Did you know that yoga can help boost your immunity?
Besides its many other health benefits (such as reducing stress and anxiety, helping with posture and building strength), yoga can also help to strengthen the immune system, through, for example, breathwork (strengthening the lungs), twisting (helping to detoxify the body), and building internal heat (to purify and help rid the body of toxins, etc.).
But, when you’re starting to feel a little under-the-weather, you might not be up for a sweaty power yoga class! That’s where yin yoga comes in... Yin is the perfect practice for when you need something a little slower and gentler, plus it can also help boost the immune system when we focus specifically on the lung/large intestine and stomach/spleen meridian pathways.
If you’re not familiar with yin yoga, we hold poses for longer than other types of yoga (typically 3-5 minutes per pose), and we leave time in between poses for the tissues to rehydrate and the circulation to come back. Yin also typically involves ‘passive’ holds (using gravity and props to go deeper into the pose, rather than ‘pushing’ or actively stretching) with the muscles relaxed rather than engaged. This allows us to target the fascia and connective tissue rather than the muscles, with the goal being to increase our range of motion and improve the health of our tissues/fascia (besides the numerous mental health benefits).
In addition, we can add in elements from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), by focussing on specific energy lines, or meridians, during our yin practice. (These meridians are the same energy lines that practices such as acupuncture and acupressure use.) According to TCM, these energy pathways correspond to various organs in the body (n.b. these are not always the same organs as we know in Western physiology!), and they are also associated with different emotional states, such as anger, grief, joy, and so on. So, by working along specific meridian lines (e.g. using yin poses that target those lines) we can bring balance to that part of the body, or that emotional state.
Since the lungs act as our filter with the external world, they are a really important gateway to the immune system, and need extra bolstering this time of year. Likewise, the spleen has a crucial role to play in the immune system, acting as a filter for the blood, storing platelets and white blood cells, and helping to fight certain bacteria.
But which yin yoga poses target these meridians? Here are my top 7...
From all fours, take your knees as wide apart as they can go (you might need to pad under the inside of your knees with a blanket, or roll up your mat, if they’re sensitive). Knees and ankles can be at 90 degrees, or you can bring the toes to touch if you prefer. Keeping the hips in line with the knees, lower your torso on to a bolster or pillow (as high up as you need it). Make sure you can relax – you don’t want to be holding yourself up, like a forearm plank. Stay here for around 5 minutes. To come out, ease yourself forward (move the prop aside), bring the legs together, and rest on your belly for 1 minute.
This pose targets the spleen meridian line, running along the inside seam of the leg and up the torso to the collarbone.
2. Broken wing
Lying on your belly, extend the right arm out to the side, hand in line with the shoulder, palm of the hand pressing into the ground. Using your left hand, roll on to that right shoulder, place your left foot behind the (outstretched) right leg, left knee pointing up to the sky. If you’d like to go deeper, shuffle your hips forward, and extend the left arm behind your back. Stay here for 3 minutes. Roll back on your belly, rest for a few breaths, then do the other side.
This pose targets the lung/large intestine meridian, running along the arms and into the pecs.
3. Broken branches
From your belly, make sure you have a block near your head, cross your right arm over your left (underneath you), and walk your hands out (away from the midline) as far as they’ll comfortably go. Palms can be face up or face down. Then tuck your toes under and shuffle forward slightly, so the weight of your chest is directly over the cross of your arms (it will feel uncomfortable and awkward!) and place your head on the block. Untuck your toes. Hold for 3 minutes, then gently release. Relax for a minute before switching arms (left arm on top this time).
This pose targets the lung/large intestine meridian lines.
From all fours, step the right foot forward, in between the hands. Tuck the back toes, and step that foot back so you have a deeper stretch on the front of the left hip. Release the toes, and pad under the back knee if needed. Place the hands on the front knee, or on blocks (on the highest setting) either side of the hips. Sink the hips forward and down, and open the chest. Hold for 3 minutes. Release back into ½ splits several times before gently coming out of the pose, back to all fours. Do the 2nd side.
This pose targets the spleen and stomach meridian lines (inside leg and front of the body).
From kneeling, make sure the knees are hip-width apart (pad under the knees if needed). Place the hands on the lower back, and slowly start to push the hips forward. Release the head back if the neck feels ok. Stay here, or reach for the heels/ankles. Hold for 2 minutes. Come out super gently, placing the hands on the lower back first, tucking the chin and gently coming back to upright. Stay here (upright) for a breath or two, before slowly taking a child’s pose for 2 minutes.
This pose targets the spleen and stomach meridian lines, and, if you’re reaching back for your heels/ankles, also the lung/large intestine meridians.
6. Dangling, with fingers interlaced
From kneeling, tuck the toes and slowly send the hips into the air, allowing the torso to hang heavy. Feet are hip-width apart, knees can be slightly bent, and interlace the fingers behind the back. Slowly start to let the hands hang over your head (not forcing, just allowing gravity to do the work for you). Make sure the head and neck are relaxed. Hold for 2 minutes. Then gently release the hands, slowly bend the knees and come back to kneeling.
This pose stimulates the lung/large intestine meridian lines. In addition, as it’s a slight inversion, it helps the lymphatic system and can help us take bigger breaths.
Come to seated. Keep the right leg in front of you (bent), and swing the left leg back (as if coming into pigeon, but not all the way, and keep the left leg bent). Try to ground through both sit bones if you can (or sit on a pillow). The knees and ankles can be at 90-degree angles, or you can point the feet and have a smaller angle at the knees... whatever works for you! Either fold forward, resting your head on a block or bolster, or try the reclined version where you lie back on a bolster or blocks. Stay for 3 mins, then gently release and change sides/legs.
This pose stimulates the spleen and stomach meridians.
There you have it: 7 great yin poses to help boost the immune system! If you’re new to yin, remember to go slowly, and if you feel any pain then back out of the pose or take a gentler option.
If you want to know how to put these poses together into a sequence, I’m offering a FREE 60-minute ‘yin yoga for immunity’ class! Just click here and submit your details for access to the recording of this class (which was filmed live). I hope you’ll come practice with me!
If you enjoyed this sequence, or the class, let me know in the comments below, or share this article with someone who needs it!
To the healing power of yoga,