With the chilly weather invariably comes cold and flu season. But before you stock up on Kleenex and cough drops, consider a preventive approach that strengthens your defenses with yoga.
Its twists, backbends, and inversions stimulate your main immunity components -- the adrenal glands and lymphatic system -- helping them perform better, says Jeff Migdow, M.D., a holistic physician and yoga expert. Yoga's deep breathing also helps calm the nervous system, which "tells the immune system when to fight off a threat and when it can rest," he says. "When you're tense, those signals become garbled."
Help your body ward off infections this winter by practicing the following routine, developed by Migdow, four to five times a week. Focus on breathing slowly and deeply. "It's only when you relax into a pose and send your breath deep into your belly that you quiet the nervous system," he says. Finish with 10 minutes in corpse pose (lie on your back, relax, and focus on the sound of your breath) -- and prepare to feel healthy and vibrant all season long.
Half Shoulder Stand
What it does: Boosts the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Opens the back and recharges the kidneys, helping your body filter out waste and invaders like germs.
How to do it: Lie on your back, then bend your knees and lift them in toward your chest. Keeping your knees bent, rock back on to your shoulders and lift your hips up as you bend your elbows and place your palms under your hips for support. Now extend your legs straight up so your feet, which are gently flexed, are approximately over your eyes. Stay for two minutes, breathing deeply. To come out, bend your knees back into your chest, remove your hands, and roll your spine back down to the floor.
Seated Spinal Twist
What it does: Compresses the abdominal organs, which in turn helps stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid.
How to do it: Sit tall on the floor with legs straight. Bend your right knee and cross your right leg over the left, placing the sole of your right foot on the floor outside your left knee. Keeping your left leg on the floor, bend at the knee and slide your left heel to the outside of your right hip. Your hips should remain pointed forward and your spine long. Now twist your torso to the right, hooking your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Place your right hand or fingertips on the floor directly behind your right hip. You can turn your head to look behind you or keep your gaze in line with your right shoulder, whichever feels better for your neck. Stay for 10 to 15 slow breaths, then switch legs and twist to the other side.
Pigeon Pose with Chest Opener
What it does: Opens the chest, which stimulates the thymus gland. Compresses the lower back, which nourishes the adrenal glands (the source of stress hormones) and thus helps regulate the nervous system.
How to do it: Sit cross-legged on the floor with your right leg over your left. Swing your right leg back behind you and extend it along the floor, toes untucked. The left leg stays bent in front of you. Now inch the lower part of your left leg forward until it is parallel to your torso. If your left hip isn't close to or resting on the floor, place a folded towel or blanket underneath it for support. Clasp your hands behind you and straighten your arms as you lift your chest up and arch your upper back slightly. Look straight ahead. Hold for one minute, breathing deeply. Bring your right leg back to the starting position, switch the cross of your legs, and repeat on the left.