AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION...
Cold Proof:Yoga is a great immune booster, but for extra protection during cold and flu season, try these natural remedies, too. You might never get sick again.
When it comes to fortifying the immune system, mainstream physicians like Fine's rarely give yoga its due, but times are changing. Over the past few years, scientists have traced a plausible connection between meditative practices and good health.
By Catherine Guthrie
For years Julia Fine was tormented by monthly ear infections. The pain was bad enough, but Fine already had severe hearing loss in both ears: When the infections came on, she couldn't wear her hearing aids, and her world diminished.
The recurring infections didn't stop her from practicing yoga, studying abroad during college, or entering law school, but they were exhausting. "When I had an ear infection I was always more tired," Fine says. "I had to pay extra attention to people's lips and constantly ask people to repeat themselves." Even yoga classes weren't the same: She felt a sense of loss when she was unable to hear the teacher's voice, the music, or her own breath.
Then last year, Fine increased her Ashtanga practice from two or three days a week to five or six. She expected to feel stronger and calmer, but another benefit took her by surprise—the ear infections disappeared. Today Fine, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, still feels the urge to knock wood when she talks about it. "My doctor doesn't believe me," she says, "but I know my practice is what's keeping me healthy."
When it comes to fortifying the immune system, mainstream physicians like Fine's rarely give yoga its due, but times are changing. Over the past few years, scientists have traced a plausible connection between meditative practices and good health. "When the stress hormone cortisol is elevated for long periods, it wears down the immune response," says Timothy McCall, M.D., Yoga Journal's medical editor and author of the forthcoming Yoga as Medicine. Researchers suspect that mindfulness-based stress-reduction techniques, including yoga, can improve the immune system's functioning by lowering cortisol levels.
Yoga also has a rich anecdotal history of reinforcing the immune system, says Larry Payne, Ph.D. In the Krishnamacharya lineage, he says, every asana is said to either increase or reduce energy in the body. "People with immune problems need to bring in more energy," he says.
The best poses for doing this, according to Payne, are backbends. Some of his favorites are Cobra Pose, Bow Pose, and Sun Salutation. But his favorite immune-boosting pose—especially if you're fighting a cold—is Savasana.
Catherine Guthrie lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
... IS WORTH A POUND OF CURE!
7 Poses to Relieve Cold & Flu Symptoms
By Angela Pirisi
1. Head Wrap
Before you begin, wrap your forehead to relieve tension in the head. Take a wide ace bandage (about 4 inches) and wrap it snugly around the head, tucking the free end in. You can also wrap it over the eyes, taking care not to wrap the eyes too tightly. The bandage will comfort your congested sinuses while you do the poses that follow.
2. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Brings energy to the head and respiratory area; helps clear the sinuses.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and rest your forearms on a chair seat. You can also place a blanket on the chair seat for extra padding. Hold two to five minutes.
3. Supported Bridge Pose (Salamba Setu Bandhasana)
Opens up the chest and increases circulation to the upper torso.
Align two bolsters or two to four blankets on the floor running the entire length of your body (the height of the support can vary from 6 to 12 inches). Sit on the middle of the support and lie back. Slide towards your head until your shoulders lightly touch the floor. Open your arms out to the sides, palms turned up. Rest with your legs stretched out on the bolster or with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Relax for a minimum of five minutes.
4. Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Brings energy to the groin and opens the chest area to facilitate breathing.
With the back of the pelvis on a bolster placed 4 to 6 inches from the wall, swing the legs up the wall. Drop your sitting bones into the space between the blanket and the wall and open your arms out to the sides. If your hamstrings feel tight, try turning the legs slightly in, or move the bolster further away from the wall. Hold for a minimum of five minutes.
5. Supported Bound Angle Pose (Salamba Baddha Konasana)
Opens the chest, abdomen, and groins; relaxes the nervous system.
Sit on the floor, knees bent towards the chest. Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees open towards the floor. Support the outer thighs with folded blankets at a comfortable height. You can also place sandbags on each inner thigh to deepen relaxation. Release the arms out to the sides and let go of any tension. Relax in the pose for a minimum of five minutes.
6. Reclining Twist (Modified Jathara Parivartanasana)
Releases physical and stress-based tension.
Lie on your back and with an exhalation bend your knees and draw your thighs to your torso. Shift your pelvis slightly to the left and, with another exhalation, swing your legs to the right and down to the floor (if they don't rest comfortably on the floor, support them on a bolster or folded blanket). Turn your upper torso to the left. Rest your right hand on the outer left knee and stretch your left arm to the side, in line with your shoulders. Look straight up or close your eyes. Relax for three minutes. Repeat on the other side.
7. Widespread Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana)
Quiets the internal organs; relaxes the mind.
Sit on the floor with your sitting bones on the edge of a folded blanket. Straighten your legs out in front of you and then separate them as far as you comfortably can. Rest your upper torso on a bolster or (if you're more stiff) a chair seat. If you are using a chair, you can fold your forearms on the seat for more height and padding. Hold the pose for three to five minutes.
This article can be found online at http://www.yogajournal.com/health/117_1.cfm
What are your favorite poses when traveling long distances? I'm especially concerned about tight hips and shoulders from all that airplane confinement!