Yoga practitioners often like to share stories of well-being — they no longer get colds or haven’t been ill in years. Learn the health benefits of yoga.
You probably know yoga is relaxing. But did you know it may also help protect your health?
Yoga practitioners often share stories of well-being — they no longer get colds, they’ll say, or haven’t been ill in years. They may even look younger than same-aged peers.
Research is beginning to support those anecdotal experiences for the health benefits of yoga. A small 2013 study found that rhythmic breathing techniques and yoga poses boosted immune-cell gene expression in volunteers significantly — three times as much as a walk in nature or listening to relaxing music. Participants showed these genetic changes within two hours of practicing, and regardless of how long they’d done yoga — for as little as a month and a half to five years. “A yoga program may have additional effects over exercise plus simple relaxation in inducing health benefits,” the authors of the gene expression study suggest. A 2014 meta-analysis of 34 studies echoed their conclusion, finding evidence that yoga, along with other mind-body therapies like Tai Chi, reduces inflammation and boosts immune response.
To obtain the immunity health benefits of yoga, spend a few minutes with the practice below. The poses will release stress, stimulate energy and strength, and create feelings of peacefulness and calm.
- Forward bend. While standing, place your feet at hip’s width distance. Bring your hands to opposite elbows and bend forward at the hips, bending your knees as deeply as you need for comfort. Focus on lengthening your torso over your thighs. Take four breaths, letting your head hang comfortably between your knees. This is a releasing pose, so feel free to relax.
- Downward dog. Keeping your feet at hip-width distance, place your hands to the floor about a torso length ahead of you. Then press your hands and heels into the floor, lifting your hips. Microbend your elbows (don’t lock them) and hug your arms to your sides. Focus on rolling your shoulders down your back, or try pushing forward with your hands while deeply bending your knees to get a full stretch down the length of your spine. Breathe deeply for a few minutes: Downward dog is excellent for the sinuses and respiratory system. (Shoulderstand or headstand also work here if you’re familiar with them.)
- Tree pose. Move next to a chair or wall. To start, rest the foot of your right leg against your left ankle and shift your weight onto your left, standing leg. Move your hands to your hips for greatest stability or, if you can, into a prayer position at your heart. Take three breaths. Slowly bring your right foot down and return to standing. Then move to the other side, lifting your left foot against your right ankle. To stabilize your balance, focus on the standing leg: imagine it pressing against your opposite foot, rather than vice versa. Try bringing your foot further up the calf or leg (avoiding your knee), focusing on rotating your hip out to the side and keeping your spine straight and belly tucked. Balancing poses like Tree (you can also try Dancer) help calm and focus the mind.
- Forward bend and Downward dog. Move back into a forward bend, noticing how it might feel different this time. Clasp your hands around the back of your neck as it hangs for a deeper release, if you’d like. Then move into Downward dog. Hold each pose for several breaths.
- Cobra. From Downward dog, gently lower your torso and body until your thighs come to the floor. Then, place your palms flat beside your underarms and lift your torso and abdomen up, keeping your head above your shoulders until you feel a gentle stretch at the torso and lower back. Allow your neck to bend back to your degree of comfort — you should feel a stretch, but no pain. This gentle backbend is good for the digestive organs as well as building strength and energy.
- Reclining twist. Lay down on your mat, legs extended. Then bring your knees up and twist the lower half of your body so that your legs fall to the right. Your knees can be together, or the top, bent right leg can lay over your extended left leg. Stretch your arms out wide, perpendicular to your body; adjust your posture to make sure your neck is comfortable and without strain. You should feel a stretch beneath your collar bone, where your upper arm meets your shoulder, as well as in your top hip and along your sides. Relax into this stress-releasing pose for three to five breaths, or as long as you’d like. Then switch to the other side.
- Savasana. Stretch out on your back on your mat. Cover your eyes or use a blanket, if you’d like. For the next several minutes, breath slowly and deeply.
August 31, 2018
Janet O’Dell, RN