helps your body defend against infections. Being upside-down also helps to prevent secondary infections by draining the lungs.

If you have sinus pain and pressure, inversions can help to drain your nasal passages, but don't push it. Stay mindful of what your body is feeling and only do what feels comfortable.

3.) Twists: I already spoke a lot about the benefits of twisting postures here, but if I've said it once, I'll say it 1,000 times: daily twisting yoga asanas are by far the best preventative measure you can take to strengthen your immune system and protect against disease.
yoga for the immune system : wholehearter
Twisting posture ideas, from simple and gentle to deep and advanced.
70% of your immune system lies in the digestive tract, but some doctors and scientists argue that it's an even larger percentage. Each time you turn your torso and breathe deeply into a yoga twist, you are wringing out toxins and literally massaging internal organs that are imperative to a healthy digestive system and immune system. Twists are also a great way to increase blood flow, so they're naturally energizing if you're feeling sluggish and under-the-weather.

There are tons of other interesting yoga postures and practices you can benefit from when you're sick, such as including the use of a neti pot. Being in-tune with yourself will allow you to notice subtle changes in your energy level and give you a chance to fend off infection proactively. Ultimately, being sick is one of our best opportunities to learn how to truly listen to our bodies, refine our patience and reconsider our priorities.  There is never a good time to be ill, but when you're body tells you to "slow down," how do you handle it?