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.
Gentle yoga when you are sick may help to alleviate some of the bodily aches and pains associated with colds and flu.
By keeping the body moving, you help circulate blood and lymph fluid more effectively, assisting your immune system in the fight against invading bacteria and viruses.
Some yoga poses may help with congestion, headaches, and digestive issues.
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.
Try it out:
- Stand on your mat with your legs slightly wider than hip width.
- Keep a gentle bend in your knees.
- Drop your chin to your chest and roll down into a forward fold one vertebrae at a time.
- Allow your upper body to be completely relaxed.
- Shake your head gently from side to side to release any tension in the neck.
- Let your arms hang loosely to the floor.
- Hold the pose for 10 breaths and slowly curl back up the spine to standing.
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.
Try it out:
- Bring your mat close to a wall.
- Slide your sit bones close to the bottom of the wall.
- Lift your legs up the wall, making sure they feel relaxed and supported.
- Place your arms by your sides and breathe deeply.
- Hold the posture for up to 5 minutes.
- To exit the pose, slide your knees to your chest, roll to the side, and sit up.
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.
Try it out:
- Lay flat on your back on your mat.
- Place your arms out to the side in a T-shape.
- Lift your knees to your chest.
- Gently allow your knees to fall to the right side.
- Breathe deeply into the sides of your body for 10 breaths.
- Slowly bring your knees back to center and drop them to the left.
- Breathe deeply and hold the pose for another 10 breaths.
- To exit the pose, gently bring your knees to center, place your feet down, and let the spine relax.
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.
Try it out:
- Kneel on your mat.
- Spread your knees wide.
- Fold your torso forward, bringing your forehead to the mat.
- Reach your arms forward or have them resting by your sides.
- Breathe deeply and hold the pose for up to 2 minutes.
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.
Try it out:
- Start by placing your block or bolster to your side.
- Lay flat on your back on the mat.
- Bring your knees up and place your feet close to your hips.
- Ensure your feet are hip width apart.
- Firmly press into the feet to raise your hips off the ground.
- Once they are high enough, slide the block under the back of the pelvis.
- Settle your upper back on the mat with your arms by your sides.
- Hold the posture for at least 10 deep breaths.
- To exit the pose, remove the block and slowly curl your spine back down onto the mat.
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.
Try it out:
- Sit on your mat and reach your legs out as wide as is comfortable.
- Place your hands in front of you and slowly walk them forward.
- Allow your torso to fold from the hips as your hands move further away.
- Once you feel the stretch, relax your head and neck completely.
- Breathe deeply into the back body, expanding your ribs fully.
- Hold for up to 5 minutes.
- To exit the pose, slowly lift your torso, bring legs together, and hug your knees to your chest.
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.
Which pranayama is best for the flu?
Anulom vilom is a pranayama breathing technique which focuses on alternate nostril breathing. It may help to enhance lung capacity, assist in clearing congestion, and balance the nervous system, contributing to general well-being which is important during illness.
Can yoga prevent diseases?
Regular yoga practice may help strengthen the immune system by lowering stress levels and enhancing overall health. A healthy and relaxed body with a robust immune system will fight off potential infection pathogens more effectively.
Why does stretching feel good when sick?
Stretching when you are sick feels good because you are alleviating muscle tension and discomfort that could be related to the sickness. You are also increasing blood flow around the body, which may help immune cells get to the site of infection more effectively.
Who should limit or avoid yoga?
Those with certain health conditions, such as severe joint pain or people with cardiovascular issues, should always seek medical advice before beginning a yoga practice. Yoga poses can be modified or avoided in cases of injury recovery or pregnancy, but you should always consult a doctor if you are unsure.
- Journal of Behavioural Medicine. Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials.
- Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity. The role of yoga in inflammatory markers.