By Joanna McCracken
When you hear the word “inflammation,” you probably think of the redness, pain or swelling that accompanied your last injury. Though it might be uncomfortable, this type of inflammation is simply a sign that your body is trying to heal itself.
But there’s another type of inflammation that’s harder to detect, and it can’t be cured with an ice pack: chronic inflammation. It occurs when inflammation is constant or unnecessary, and can be linked to conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to a healthy diet and overall self-care, yoga can be a powerful tool for protecting yourself against chronic inflammation.
So, how does your “down dog” help you avoid heart disease and the like? Well, three of the main causes of chronic inflammation are a sedentary lifestyle, exposure to toxins, and prolonged stress. Yoga can boost your circulation, detoxify your body, and is scientifically proven to chill you out!
Try these three moves to get started:
Uttanasana: In addition to opening your hamstrings, forward bends have a ton of benefits including relieving stress and anxiety, and aiding digestion.
To start, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and take your hands to your hips. Inhale deeply through your nose. On your exhale begin to bend from the hips, keeping the front of your torso long as you fold forward.
If possible, take your hands to the floor in front of your feet. If you can’t reach the floor without losing the length in the front of your torso, bend your knees. If you still can’t reach the floor, cross your forearms and hold on to your opposite elbows. The key here is to keep the length in your front body and not to round your back body.
Stay here for a few rounds of breath. On your inhales, find length in the front body. On your exhales, release a bit further into the bend.
When you’re ready to come up, move your hands to your hips on an exhale, and slowly come to standing on an inhale.
Supine Twist: In general, twisting poses help aid digestion, massage your internal organs and relieve lower back pain. This pose gives you all those benefits and lets you lie down and relax in the process.
To get into the pose, lie on your back and take a long deep inhale through your nose. Exhale through your mouth and allow your body to relax into your mat or the floor.
Gently hug your knees in toward your chest. Inhale through your nose, and as you exhale gently allow your knees to fall to the right, keeping your head and shoulders on the mat.
Allow your arms to open out on the floor, and gaze out over your left shoulder.
Take a few rounds of breath. Find length in your spine on your inhales, and allow yourself to relax more deeply into the twist on your exhales.
Bring your knees back up to your chest and repeat on the left side.
Viparita Karani: Also known as “legs up the wall,” in classic yoga texts this pose is said to help you cheat death and get rid of wrinkles and grey hair. Though the whole immortality/age-reversal thing isn’t scientifically proven, this gentle inversion is deeply restorative and can help relieve ailments such as anxiety, arthritis, high blood pressure and insomnia, to name a few. It also helps boost circulation, refresh your legs and leaves you feeling energized, calm and generally rebalanced.
To start, simply grab a couple of thickly folded blankets or a yoga bolster and place them about 5-6 inches away from the wall (further if you’re stiffer, closer if you’re more flexible).
Sit sideways with your lower back on the edge of the support, and in one motion swing your legs up the wall as you lower your shoulders and head down to your mat or the floor. Your lower back/sacrum should be on top of the support, and your sitting bones should drop slightly between the edge of the support and the wall. This takes a little practice, so don’t worry if it’s not particularly graceful right away! If you need to move the support higher or lower on your back, simply press your feet into the wall and lift your hips up to adjust.
Once you’re comfortable, relax your arms out to your sides and allow your palms to roll open and face the ceiling. Relax your throat and soften all of the muscles in your face. Close your eyes and allow them to gently gaze down toward your heart. Draw your attention to your breath.
Stay in the pose for anywhere from 5-15 minutes. When you’re ready to come out, press your feet into the wall, lift your hips and remove the support from beneath you. Lower your hips back down to the floor and gently roll over to your side. Stay here for a few breaths and then slowly push yourself back up to a seated position on an exhale.