Monday, October 1, 2012

Yoga Defense Against Illness

The change of the seasons always brings a drop in my immune system, and this year was no exception. I caught a cold that lasted longer than a few days and dragged my energy down, though not to a point where I had to stop altogether. I credit my yogic practices for helping keep me healthy against illness, and for helping me bounce back when I do get sick. Some of my practices include: asana practice, pranayama, massage, mantra (no, it's not, "de-fense") and meditation, in combination with certain foods, oils and gargles. I'd like to share some of those yogic practices to help you all manage your health during the upcoming fall and winter months.

Asana, Pranayama and Massage

Our immune system is made up of several systems in the body, but the the lymphatic system, which drains fluid through the lymph nodes and sorts out harmful items to be learned for future defense, is one that we can directly affect through movement, massage and relaxation. Some postures that are accessible to all and support the circulation of lymph can be found in the Pawanmuktasana Series I. When I feel under the weather, I use this series to move my joints to promote lymph drainage.

Instant Maui pose
Legs Up the Wall Pose
Along with the above movement, finding comfortable positions to gently expand the breath is key. I really love the Instant Maui and the Legs Up the Wall poses, depicted right. In these poses, my body is passive and I can expand my breath without strain. Reducing tension in my body and breath eases my nervous system out of the stress response and supports better immune response. In addition, I imagine my breath is nourishing each cell as I inhale, and "cleaning house" from each cell as I exhale. Taking just a handful of these conscious, healthy breaths can make me feel so much better!

Another way I promote lymph flow is through warm oil massage. This is an Ayurvedic practice called Abhyanga and is described on Banyan Botanical's website. Massaging the skin is similar to moving the body when it comes to moving lymph.

Mantra and Meditation

When working with mantras, keep them simple. For example, as you breathe in say to yourself, "health in", and as you breathe out say to yourself, "waste out". You could also use colors or attributes to focus on as you tune in. For meditation, I like to work with the Tonglen meditation when I feel unwell. This is because I can easily slip into feeling sorry for myself. So, if I focus on others, I tend to let go of self-pity. As I breathe in, I notice what sensations I'm feeling (achy, stuffy, scratchy throat, etc.), and I imagine breathing it in for everyone who feels unwell at that moment. As I breathe out, I send out my wish for us all to feel better - to feel supple muscles, clear nasal passages and a serene throat, for example. Over and over again, I focus on my suffering as it relates to others in order to let it go for all of us. In truth, when I am healthy, I no longer participate in spreading unhealthy germs, which means that you all are healthier, too. Tonglen works really well when viewed from this perspective.

Here's to all our health! Namaste, Lorien


  • Lorien will be on vacation the first week in October, returning to teaching on 10/7/12.
  • Check out the FREE breath and meditation class at Breathe Los Gatos on Sundays 6:15-7:00 pm (this class follows the 5:00 pm Yin yoga class. Why not take both?)
  • Coming in November: Winter Wellness Workshop on 11/10/12 at Willow Glen Yoga... more details to come!