Here it is, the depths of winter. This is a season when the body can be attacked by a myriad of cold and flu bugs. A robust immune system is called for, and fortunately yoga can help.
If you do succumb to a cold, be very gentle with yourself. Do not go for vigorous practice; instead treat yourself to restorative practices to give the body a chance to recover. 20 minutes in Viparita Karani might be just what the doctor ordered.
But what can be done to prevent illness in the first place?
Simply by de-stressing, the body has more opportunity to fight disease. How often has it been that you fell sick just when you were most busy or run down? Allow yourself the time to be gentle and reflective in your practice; time to practice restorative poses; time for meditation; time to find that place in yourself that allows you to cope with life's vicissitudes with greater calm.
Don't neglect the more vigourous practises in the balance however. A strong cardio vascular system built of repetitions of the sun salutations, and muscular strength established through stronger practices such as held standing poses will always assist your overall health. These practices are also wonderfully warming, to help get you through winter days.
Practices that focus on the heart chakra such as chest opening back bends can help to bring balance and vigour to the thymus gland, a regulator of the immune response. Chest opening also assists in the clear passage of breath, improving lung health and assisting in the oxygenation of the blood, essential for the health of all of our tissues.
Inversions can stimulate the endocrine system, and clear sinuses. An inversion is any pose where the head is lower than the heart, so Downward Facing Dog, Bridge Pose and Viparita Karani (legs up the wall pose) qualify.
Pranayama (breathing) practices will also improve lung function, and practising some more vigorous routines will warm the body, and encourage good breathing as well.
(Adapted from an article first published in "On the Mat", the monthly newsletter of Yoga Spirit Studios.)