Cold Relief the Yogi Way
by Sarah Pederson
The famous yogi BKS lyenger reminds us that “nature alone is the ultimate cure. The belief underlying yoga therapy is to enable the human system to function as efficiently, effectively, and naturally as it can.” A third of lyenger’s book Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health, is dedicated to sequencing poses for specific ailments. He suggests sixteen poses for the common cold. I will share with you a handful of poses that I’ve personally found to be helpful in alleviating some of the symptoms of the common cold, including nasal obstruction and mucus, sore throat, sneezing, coughing and headaches.
A simple and effective pose you can enjoy amidst the body aches is inverted lake pose. Lying either on the floor, bed or couch, simply put the legs up the wall. Legs can be straight or bent as is comfortable for you. In class, we use a bolster under our hips so it feels like the bottom of our spine, the coccyx, is just over the edge. Placing a rolled towel, blanket or pillow under the hips will also help.
Arms will be open, palms up, away from the body.
This pose is great for several reasons, but what I find most beneficial is its effect on the lymphatic system. Because the lymph moves in one direction (upward), this pose is fantastic to get the lymph moving. The “lake” in the name implies that lymph will first travel up the legs and pool in our lower abdomen and gently spill over and then pool again around the neck. This pose is also great for anyone who stands on their feet often or has varicose veins.
Reclining bound angle pose helps when the chest is stuffy and breathing is compromised. This pose can be done without props, but I would recommend using three rolled bath towels and a small pillow or hand towel. Sitting on the floor, bring the bottoms of the feet together and place two of the rolled towels under the knees. Place the third rolled towel behind hips so that as one gently lowers the torso onto the floor, it is directly underneath the upper half of the spine. Place the small pillow or hand towel under the head. This is a great way to slowly stretch the muscles of the chest, inner thighs and hips. Having the chest and head higher than the lower body aids in breathing.
A variation of inverted staff pose is easy to do while lying in bed. With head at the edge of the bed, slowly lower the back of the head, shoulders and upper back over the edge with arms either above head for floor support or anywhere that’s comfortable. Hang out for several breaths to allow the adrenal, thyroid, pituitary, and pineal glands to be stimulated. The gentle traction on the spine feels great. Do not practice this during a headache. If you start to feel dizzy, gently bring the body back onto the bed.
The next sequence of poses is what I call the downward-dog warm-up. Start in table pose, which is on your hands and knees with fingers spread wide. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale collapse the hips towards the heels (like curling into a ball.) Inhaling, lift body back into table pose, exhale and lift hips up and back so that the spine becomes long. Tilt the hips forward and put as much bend in the knees as you need. Allow head to hang towards the floor. Inhale and gently come back to table pose and repeat the entire sequence several times. Allow the breath to guide the movement. Rest in child’s pose (hips on heels, just like before) for several breaths or lay on your back.
Finally, in yoga and Ayurveda, a small vessel, called a neti pot, is used to help clear mucus from the nasal passages. Fill the neti or even a small tea pot with warm salt water, insert spout into left nostril while tipping head forward and to the right. Allow the saline solution to pour out the other nostril. Be sure to do this over a sink or the bath tub. When I first started using a neti pot, I had to try several times to get this to work. Be persistent and patient. This same treatment can be done without the neti pot by simply cupping a small amount of salt water in the hand. While closing one nostril, quickly sniff the water into the other nostril. A mild to moderate burning sensation should be expected, as well as the mucus to clear quickly after.
Sarah Pederson, former EC Yogi, is a yoga teacher and owns Gaia Massage and Yoga, in Missoula, Montana.