It seems that I get caught with a cold about twice a year during the change of seasons when in New Hampshire the temperature can range a good 30 degrees in one day. The running joke is that in New Hampshire it’s not Autumn until you run your heat and AC both in one day. These temperature variations can be stressful on the body. Proper prevention is certainly helpful in moderating the consistency, duration and intensity of colds, however when one strikes, yoga can facilitate recovery and alleviate symptoms. This is true because of yoga’s known abilities to regulate the immune system, keeping it strong and healthy to withstand infections, and yoga’s ability to boost immune function with specific yogic practices.
Yoga’s stress reducing ability is one of the primary reasons a regular practice of yoga helps prevent and alleviate the common cold. Stress is a major contributing factor to catching a cold or flu. Besides the general calming effects of most yoga poses, restorative poses and forward bends are especially calming to the nervous system, helping to reduce whole-body stress. Any type of physical activity will give a boost to the immune system, and yoga, with its inherent stress reducing and immune enhancing properties, will both provide a short-term boost and a long-term strengthening of the immune system. In addition to a general yoga practice, specific yoga postures can be used to target specific organs of the immune system to further enhance yoga’s immune boosting abilities.
Inversions increase the passive circulation of the lymphatic system, which is responsible for the production and circulation of the immune cells to defend the body from the viruses and bacteria. Inversions such as shoulderstand, headstand (a more advanced asana), plow and legs up the wall pose, will all help improve the flow of lymph and immune cells through the body. Twists and side openers activate secondary organs of the immune system: the spleen and the lymph nodes in groin and armpits. These organs are the production sites for the immune cells, so using yoga poses to target these organs during a cold or flu would be especially beneficial. Use twists such as seated twist, side stretch poses (standing and seated) and hip openers such as bound angle, seated angle, and pigeon to activate these organs to keep them healthy and strong.
Lion pose is a specific yoga posture that activates the immune glands of the tonsils and the lymph nodes in the neck. Performing lion pose at the very beginning of a sore throat can dramatically stop and prevent the sore throat from progressing. These various practices and poses of yoga are an excellent way to keep the immune system healthy and strong to prevent and quickly recover from the common cold or flu. If you do come down with a cold or flu, it is important to rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat simple wholesome foods and to practice some gentle yoga poses. If after three to four days there is no change in your symptoms, or a worsening of symptoms occurs, seek medical attention from a qualified health care practitioner.