Today I took a two-hour workshop with senior Iyengar teacher, Lisa Walford. The workshop was about how to boost the immune system, which is especially helpful around the holidays and in the months where everywhere you turn someone is coughing or sneezing. She talked about the sympathetic nervous system which puts us in a ‘fight or flight’ mode and how the parasympathetic nervous system puts us in relaxation mode. Obviously we want to live in the latter! Combatting stress with a slow, peaceful, supportive yoga practice/sequence done on a regular basis can help put our body into relaxation mode and not ‘fight or flight’, which has a huge impact on the immune system. I think most of us would agree that we could use a little more of that in our lives.
A key element in restoring ourselves is the practice of inversions. They are vital to our well-being and do so much to reverse the effects of a stressful life. Inversions are most helpful as an immunity booster when they are held for longer periods of time. Therefore her sequence today had us holding sirsasana (headstand) for ten minutes. This of course, is not a possibility for everyone and there are variations that one can do that still gain all the benefits of a long-held inversion practice. If you can hold sirsasana comfortably for 5-6 minutes, that’ll do it. Otherwise, you can do viparita karani (legs up a wall) for 5-10 minutes. Another important pose to add is salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand). If you have trouble with the standard variation of shoulderstand you can do it supported in a chair. This was also held for 5-10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of supported halasana (plow pose) with our thighs resting on a bolster on a chair.
All of the poses in her sequence are held for long timings and are with support. A great deal of support. At one point I thought I was building a house out of blankets! But once I was in the pose, I was grateful I’d taken the time to set it up properly and it was deeply relaxing.
Lisa suggests making an immunity practice part of your weekly routine. If you can only squeeze in 15-20 minutes for this practice, then try to practice it a few times a week. Otherwise, you could do a 60-minute practice once a week. Especially during those times when we feel most stressed and run down. I know lately I have been feeling the pains of a deadline-driven job and the stresses that the holiday season brings. My yoga practice has suffered more than anything else because of this and that has made me feel even worse. I’m vowing to spend more time during the week on a few of these poses, whether I squeeze one in before bedtime, or if I start the day with a ten minute supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose). Every little bit helps and if I can slip past getting the flu this winter then it’s definitely worth it!