Taking better care of your immune system is a top priority this time of year—between the bug that’s inevitably “going around” and holiday travel plans that not only throw your body off, but also expose it to lots of germs. Aside from keeping your probiotics and ginger shots on repeat right now, there’s another ritual worth adding to your wellness routine: yoga.
According to Kyle Miller and Sian Gordon, founders of the dreamy Los Angeles-based yoga studio, Love Yoga, the ancient practice is a great way to help boost your immunity—and research shows that its ability to reduce stress does your body, specifically your endocrine system, a lot of good when it comes to helping it fight colds and flus. “Yoga postures allow you to stimulate organs and up their function,” Miller says. In particular, the digestive system, as well as the respiratory system, are two key areas of the body you can focus on in your yoga practice to help improve immunity.
“The lungs are often the first to become affected with seasonal change, so once [they’re] supported, aerated, and taken care of, you can switch your attention to the digestive system,” explains Miller. “From our point of view, stagnation breeds infection, and the gut can often be a place of stagnation and blockage; therefore, twisting postures help you to stimulate the GI tract and ensure that everything moves through after it’s processed and assimilated.”
With that in mind, roll out your mat or book your spot at class and try these yoga moves that focus on the lungs and digestive tract to help give your immune system a boost this winter.
“This technique is designed to stimulate the thymus gland, located behind your sternum and in-between your lungs, which happens to be a major player in the function of your immune system,” explains Miller. (It’s an integral part of your lymphatic system, FYI.) To activate yours, extend your arms out and, with every exhale, tap the center of your chest. The breath is forceful exhalations through the nose. Start with 20 and build towards 100 pumping breaths.
2. Open and close the windows
You know how the first thing you want to do when you’re ready to do a big cleanup in your house is to open the windows and welcome in fresh air? This technique is kind of like that but is letting fresh air enter your body instead. Grab opposite elbows and inhale while your arms are above your head, then exhale as they come in front of the chest. Start with a count of 20 and build towards 100.
3. Ardha matsyendrasana
“Ring yourself out and make sure the digestive tract isn’t causing any harmful stagnation through this deep, yet simple, twisting posture,” says Miller. In a seated position, cross your right leg over your left, bracing your ankle behind your left knee. Stay seated upright by placing your right arm behind you at the base of your butt, and gently twist so that your left elbow is hooked behind your right knee. Hold for 5–20 breaths, then repeat on the other side. Allow yourself to lengthen as you inhale and deepen the twist as you exhale.
4. Supported fish
To set up this pose, place one yoga block between your shoulder blades at its tallest height, and then stack two additional blocks behind your head (adjust their height positions to your specific needs so that you can keep your head elevated slightly above your chest). Lie down over the props with your arms and legs extended. “Close your eyes and relax in this restorative pose that should help the lungs move forward from your body rather than hang in the back,” says Miller. Hold the pose for as long as it takes you to count breaths that correlate to your age (i.e. if you’re 25, hold for 25 breaths).
5. Spinal twist
From a low lunge with the back knee down, place your hands in pray in front of your chest and rotate them toward your front leg. Leverage the contact between your outer arm and knee to revolve you into a gentle spinal twist. Miller believes, “Stagnant water breeds infection, and this technique should help clear away any of that. Imagine yourself as a vessel, cleaning out the container so you can put more of what you want into it.” Hold the twist on each side for five long breaths.