Struggling with a summer cold? Try these 4 decongesting yoga poses
Find yourself struck down with a summer cold? Rolling out the yoga mat could be the answer – and we don’t just mean for lying down in corpse pose…
Your head feels stuffy, your nose is blocked and you ache all over – welcome to the season’s least popular visitor, the summer cold. The temperatures may be scorching and you’re just about to go on holiday, but the (distressingly) common cold knows no boundaries.
Dragging your sorry self to the yoga mat may be the last thing on your mind, but some yogis believe a bit of gentle movement could help ease your symptoms and stave off future colds. But how should you practise when you’re struggling with fatigue, congestion and aching limbs? Should you avoid inversions when there’s so much pressure in your head? And is it worth doing anything other than simply lying down in shavasana (luckily a top yoga move in itself)?
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Gentle movement is good, but listen to your body
“This is the time for restorative practice while your body needs to focus its limited energy on healing,” Kat Pither, yoga teacher and founder of Yogi Bare, tells Stylist. “Use lots of bolsters under the knees and spine and allow yourself to melt into a deep healing rest. Often, our circulation is poor due to restricted breathing, meaning our limbs feel tired and heavy from less oxygen – ‘legs up the wall’ or butterfly pose are perfect here. In lying postures keep the head elevated on a pillow to ensure you still are able to breath as clearly as you can with congestion.”
Kat Farrants, founder of online yoga platform Movement for Modern Life, believes that because the stress-relieving powers of yoga are so good for our immunity that we certainly should attempt to keep up our practice. “Be ready to listen to your body and adapt your practice based on how you are feeling and what you need,” she advises. “Try some somatic rolling movements to loosen stiff joints, lay in shavasana or practise some gentle supine hip openers.
“What your body needs is rest and good care, with gentle and considered movements to help ease aching joints. Encouraging good circulation, free movement in the joints and a focus on your breathing will all help with staving off a future cold.”
Inversions can be beneficial but it’s better to opt-for floor-based postures
When you’re suffering with congestion in the head area, are inversions a good idea? Paulius Savickas, yoga instructor at Gymbox, believes you should approach with caution.
She tells Stylist: “In general, inversions can have beneficial effects on the thyroid, triggering our immune system response and boosting energy levels. But they shouldn’t be practised with a stuffy nose as it adds even more pressure to already congested areas in the nasal cavities, ears and eyes. I’d only recommend inversions to counteract the lack of sleep and fatigue.”
Yoga teacher Eloise Skinner agrees that this type of pose can be problematic. She explains: “In deep forward folds, flexion of the spine tends to close off the area around the heart centre, which can feel quite compressive if you’re struggling to find a full, clear breath.
“One good pose for easing congestion is a supine spinal twist (supta matsyendrasana). This posture will encourage a stretch around the upper back and intercostal muscles, which can help to create a sense of openness through the lungs.”
How to breathe properly with a blocked nose
Yogic breathing (pranayama) is fundamental to the practice, both physically and mentally. But how on earth can we breathe deeply if our noses are blocked?
Turns out you’ve got to clear the airways if you want the full yogic benefits. “Nasal breathing is so beneficial for the body,” explains Farrants. “It filters and humidifies the air and can help improve oxygen circulation in the body.” She recommends trying a Kundalini-style ‘breath of fire’ exercise to help clear the nose.
“Sit comfortably with your hands on your knees or with one hand on your belly to help you feel the movement. Inhale through your nose and expand your belly. Exhale forcefully through your nose, contracting your abdominal muscles. Really focus on the exhalation and continue this rhythm. When comfortable increase the speed, keeping your belly moving in and out.”
Yogic exercises for throat symptoms
If your throat feels croaky and sore, Savickas recommends lion’s pose (simhasana), adding: “It’s important that you stick your tongue out as much as possible to stretch the muscles around the throat. This is very effective for the pain.”
“If the throat is dry you should avoid ujjayi breath [breathing in and out through the nose, also known as ‘ocean breath’] as it might irritate the throat and trigger a coughing response. If the nose is not blocked I would recommend just simple nasal breathing.”
Should we even attempt yoga when we just want to stay in bed?
“If you’re feeling rotten, my advice is to rest rather than push yourself through specific asanas – yes, even you die-hard yogis!” recommends Scarlett Woodford, yoga teacher and founder of Look Closer Healing.
“It’s especially difficult if your nose is blocked because yogic texts advise to breathe mostly through the nose. If you decide to push through and breathe through your mouth during your practice, you risk of running out of energy much quicker, not to mention potentially feeling anxious by doing so. So if in doubt, rest.”
4 asanas to ease a summer cold
Legs up the wall (viparita karani)
Farrants recommends this as a good ‘cooling’ pose in summer.
- Simply lie with your bottom close to the wall
- Put your feet up against it
“You can stay there for around 10 minutes, or as long as you are comfortable,” she says. “This pose is a simple inversion where you can really focus on your breathing without any pressure on the body. It will also help to restore circulation and blood flow and can be very restful, so is a great pose to help you prepare for a restful night’s sleep.”
Supine spinal twist (supta matsyendrasana)
To ease congestion, Skinner recommends this floor-based pose.
- Start by lying down, and then take both knees over to one side
- Stretch your arms out in line with the shoulders
- Turn the neck to look away from the knees
Bridge (setu bandhasana)
Woodford says simple chest-opening poses like bridge are good for colds.
- Begin by lying on the floor with knees bent, heels close to the sitting bones and arms parallel to your sides, palms down
- Slowly push up from your feet and lift the pelvis towards the sky, curling the back until you’re resting on your shoulders
- Breathe deeply
Savickas suggests another chest-opening pose which also helps energise the spine.
- Start by kneeling, with hips above the knees
- Keep your spine long as you inhale and drop your hands back to grip your heels
- Push hips forward to counteract the backward motion
- Gently drop the head, lift the chest and breathe
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