Yoga Poses to Boost Immunity
By Mary Rehor
Yoga has long been known to support immune system health among many other things. The most important action we can take to boost our immunity in our physical yoga practice is to place focus on remaining calm and continuing to engage the breath through the duration of class, regardless of the challenges that might arise. When we allow stress or feelings of anxiousness, struggle or frustration creep in, we move away from a place of rejuvenation and healing. Some common examples you might be able to relate to in your own practice are unnecessary tightening of muscles, accelerated breathing and tensing of the jaw, the face and the shoulders.
Think about it, even something as simple as watching the news, comparing yourself to others on a social media scroll, having a disagreement with a loved one, or feeling fear and anxiety about the past or the unknown future, can ultimately trigger a physical stress reaction. Our bodies can become totally exhausted and tired from the back and forth activation of these intense physical sensations. This cycle can absolutely negatively impact our well-being and cause inflammation, while inadvertently affecting our immunity to not just disease and illness, but also to situational stress.
Thankfully, you are reading this because you are interested in the gift of yoga, which allows us to regulate ourselves and become aware of our physical and mental reactions to stressors. That awareness leads to mindfulness, mindfulness leads to presence, presence leads to gratitude, and gratitude leads to a healthier well-being and stronger immunity. While any yoga sequence and pose will certainly help increase your breath awareness and circulation, below are four poses I have found through my experience as a student and teacher that can cultivate a sense of stamina and serenity within to help you better navigate those triggers when they arise. Each one of these poses stimulates blood flood and gives us the opportunity to breathe calmly through discomfort, which is essential to the strengthening and regulation of our immunity.
Eagle Pose (Sanskrit Name: Garudasana)
- Encourages concentration through a challenge of balance
- Stimulates fresh blood flow by compressing pressure points
- Increases stamina when discomfort arises
- Activates both sides of the body and enhances focus
Getting Into It!
- Start by standing tall with feet hips’ width distance apart (this looks different for each person, but ultimately, your hips’ width distance is measuring the space between your two arches with your two fists pressed together at the thumb joint)
- Bring your attention to the sole of the right foot and begin to root it into the ground
- Lift your left knee to your chest and cross your left leg over the right leg, wrapping your left shin behind your right calf if possible. Because you are balancing on one leg only, this may cause your body to physically react, perhaps through shortening your breath and tightening your belly. It is important that you set your gaze to something still in the room and breathe deeply in and out through the nose.
- Bending at the elbows, raise both arms to be level at the chest and cross the left elbow underneath the right elbow, wrapping up your forearms or taking opposite hand to opposite should like you are giving yourself a hug.
- Remain in this position for about 15 seconds while deeply breathing in the back of the throat.
To come out of the pose: Stand up tall, release the binds, and switch sides.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana)
- Gentle inverting will circulate blood flow in an alternative direction
- Cultivates an opening throughout the spine and backs of hamstrings
- Relaxes tension in the face and jaw
Getting Into It!
- Face the long edge of your mat and spread your feet to a wide stance – about 4-5 feet apart
- Bring hands onto the hips, tighten up through the knee caps and lift the quadriceps
- Take a full, deep breath in at this position and get really long and tall through the spine. As you exhale, fold over the legs into the space you have created, letting the hands release from the hips and come down to the mat or to a pair of blocks. You can also bring the crown of your head to a block to help with restoration. If you don’t have blocks at home and need support, a chair, a stack of books, or other creative household items may also work in place here!
- Breathe deeply and hold for 20-30 seconds. Taking a deep breath in, lift halfway up by bringing the hands to the hips while reaching the crown of the head forward with a long spine, and then folding over again to hold for another 20-30 seconds.
To come out of the pose: Bring the hands back to the hips and lift the torso up on an inhale. Walk the feet back in together as you exhale.
Supported Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
- Creates expansion in the chest and throat to help open the respiratory tract
- Alleviates tension built up from chronic stress in the shoulders and neck
- Cultivates relaxation in the belly and abdomen
Getting Into It!
You will need a bolster, yoga block or a small blanket or towel for this pose.
If using a towel or small blanket, roll the blanket up long ways like a sushi roll.
- Begin by sitting upright with both legs extended out in front of you with sitting bones pressing into the mat
- Utilizing your prop…
- If you have a bolster, take the bolster long ways, and bring the edge of the bolster to the base your spine
- If you have a towel, take the towel long ways, and bring the edge of rolled up towel to the base of the spine
- If you have a block, bring the block up behind the back so that the largest surface area of the block is placed right in between your shoulder blades. The block will be long ways as well.
- Once you have the prop in place, using strength within your core and abdomen, carefully lean yourself back. The back of your head will rest on the mat or right off your prop and your heart will naturally feel open. If you are using the block, the lower part of your thoracic spine will be lifted off the mat, creating a slightly more intense opening.
- Close your eyes, relax the jaw and start to take very slow, deep breaths filling up from the bottom of the belly. Allow your arms to come alongside your body with your palms facing open. Stay here for 2-4 minutes, using your own self-awareness to bring you out when you feel ready.
To come out of the pose: Gently roll over onto one side, coming into the fetal position briefly. Remove the prop, and then roll back onto your back, hugging the knees into the chest and gently rocking up to a seat with a tall spine.
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
- Reverses blood flow and increases circulation to the base of the spine, the low abdomen and hips
- Enhances steady breathing and restoration in the respiratory tract
- Alleviates fatigue in the feet, legs and trunk while giving joints and muscles a chance to restore
Getting Into It!
- Find an open wall and sit with the hip and shoulder of one side of the body touching the wall
- Slowly start to lower your torso down toward the ground, and as you do so, pivot your hips so that your legs lift up against the wall. Let your back and head rest on the mat while the back of your legs rest against the wall.
- You may need to scoot closer to or further away from the wall to your comfort level
- Prop option – place a block, pillow or folded blanket/towel under your hips to release any discomfort in the low back or hamstrings. You might also let a pillow or blanket rest beneath your head on the ground for head/neck support
- Palms can come alongside the body facing up to set an intention of staying open and receptive, or palms can face down on the belly to ground yourself in
- Relax the jaw and muscles in the face, close the eyes and slowly draw the breath in and out of the body, feeling your inhales and exhales in the deepest part of your belly.
- Stay for any duration up to 15 minutes
To come out of the pose: Bend the knees so that the soles of your feet plant into the wall. Push into the soles and lift your hips slightly up from the ground. If you used a prop, now is the time to shift that out the way. Roll yourself on to one side and remain here for several cycles of breath. Gently lift yourself up to a comfortable seat when you feel that you are ready.