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Yoga to Boost Immunity

by Samantha Case

Eagle Poses, Lion’s Breath, Breath of Fire

The immune system is our primary defense against any pathogen, bacteria, or virus entering the body. A weakened immune system can lead to chronic infections, autoimmune issues, inflammation, and more. Caring for our immune systems is critical to our overall, long-term health and wellbeing. Thankfully, we can strengthen the immune system by making conscious diet and lifestyle choices that support its ability to properly function. Yoga, like Ayurveda, offers a number of practices that strengthen immunity.

Yoga and Immunity

Psychological stress can have a major impact on one’s health, including a compromised immune system and increased chronic inflammation. Yoga lowers stress hormones, strengthens the immune system, and reduces inflammation through its various methods of ethical discipline, asana (physical postures), breath practices, and meditation.

Asana in particular helps to stimulate the lymphatic system, which plays a vital supporting role to the immune system. The lymphatic system removes waste from the cells and fights infections. Yoga supports this system by moving lymph (fluid in the body with infection-fighting white blood cells) and releasing stagnant energy in the body.

Yoga also incorporates the lungs and respiratory tract through pranayama practices, which can help prevent the progression of autoimmune diseases. Like asana, these breathing practices noticeably reduce levels of stress in the mind and body.

Having a regular yoga practice in your life will strengthen your immune system, and there are specific poses and breathing exercises that are particularly helpful. In this article we cover three of them: eagle pose, lion’s breath, and breath of fire.

Eagle Pose

Eagle pose, called Garudasana in Sanskrit, is a challenging pose that promotes balance and flexibility by stretching the hips, thighs, shoulders, ankles, and upper back. It provides many benefits, including increased joint stability, improved digestion and elimination, and increased circulation. Because of its deep twist, this pose is best practiced in the morning on an empty stomach.

How to do Eagle Pose:

  • Begin standing in tadasana (mountain pose).

  • Bend your knees slightly, then put your weight into your right foot.

  • Lift the left leg and cross your left thigh over your right thigh.

  • Point left toes toward the floor. If this is too difficult, you can use your left toes as a kickstand to provide more balance.

  • If your body allows for it, hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf.

  • Next, reach your arms straight up and then cross your right arm under your left, with your left elbow resting in the crook of your right arm.

  • Your elbows should be bent at a 90 degree angle in front of your face, and your hands linked together with the palms facing each other.

  • Stay in this pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then release and return to standing. Repeat for the same amount of time on the other side, with your right leg over the left and your left arm under your right.

Lion’s Breath

Lion’s breath is a pranayama practice that relieves tension and stress from the body and mind. It’s a great way to release negative energy, anger, and resentment. It might make you look crazy but that’s what makes it feel amazing, especially as it stretches all muscles in the face and stimulates its nerves There’s a specific asana (lion pose) that can be paired with this breathing practice, but it can also be done in nearly any pose.

How to practice Lion’s Breath:

Lion’s breath might make you feel silly and may even make you laugh. If so, all the better! This pose is best practiced in the morning to increase energy and warm the body, but is beneficial at any time of the day.

  • Begin on your heels with your butt against your feet. If you do this breath while in a pose, make sure it’s one you can hold for a longer period of time.

  • Place your hands on your thighs with your palms facing down.

  • Relax your entire body, and focus on staying relaxed through the practice.

  • Inhale through your nose, then exhale powerfully through an open mouth. The strength of your breath should produce a “ha” sound.

  • When you exhale, stick your tongue out as far as possible.

  • On your inhale, return to a neutral face.

  • If you want to feel even sillier but gain more benefits, gaze at the spot between your eyebrows to stimulate the third eye and help you focus.

  • Repeat this at least 3 times.

Breath of Fire

Breath of Fire is a pranayama practice that is rapid, rhythmic, and repetitive and is practiced often in Kundalini Yoga. Like many breathing practices, it can make you feel more calm and focused. Long-term, continuous practice of this exercise expands lung capacity, releases toxins from the lungs, boosts the immune system, and more. It’s done by using the diaphragm to quickly pull the navel in (solar plexus) and then by releasing the navel on the inhale. It shouldn’t be practiced by women who are pregnant or menstruating.

How to practice Breath of Fire:

  • Begin by sitting up tall with your spine straight and palms rested against your thighs.

  • Relax your whole body and tune into your breath by observing its natural rhythm.

  • Feel your belly expand with each inhale and contract with each exhale.

  • Now, to get a better feel of the diaphragm in this breath, begin panting with your tongue out as a dog would. Once you find a rhythm, close your mouth and breathe through your nose.

  • Focus on pulling your navel in with each exhale and releasing it on the inhale. Quicken your pace but make sure to keep the inhale and exhale the same length. Remain relaxed.

  • Practice for 1-3 minutes at a time. If at any point you feel dizzy or light headed, slow your pace and check that your inhale and exhale are the same length.

Yoga can be practiced by anyone and provides numerous benefits to those who do, including a healthy immune system. It can be one of our best tools against illness and stress. With robust immunity, we feel healthier and are less vulnerable to sickness. Even a single practice brings benefits, but yoga’s greatest gifts are experienced when practiced consistently over a long period of time. By cultivating balance, we can build health and improve our overall quality of life. These three simple practices are a great way to start!

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