Now that winter has officially started we can expect a lot of coughing and sneezing going on around us. In fact there’s a high possibility that someone either in your workplace, or at the supermarket, on public transport or even in your family will be inadvertently sharing their germs. But we don’t need to be sitting ducks, there are strategies that work.
We have all had precautions ground into us from childhood that we need to wash hands before eating. We also most probably know that it is important to wash hands after being in public places, as germs are lurking on shopping trolleys, money, ATM’s and door handles.
In some countries precautions go even further. In Asian countries it is standard practice for people to wear face masks especially in flu season, as protection from airborne illnesses. They also out of courtesy wear them to prevent their own infections from spreading. This is such a useful practice, although admittedly wearing a mask isn’t all that comfortable and it does take a bit of getting used to relating to people wearing them.
Ayurvedically the practices of neti (nasal washing) and nasya (coating the nasal membranes with oil) is recommended to keep the nasal passages free from of infection. Neti is a simple practice of washing out the nostrils with warm saline water and feels very much like that lovely sparkling sensation in the sinuses that one gets from diving through the waves. The practice of nasya or lightly coating the inner nostril surfaces with oil is a highly effective way of preventing germs taking hold. I always take a little bottle of nasya oil on long flights and rarely get sick from them like I used to.
So after you’ve been sneezed on while innocently strolling round the supermarket, and forgotten to do nasya and neti the next progression, if you’re unlucky, is usually a sore throat. A sore throat is often the first warning sign of a full on heavy cold. Fortunately however, if we catch it early enough we can often prevent the infection from spreading. Most people have their own particular ‘go to’ for coping with a sore throat whether it be hot spices, herbs, supplements or change of diet. There are also several yoga sequences which are well worth adding to your ‘go to’ regime.
To understand why they are of benefit… first a little human biology. The body fights disease with its white blood cells. When an infection is detected the white blood cells are carried to the site via the lymphatic system. This system consists of a network of vessels which carry the lymphatic fluid round the body. At various places in the network there are lymph nodes where filtering and battles take place. After the infection is destroyed by the white blood cells, the lymph system dumps the waste products into the blood vessels via the thoracic ducts just below the neck. From here the wastes are processed in the liver and then disposed of via the kidneys. Therefore, it is very important to have our lymph flowing freely. The following poses help to stimulate the flow of lymph.
The Lion Pose acts directly on the infection in the throat. It involves opening the mouth wide, extending the tongue and roaring like a lion and it is credited with squeezing and draining the lymph nodes in the throat.
Unlike the blood which is pumped around the body by the heart, lymph relies majorly on the movement of the diaphragm during deep breathing and the contraction and release of muscles. Four sequences which address both deep breathing and muscle movement are Salute to the Sun, Salute to the Moon, Dynamic Extended Mountain and 5 Tibetan Rites. These sequences also open the upper chest which keeps the thoracic duct in good condition and assist in better drainage of the lymph.
A great prescription for winter then is to repeat one of the above sequences a number of times each day and roar like a hungry lion at least three times. It doesn’t take up much time and is well worth it because not only are they enjoyable to perform but you’ll feel great afterwards.
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training