For centuries, people have looked to yoga to calm the mind, uplift the spirit and improve the health of the body. Luckily for those concerned with disease resistance, yoga affects bodily health far beyond the benefits of strong muscles or flexible joints — it can improve immune function as well.
Aprille Walker, a Texas-based yoga teacher, YouTuber, owner of The Yoga Ranger Studio and founder of its online counterpart The Yoga Ranger Studio, likes to take a multi-pronged approach. “Many of the best yoga poses for immunity focus on opening the lung, heart and large intestine meridians,” says Walker. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), meridians are channels throughout the body that allow energy to flow freely. Meridians can become blocked due to stress, illness or poor lifestyle choices, and stimulating them through asana is one of the easiest ways to remove a blockage. “Since a high concentration of your lymph nodes are in your underarms, neck and chest, this area is especially important,” says Walker.
The Yoga Ranger Studio hosts a catalog of hundreds of asana, self-care and meditation videos, as well as teacher training and online courses. Viewers look to Walker’s extensive content for tailored practices that fit every situation. “I like putting out videos that I would want. Sometimes you have five minutes and sometimes you have an hour and a half. Sometimes you have leg pain and sometimes you have back pain,” she shares.
Walker shapes some of her content based on requests from students and viewers, and since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s received lots of questions on boosting immunity. “One of the fastest and easiest ways to boost immune function is to use a dry body brush to sweep the skin upwards from the feet towards the heart, in short strokes, before a shower,” says Walker. “This boosts circulation, helps to cleanse the blood and boosts the lymphatic system.”
Here are Walker’s top five immunity-boosting yoga poses:
Melting Heart Pose
Walker loves this pose because it “really opens the chest.”
Start out on hands and knees, in a tabletop position, and start to walk hands as far forward as they can go. The chest should begin to drop towards the floor, and you should feel a stretch in the triangular space between the armpit, shoulder socket and collarbone. When you can go no further, shift the hips back towards the heels slightly, so that hips are lined up directly above the knees. Allow the head to rest on the floor, or a block. Hold for two to three minutes.
Supported Fish Pose
“This pose stretches a lot of the same areas as melting heart pose, but it’s a more passive version and better for beginners,” says Walker.
Start out by sitting upright on the floor with legs outstretched. Place a bolster, foam roller or long, thin pillow one third of the way down your yoga mat, then lay down so that the bottom of your shoulder blades rest on top of your prop. The top part of your shoulders should hang off the prop, not quite touching the floor. Open arms out to the side, into a goalpost stance or raise them over your head. Hold for two to four minutes.
Legs Up The Wall
Walker suggests this pose for immunity because “this pose is a passive inversion, so it helps reduce inflammation and is very soothing.”
Start by sitting close to a wall, then lay down parallel to the wall with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent so that the lower body forms an upside-down V shape. Gradually start to shift your seat so that you’re facing the wall and your seat is pressed against the wall, with your feet resting on the wall above it. Slowly straighten legs until the body forms an L shape and hold for two to five minutes.
Walker recommends this pose because it “opens up the back side of the lungs, and if taken with wide knees it helps the liver and kidney meridians, too.”
Start out on all fours, then bring your feet together so that they touch. Start to slowly sit back on your heels, bringing knees closer together or farther apart as needed. Start to hinge forward towards the floor, walking arms out straight as far as they can go, bringing the torso as close as you can get it to your thighs (if knees are closer together) or the floor (if knees are wide). Interlace hands and bring them to rest behind the head, inching the elbows forward as far as they can go. “This version of child’s pose activates the underarm space, and therefore lymphatic system, more than having the arms extended,” explains Walker. Rest the forehead on the mat or a block. Hold for two to five minutes.
“This pose really opens up the side body and helps you breathe more deeply. It also hits all of the upper body meridians: the heart, pericardium, lungs, gallbladder, large intestine and small intestine meridians,” says Walker.
Start out by laying flat on your back with arms raised over your head. Open your legs so that feet are almost touching the corners of your mat, then cross your left ankle over your right ankle. Slowly start to inch your upper body towards your right heel, so that the body begins to form a slight banana shape. Grab your left wrist with your right hand and pull towards your right heel. Hold for two to three minutes, come back to center for at least five deep breaths, and repeat on the other side.
Yoga for immunity photos by Aprille Walker. Featured image by cottonbro.