Over the past few decades, yoga has gone from being a fringe phenomenon to a mainstream practice.
You’ll now find a variety of people from health-conscious moms to executives practicing yoga. There are even yoga classes designed for parents and children together.
Why is yoga so popular? Because anyone can do it, you can do it almost anywhere, and it has real health benefits for people of all ages.
We’ve known for years that regular yoga practice decreases stress and anxiety in a very real and physical way.
Numerous studies have found that daily yoga can decrease the levels of cortisol–one of our primary stress hormones–in the blood significantly.
Yoga also appears to strengthen the immune system though, until recently, we weren’t sure why. This immune-boosting effect was chalked up to yoga’s cortisol-reducing action.
However, a study by researchers from the University of Oslo showed that regular yoga actually changes the way genes are expressed in immune cells, bolstering the immune system. The changes begin within two hours of doing yoga.
So how can you harness the immune-strengthening power of yoga? Ideally, we could all find the perfect yoga class, attend once a week, and practice daily on our own. Unfortunately, for many of us that’s just not possible.
Whether the issue is time, price, or simply that there isn’t a suitable class in our area, formal yoga classes are sometimes not an option.
If you want to begin reaping the immune-boosting benefits of yoga but you don’t have access to a class, here’s a very simple yoga routine that nearly anyone can do:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees loose and not locked, head erect and back straight. Let your arms hang loosely at your sides.
Breathe in through your nose to a count of 4, then out through your mouth to a count of four. Breathe slowly and deeply, from your belly rather than your chest. Do this 4 times.
Turn your hands so that your palms face outwards. Inhale deeply and as you do, sweep your arms out to your sides and up above your head. Reach high.
Bring your palms hands together above your head and press your palms together. Tilt your head back slightly so that you’re looking at your thumbs. Hold the pose for four breaths.
Exhale slowly, and as you do, lower your arms and bend from the hips, letting your upper body relax and fold forward till your hands touch the floor. If you can place your hands palm-down, do so.
If you can only touch the floor with your fingertips, that’s ok. And if you can’t touch the floor at all, that’s alright too—just reach as far as you can. Let your upper body relax and slip further into the pose. Hold for four breaths.
With your hands still flat on the floor, take a step backward with one foot and then the other till your body becomes a triangle.
Keep your feet flat on the floor and let your weight rest on them rather than your hands; shift your center of balance toward your hips and lengthen your spine. Hold for 5 breaths.
From Downward-facing dog, shift your torso forward so that it’s perpendicular to the floor. Keep your arms, back, and neck straight.
You should be resting on your flattened palms and your toes, as if you were about to descend into a push-up. Hold this position for 4-5 breaths, breathing to a count of four.
From Plank pose, let your hips descend till they rest on the floor. Lower your chest to the floor, and keep your arms bent and relaxed with your palms flat on the floor as if you were about to rise from a push-up.
*If you have low back problems, you may want to put your knees down first, then your chest, then straighten your legs behind you.
Then, using your back muscles rather than your arms, lift your chest as far as you can from the floor and hold the position. Remember to breathe. Hold the pose for 4-5 breaths.
Repeat these poses in reverse order, to end in Mountain pose. Breathe slowly and deeply 4 more times, then return to normal breathing.
Congratulations! You’ve just taken the first step toward a healthier immune system through daily yoga.