Many people start doing yoga to increase and improve their flexibility, which is a wonderful and noble pursuit. After practicing for a bit, they soon realize that they aren’t just building flexibility, but also strength. The practice of yoga helps us develop mental strength, physical strength and the fortitude to weather all kinds of challenges that come our way, including keeping ourselves healthy.
Yoga can improve our health in a few different ways. First, the calming and meditative aspect of yoga is a great way to reduce stress. Stress is the leading cause of illness and disease, so when we calm the mind and reduce stress, our bodies can heal and recover more quickly.
Yoga can also boost the immune system. Science shows that yoga helps the body fight chronic inflammation. Inflammation in the short term is a good thing, helping to heal the occasional problems that show up in our bodies, like injuries or infections. When those problems become long term – or chronic – issues, then we have an issue, as chronic inflammation can lead to disease… or worse. By reducing inflammation, we keep ourselves healthier and less prone to bigger health issues.
Once we start feeling good in our bodies through yoga, we often are also inspired to make healthier life choices, like getting more sleep (so we can wake up for yoga!) and eating cleaner foods (so we feel good doing yoga!). These lifestyle changes affect our overall health as well, making us less likely to get sick.
And finally, moving our physical body is one of the easiest ways to feel better! Just doing the yoga poses themselves can help to keep us healthy and in balance. They don’t have to be challenging, sweaty poses either.
Child’s pose is a naturally calming position for the nervous system, while stretching the back – a common place to hold tension.
From all fours, lower your shins down to the mat and shift your hips back to rest over the heels with the tops of your feet on the mat. Extend your arms forward with palms facing down and allow your forehead to rest on the mat. Let your chest soften over your thighs and relax. Stay here for up to a minute, seeing if you can count to five on each inhale and exhale.
If you’re feeling really stressed, try this variation. Make fists with your hands with the thumb side pointing up, stack your right fist on top of the left fist and then rest your forehead on the top of the right fist. Your forehead should be resting on the thumb and index finger side of your right hand – or if you have a block handy, slide that underneath your forehead.
Forward bends are stress relievers, especially when the knees are slightly bent. The head hangs below the heart and reverses blood flow for natural stress relief and a feeling of lightness.
Turn long-wise on your mat and take a wide stance with the feet. Extend your arms up, reach up and bend the knees. Slowly fold forward and let your torso hang heavy between the legs. Your
hands can reach down towards the floor or rest on your shins or a yoga block. Stay here for up to a minute, counting to five for each inhale and exhale.
This introspective seated forward fold pose will help reduce stress and stretch the back side of the body , in addition to opening the hips, which helps to release emotional tension.
Start in a seated position with both legs extended out in front of you. Draw your right foot in towards your pubic bone with your right knee bent at an angle, pointing out to the right. Flex the left foot, reach up through the crown of your head and stretch your spine tall. On an exhale, fold your torso over the extended left leg. Walk your fingers forward towards your left foot until you feel a deep stretch through your hamstring and back and then release your chest towards your left thigh. Let your chin fall towards your chest as you relax the neck. Remain for 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
This passive pose is the ultimate stress reliever, especially if you place a small towel or eye pillow over the eyes.
The name of this one says it all – laying on your back with your legs up the wall. Start by sitting sideways against a wall and swing your legs up the wall as you lay your torso down. You can also place a blanket or bolster underneath your hips. This pose works for stress relief as it increases blood flow to the heart and brain by reversing gravity on the legs. It also gives your heart a break from pumping so hard. Lay here for up to 5 minutes with eyes closed or add an eye pillow for extra relaxation.
Savasana triggers the body’s relaxation response – calming the nervous system and lowering blood pressure, which is why this is the ultimate pose for stress reduction.
Start by laying flat on your back and extend your arms long by your sides with your hands next to your hips. Turn your palms to face upwards. Widen your feet slightly more than hips width distance and allow your toes to angle outwards. Alternatively, if your lower back bothers you, place a pillow underneath your knees to reduce any pressure. Cover your eyes with a small towel or eye pillow and relax your whole body into the mat or floor underneath you. Stay here for 5 minutes, ideally with no distractions. When you’re complete, slowly rise from savasana into a seated position, taking a few breaths to come to center… and visualize your healthiest self.
For another Immune Boosting sequence click here.