6 Yoga Stretches to Help You Fight Sickness

When the cold and flu season strikes and we find ourselves coughing and spluttering, exercise or movement of any kind can feel daunting. But here's the good news — there are several yoga postures that you can do when you’re sick that may actually help to ease congestion, improve circulation, and help you get better faster.

Key takeaways:

Yoga for when you are sick

Being unwell isn’t great for anyone, and most of us simply want to curl up in bed with hot drinks and medicines to soothe our stiff, aching bodies. It can be stressful, especially if we have to take time off work, have kids to look after, or other dependents who need our time and energy.

Even though it might seem counterintuitive, moving our bodies through a gentle yoga practice when we are sick might actually help us heal more efficiently. Here are a few reasons why yoga can help us through sickness:

  • Improves circulation. Movement helps the fluids in our body move more efficiently, and the more effective our circulation, the better our blood is at transporting immune cells to potential sites of infection.
  • Relieves stress. Being unwell is stressful and can take its toll emotionally. Practicing yoga when you are sick may help to alleviate tension, allowing you to rest better, which is crucial when fighting an illness.
  • Soothes nausea. Having a stuffy head or digestive upset can often bring about feelings of nausea and dizziness. There are some yoga poses that may help mitigate the sensations of queasiness, bringing you back into balance.
  • Reduces inflammation. When we get sick, our bodies produce inflammatory responses, which can leave us with aches and pains. Regular yoga practice may help reduce inflammation and relieve sickness-related soreness.

Six yoga poses for sickness

If you are feeling under the weather and altogether sniffly, bunged up, or achy, then here are six of the best yoga poses to try when you are sick.

The poses are designed to require very little energy and effort, focusing on stretches to help open up the muscles around the lungs to help you breathe easier, and poses that improve blood and lymph flow to assist your immune system.

1. Forward fold or ragdoll pose

If your sickness has given you a tension headache from having a stiff neck and shoulders, then ragdoll pose may help to relieve muscle tightness. This posture enables the whole upper body to completely relax and hang limply, which can be especially soothing for a tight neck and back.

Woman doing forward fold or ragdoll pose

Try it out:

  1. Stand on your mat with your legs slightly wider than hip width.
  2. Keep a gentle bend in your knees.
  3. Drop your chin to your chest and roll down into a forward fold one vertebrae at a time.
  4. Allow your upper body to be completely relaxed.
  5. Shake your head gently from side to side to release any tension in the neck.
  6. Let your arms hang loosely to the floor.
  7. Hold the pose for 10 breaths and slowly curl back up the spine to standing.
Top Tip
You can sway your body from side to side or even gently bounce your knees to feel an extra soothing upper body release.

2. Legs up the wall

This gentle inversion may help improve circulation as well as relieve stress caused by being sick. It’s a lovely pose to do if you have a headache, as it doesn’t create any extra pressure or add tension to the head and neck area.

Woman with Legs up the wall pose

Try it out:

  1. Bring your mat close to a wall.
  2. Slide your sit bones close to the bottom of the wall.
  3. Lift your legs up the wall, making sure they feel relaxed and supported.
  4. Place your arms by your sides and breathe deeply.
  5. Hold the posture for up to 5 minutes.
  6. To exit the pose, slide your knees to your chest, roll to the side, and sit up.
Top Tip
You can place a small yoga block or pillow between your shoulders, and as you recline, open your arms into a T-shape. This will help open up the chest, gently stretching your intercostal muscles and allowing your lungs to expand better.

3. Reclining spinal twist

Reclined twists are great for stretching out the intercostal muscles which run along your ribs. They also act as a sort of wringer for your internal organs, squeezing and releasing them to enable fresh, oxygenated blood to flow more effectively.

Woman doing Reclining spinal twist

Try it out:

  1. Lay flat on your back on your mat.
  2. Place your arms out to the side in a T-shape.
  3. Lift your knees to your chest.
  4. Gently allow your knees to fall to the right side.
  5. Breathe deeply into the sides of your body for 10 breaths.
  6. Slowly bring your knees back to center and drop them to the left.
  7. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for another 10 breaths.
  8. To exit the pose, gently bring your knees to center, place your feet down, and let the spine relax.
Top Tip
If your knees don’t come to the floor, grab a cushion or a block and place it under your knees. This will allow your shoulders to stay grounded and your legs to relax without putting too much strain on the spine.

4. Child's pose

This is a wonderful posture for calming and relaxing the body and mind and may help soothe an irritated digestive system. It may also help with the nausea that often comes from having colds and congested sinuses.

Woman doing Child's pose

Try it out:

  1. Kneel on your mat.
  2. Spread your knees wide.
  3. Fold your torso forward, bringing your forehead to the mat.
  4. Reach your arms forward or have them resting by your sides.
  5. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for up to 2 minutes.
Top Tip
For even deeper relaxation, place a bolster or cushion under your chest — the extra support will allow your body to release any pent up tension.

5. Supported bridge pose

This pose is a wonderful chest opener that may help you expand your breath, filling your lungs and helping to clear congested airways. You will need a yoga block or a firm bolster to do this pose properly.

Woman doing Supported bridge pose

Try it out:

  1. Start by placing your block or bolster to your side.
  2. Lay flat on your back on the mat.
  3. Bring your knees up and place your feet close to your hips.
  4. Ensure your feet are hip width apart.
  5. Firmly press into the feet to raise your hips off the ground.
  6. Once they are high enough, slide the block under the back of the pelvis.
  7. Settle your upper back on the mat with your arms by your sides.
  8. Hold the posture for at least 10 deep breaths.
  9. To exit the pose, remove the block and slowly curl your spine back down onto the mat.
Top Tip
For an extra stretch, try lifting the arms and resting them on the floor behind your head.

6. Seated wide leg forward fold

This posture is great for releasing tension in the hips, back, and hamstrings that can often get tight and achy during bouts of illness. It’s also a forward fold, which may help improve blood flow to the sinuses.

Woman doing Seated wide leg forward fold pose

Try it out:

  1. Sit on your mat and reach your legs out as wide as is comfortable.
  2. Place your hands in front of you and slowly walk them forward.
  3. Allow your torso to fold from the hips as your hands move further away.
  4. Once you feel the stretch, relax your head and neck completely.
  5. Breathe deeply into the back body, expanding your ribs fully.
  6. Hold for up to 5 minutes.
  7. To exit the pose, slowly lift your torso, bring legs together, and hug your knees to your chest.
Top Tip
Place a bolster or block under your forehead if you want extra support for your head and neck.

Does yoga really help with sickness?

While it’s definitely more tempting to reach for cough medicine and hot tea, it might be beneficial to reach for your yoga mat, too. Keeping the body moving gently by using yoga when you're sick might help relieve the aches and pains associated with illness, allowing your immune system to work more effectively while you are in a relaxed state.

So next time you feel a stuffy head cold coming, or are attacked by the flu, try some gentle yoga to help alleviate and restore your body during recovery.

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