If you’d just as soon skip winter’s colds and flu this year, you may want to spend more time on your mat. Tias Little, director of Prajna Yoga in California, believes a practice that includes supported and inverted poses, like the ones you’ll find on the next two pages, increases circulation of lymph—a clear, watery fluid that moves through the body picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out via the lymph nodes.
Unlike blood, which moves as a result of the heart pumping, lymph moves by muscular contractions. Physical exercise is key for keeping lymph flowing. The movement of lymph is also affected by gravity, so anytime your head is below your heart—for example, in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)—lymph moves into the respiratory organs. When you return to being upright, gravity sends it to your lymph nodes for cleansing.
In each pose, Little advises resting your head on a support to allow your neck, throat and tongue to relax fully, thereby encouraging the lymph to flow freely through the nose and throat. Hold each pose for two to five minutes, breathing deeply from your diaphragm for the entire time.
Don’t wait until the first sign of sniffles to attempt this practice—by that point inversions could agitate both body and mind. Instead, use this sequence to build up your immunity and keep common colds at bay.
Before You Begin
Breathe. Take a comfortable seated position, close your eyes, and breathe, focusing on lengthening the duration of both the inhalation and the exhalation over time. Visualise the skin around the throat, jaw and mouth softening.
Salute. Practise 3 to 5 rounds of the Sun Salutation of your choice.
After You Finish
Rest. Take Savasana (Corpse Pose), supporting your head on a folded blanket and releasing the arms and back fully into the floor.
Begin by sitting on your feet, with your knees separated and your big toes touching. With your eyes closed, fold your torso forward, letting your forehead rest on the floor or on a support such as a bolster, blanket or block so your head and neck can rest more fully. Place your arms on the floor in front of you, allowing the elbows to bend out to the sides.
From Balasana, press your hands into the floor, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back into Adho Mukha Svanasana. Rest your head on a support. Extend through your inner arms while pressing the tops of your thighbones firmly back and away from your face.
From Adho Mukha Svanasana, walk your feet until they are in line with your hands and come up to standing, maintaining a flat back. Bring your feet about 120cm apart and fold your torso forward, resting your head on the floor or on a support. Place your hands on the floor to the inside of your feet.
From Prasarita Padottanasana, place your hands on your hips and, maintaining a flat back, come up to standing. Bring your feet hip-width apart and on an exhalation, fold forward, resting your head on a support. Clasp the back of your heels with your hands, gently bringing your torso toward your legs.
Editor’s note: If you’ve never attempted Headstand before, do so with the aid of an experienced teacher. Performing the pose incorrectly can put your neck at risk.
Release Uttanasana and come down to your hands and knees. Interlock your fingers and place your outer forearms against the floor. Tuck your chin and place the back of your head in the cup made by your hands. Straighten your legs, coming up onto the crown of your head. Lift your legs overhead to vertical. For additional support, rest your knuckles against the baseboard of the wall and kick up onto the wall. Rest in Balasana after coming down.
Lie on your back with your shoulders on the folded edge of one or more blankets. The shoulders are supported by the blanket, and your head, but not your neck, rests on the ground. Lift your legs to vertical, supporting your midback with your hands and keeping your upper arms and elbows parallel to each other.
From Sarvangasana, lower your legs over your head until your tucked toes touch the ground. Interlock your hands behind your back, straighten your arms and powerfully press them into the floor. Engage your quadriceps to press your femur bones up and away from your face. To come out of the pose, separate your hands and slowly roll down out of the pose while maintaining full extension in the arms.
Lying on your back on the floor, draw your knees into your chest. Keep the left side of your back in contact with the floor, extend both legs straight out toward the right and hold the outer edge of your left foot with either your right hand or a strap. If you experience pain in your lower back, keep your knees bent. With each exhalation, rotate your belly in the direction opposite your legs. Repeat on the left side.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips and place a block (standing on its tall end) underneath your sacrum. Ground the outer border of your shoulders into the floor and lift the sides of your torso up, keeping your front ribs, sternum, and collarbones broad.
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on the edge of one or more folded blankets, making sure that your knees are lower than the top of your pelvis. Rest your hands on your knees with your palms facing down. Elongate the sides of your torso and lift your sternum. Create space under your armpits by imagining you have a small balloon under each arm. Breathe fully, focusing on the inhalation.