Melissa’s Rap: Being sick is never fun. It can be very draining and exercise is usually the last thing on your mind. But, yoga can be very beneficial when you aren’t feeling well. It can help get the energy flowing, jumpstart your lymph system and strengthen your immune system, which will help your body fight.
Get the Energy Flowing
One of the best benefits of doing yoga while you are sick is that you will get the stagnant energy in your body moving. Rest is very, very important, but sitting or lying in one place for hours at a time may be counterproductive. Getting up to walk periodically and incorporating a short, daily yoga practice during this time can work wonders and help speed up your recovery process. In addition, certain poses can energize specific organs and components that are crucial elements of our immune system, like our lymph system, the nervous system (calming our nervous system helps us counter stress), the spleen, our bone marrow, the thymus and our small intestine.
There is an old wives’ tale that you should sweat out a cold. Perhaps there may be some truth to that, but in general, rest and gentle exercise is best for the body during this time. Gentle, restorative yoga is ideal because it will get the energy flowing and boost your immune system without pushing you so much that you cause more harm than good. Implementing a gentle practice is especially important if you are dealing with chronic illness on top of your cold, flu, or infection.
Here are a few gentle poses that you could incorporate into your practice when you are sick:
Neck Massage and Stretch
Starting at your chin, gently massage your neck by pressing and releasing or making a circular motion using gentle pressure. Once you reach the bottom, start again at your chin and work your way down. You can do this multiple times. This is great for activating the lymph and massaging swollen glands.
This is a great pose to do daily even when you are well, but when you are sick it is a great way to get the energy flowing, especially in your spine and nervous system. Get on all fours on your bed or floor. Inhale at neutral, and then on your exhale, tuck your tailbone and round your back like a scared cat, tuck your chin toward your chest, and draw your belly button intoward your spine. As you inhale, lift your tailbone, drop your belly toward the floor, lift your head and draw your shoulder blades together. Continue this flow for 5-10 breaths, depending on how you are feeling.
Child’s pose is a great way to trigger your relaxation response. It opens up the hips and
back. It is also a great way to massage your forehead and loosen up your neck if you rock your head from side to side on the mat or your stacked hands while in this pose.
Starting on all fours, bring your big toes together and separate your knees. Press your hips back, resting on your heels. Stretch your arms out in front of you, either shoulder width apart, or stacked one on the other to create a pillow for your forehead. If you’d like, you can place a pillow in between your thighs and heels.
Seated Gentle Twists
A gentle twist is a great way to detox the body. It also helps to squeeze out any stale air at the bottom of the lungs.
Legs can be straight out or folded in comfortably. On the first breath, inhale your arms up and twist to one side, bringing your back hand to the floor behind you and the front hand to the knee. On each breath after that, lengthen the body as you inhale and then simply draw the belly button in toward the spine when you are exhaling. Repeat on the opposite side.
This is a great pose for opening up the hips and lower back. Starting in a seated position, draw your feet together and pull them in toward your body until you meet a gentle resistance. Do not force it beyond that. You may also add a pillow or block under each knee for support. You can lift and lower the legs if you wish, or you can lean forward with a straight back and neutral pelvis, or you can simply rest in the pose.
Legs Up The Wall
Legs up the wall is a great way to reverse the flow of blood in the body and reduce swelling in the legs, especially if you have been sitting all day. Sit sideways, a few inches away from a wall, and then turn, bringing your legs up to rest on the wall and your back flat on the floor. To add in an element of inversion, slide a pillow under your hips.
The ultimate relaxation pose, Savasana, is a great way to rest at the end of your practice, allowing the work you did in the poses to flow freely through the body and provide the most benefit. Lie down flat on your back with legs extended hip width apart and your arms beside you, palms up. If you have at back issues, particularly lower back, bend your knees instead and allow your knees to fall inward, resting on each other.
Head colds and Sinus Issues
If you have a head cold or stuffy sinuses, inversions are great for getting your sinuses moving. If you have a sinus infection, however, inversions can be painful. Listen to your body and honor it. There should never be pain in yoga.
When we are struggling with sinus issues, it can be beneficial to break up the stagnant stuff that accumulates there. Starting at your hairline and working your way down your face, press and release gently. Spend extra time in areas that are sensitive and tender, carefully and gently pressing and releasing to get things moving again.
If you can handle inversions, do a few rounds of a flowing bridge. Lying on your back with your knees hip width apart and your hands face down on the mat, lift your hips with your inhale and lower them on our exhale. Do this for 5-10 breaths, depending on how you feel.
Supported Forward Fold
Forward fold is great for engaging your parasympathetic nervous system, which encourages relaxation. Since you aren’t feeling well, I recommend a supported version of this pose. Inhale your arms up and then as you exhale them down, fold forward, bending your knees as you go. Bring your hands or forearms to rest on your thighs and allow your head to hang heavy. As an added bonus, turn your head from side to side, allowing the weight of the head to help you stretch your neck.
Down Dog or Dolphin
Down Dog or Dolphin Pose are great ways to get your head below your heart, but only if you feel up to it. If you don’t feel strong enough, skip this one. When going into down dog, start in forward fold with your palms on the floor. Step back, one foot at a time into the pose. If going into dolphin, which is essentially down dog on your forearms, start out on all fours. Then, lift one leg and then the other. In either pose, straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. Lift your hips toward the top of the wall behind you, lengthening the upper body.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate Nostril Breathing is a great way to clear the nasal passages and get your sinuses flowing naturally again. Check out this post, which includes detailed instructions on how to do Alternate Nostril Breathing.
When you have the flu, it is difficult to imagining having the strength or the energy to move a muscle, let alone have a yoga practice. It is also very important not to overdo it, as your body is fighting a big fight! However, there are a few easy, gentle stretches you can do. In addition, getting up to walk once an hour is important.
Turning your neck from side to side doesn’t seem like much, but it is a great way to get some movement into that area. You can do this sitting up or lying down. Simply turn your head as far as is comfortable to your right, keeping your chin parallel to the floor, and being sure not to force your head around farther than it wants to go. Simply look to the right and then to the left. Repeat 3-4 times on each side.
Ankle and Wrist Rotations
Sitting up in bed or on the floor, make light fists with your hands and separate your legs hip width apart. Begin making circles with the fists and feet, gently lubricating and stretching out those joints.
This is another great option. See instructions for Child’s Pose above.
Bronchitis, Pnemonia and Other Breathing Related Illnesses
I have bronchitis (again.) Breathing takes a lot of effort, and it is physically exhausting. Here are a few poses that I’ve been incorporating to help improve my breathing:
Seated Side Bend
In general, we tend to lose flexibility on our sides as we age. This can impact our ability to take deep breaths effectively. So, when we are dealing with a breathing related illness, it is important to open up the sides, releasing tension held there. A gentle, seated side bend is a great way to do this. Legs can be straight out in front of you, in a wide V-shape, or folded in comfortably. Inhale both arms up and then as you tip to one side, bring the hand on the lower arm down to the floor to support you. Lift up and out of the hips and breathe deeply into your side. Repeat on the other side.
Gentle Seated Twist
This is another great pose to stretch and open up the body, as well as detox it. See directions above under Go Easy.
Sitting or standing, clasp your hands behind your back. Roll your shoulders back, sliding your shoulder blades down your back. Lean forward slightly, bending your knees if you are standing, and if it is comfortable lift your arms back away from you. Imagine you are breathing in and out through your chest wall. Focus on releasing tension in your chest and upper back. You can counter this pose by wrapping your arms around yourself in a hug afterward.
The 3-Part Breath is essential during this time. Place your right hand over your heart, and your left hand over your belly. On your first breath, exhale out completely. As you inhale, fill the body from the bottom of your lungs, stacking each area like you would a layer cake. Allow the breath to fill the base of the belly, and then the rib cage, and then the chest. As you exhale back down, draw the belly button in toward the spine, squeezing out the air at the bottom of the lungs. As you practice this breath, focus on extending your exhale longer than your inhale. This encourages relaxation.
Listen to Your Body
This is the most important part, so listen up! You must listen to your body. We are all different and how our bodies respond when we are sick depends on a lot of different factors. Do what you can and do not overdo it.
If you do incorporate any of these poses, I would love to hear how they worked for you! Please message below or message me here.
Speak to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine. View our Medical Disclaimer here.