Self-Care and Wellness Practices for Colds and Flu

Well it finally happened. After ten years of teaching kindergarten and four years of a daily yoga practice, I have a rock solid immune system and I’m seldom sick. But every now and then, I get run down and my tired body just can’t fight off the plethora of germs I encounter everyday.  And right now I’m battling a sore throat, croaky voice, runny nose, and just generally feeling yucky. So what do I do when I’m sick to make myself feel better and hopefully recover as quickly as possible? This infographic provides an overview of my top 5 wellness practices to beat your cold, and the blog post below shares the how and why. Give these a try and you’ll feel better soon!

Mantra:  I’ve read that chanting in Sanskrit and “OM”ing produce vibrations that loosen mucus in your nose, throat, and lungs to keep everything moving. I begin my practice with the mantra I learned at my first yoga training that invokes bliss, divine consciousness, and truth. Or, calling the sound “OM” several times in a row is equally effective. 

Mala beads
Mala beads are a beautiful support when meditating or chanting. 

Breathing:  kapalabhati (skull-shining) breath is a warming breath that cleans out the lungs, sinuses, and respiratory system. Follow this link for complete instructions. I usually do four cycles of 25 breaths each. Nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) supports and strengthens respiratory functions and promotes a sense of calm and peace. Read more here about the benefits and how to practice. 

Gentle Yoga Practice
Although I’m not exactly eager to get on my mat, I do know that I’ll feel SO much better if I do. It’s not the time for a vigorous vinyasa flow practice, but gentle poses held for a minimum of ten breaths make a world of difference to my ability to breathe and think clearly while boosting my energy.

Joint Mobility Series:  in my hatha yoga teacher training, we began every asana practice with a series of movements to warm up all the joints in the body. I usually repeat each movement about ten times in a comfortable seated position on my mat.
1) Raise to chin to ceiling, inhaling up, exhaling down
2) Look over each shoulder (inhaling across, exhaling as you look over your shoulder, torso remains stable)
3) Chin to chest, inhale up to the shoulder, exhale back down to centre. Inhale up to the other shoulder, exhale back to centre. Full neck circles are an option if you have that mobility.
4) Extend arms at shoulder height, palms face the ceiling. Inhale, touch fingertips to tops of shoulders, exhale to extend arms again.
5) Arms circles: can extend arms fully and circle forward, then backward, letting breath flow. Or, you can touch fingertips to the tops of shoulders and point elbows to the front. Draw circles with your elbows, exhaling down and inhaling as you circle back around. Change directions.
6) Gently shake out hands and wrists. Extend arms in front, inhale to make fists. Exhale as you shoot fingers out.
7) Wrist circles, letting breath flow. Change directions.
8) Extend legs long on mat. Contract toes on your inhale breath, extend on your exhale breath.
9) Inhale to point toes to the ceiling. Exhale to point them away from you.
10) Ankles circles, letting breath flow. Change directions.
11) Draw knee into chest on the inhale breath. Kick your leg out on the exhale, completely releasing your leg as you kick. If you have knee problems, support your leg under the knee as you do this. Ten times, each leg.
12) Take legs wide, feet are flexed and toes point to the ceiling. Ground down firmly through sit bones. Inhale to lengthen through the spine, on the exhale circle chest low over your legs and the floor. Change directions.
13) Bring legs into butterfly pose and flutter knees to reduce any tension in the groin.

Soothing Yoga Poses to Support the Immune System

  • hold each pose for a minimum of 5-10 breaths 
  • begin on the back in heart bed (positioned over a bolster running lengthwise down the mat from head to the base of my spine to encourage chest-opening). You could also use blocks covered by a blanket if you don’t have a bolster, or a rolled up blanket would work too.  
  • apanasana: knees to chest, gentle rocking from side to side
  • reclining pigeon/figure 4, drawing legs toward chest, followed by a supine twist on each side
  • roll up to seated, then butterfly pose
  • side body stretches and gentle seated twists
  • tabletop: flow between cow belly (inhale) and angry cat (exhale)
  • balasana (child’s pose): any variation
  • downward dog, pedalling out the legs
  • step to a forward fold at the top of the mat, gentle sway from side to side
  • half sun salutations (or full sun salutations if you feel up to it) 
  • step to plank, then lower to the belly
  • crocodile, sphinx, and cobra poses, moving from gentle to more intense backbends
  • bow pose: stretches your neck, chest, stomach, and back to encourage better breathing
  • camel pose: opens back and chest even further to promote clear airways 
  • child’s pose
  • stretch onto belly then roll onto back 
  • bridge pose: any variation including supported bridge with block(s) beneath the sacrum
  • apanasana (knees to chest)
  • inversion: waterfall (legs extended to ceiling with a block beneath the sacrum), legs up the wall, or a headstand (use the wall if you are feeling weak). Although a headstand requires a lot of effort, I find that my head always clears when I move from upside down to right side up. 
  • balasana (child’s pose): optional depending on the inversion 
  • savasana (add warm socks and a cozy blanket), a bolster under the backs of the knees can feel great too!
  • meditate for a few moments before closing your practice with at least three OMs

Essential Oils 
Saje makes a variety of essential oil products to support wellness. I love many of their products (their oil blend Yoga is constantly on the go in my house) and I turn to their cold and flu remedies when I’m down and out. I diffuse their Immunity oil while I sleep to clear my nose, and I also use their Immunity oil roller under my nose, on my temples, across my sinuses, and on the glands in my neck. The smell is soothing and helps to clear my congestion. No one has any issues with fragrance in my classroom, so I diffuse Immunity throughout the day there as well. Learn more about Saje’s cold and flu products here. Also, I’ve heard great things about Young Living Thieves essential oil blend. 

Use a Neti Pot
This is an ancient yogic practice that has entered the modern world. Neti pots are available in most pharmacies (such as Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada) and come with packages of salt to which you add distilled lukewarm (or previously boiled–NEVER TAP WATER). Bending over a basin or sink, you pour half the pot through one nostril and let it run through and out the other one. After you’ve irrigated one nostril, you blow your nose and do ten little puffs of air through each nostril individually and then through both nostrils. Then repeat on the other nostril.

Why use a neti pot?
-it thins out and flushes mucus from the nose
-helpful in treating sinus infections, allergy symptoms, and colds
-it leaves you feeling refreshed and breathing easier
-learn more here

Staying Hydrated
I try my best to push fluids constantly. Lots of lemon water (cold and warm) as well as tea. I’m a big fan of David’s Tea all the time, and when I’m sick I turn to their Cold 911 and Throat Rescue teas.

Rest
It goes without saying, but lots of rest is key to a speedy recovery. Take care of yourself and consider spending a day at home in bed. And remember, teacher friends–self care is a priority and a necessity–not a luxury–in the work that we do.

*Please note that these are my personal wellness practices only and not intended as medical advice. Please do not attempt these yoga poses and practices unless you are already familiar with them and have a regular yoga practice. At all times, listen to your body and do what feels best for you.*

Simple Tips and Free Tools to Develop Your Home Yoga Practice

If you are a regular reader of my blogs or follow me on social media, you’ll know that yoga is a huge part of my life. For my entire adult life, I dabbled in the physical practice of yoga on and off, but only in the past four years have I developed a daily practice and become certified as a yoga teacher. I often hear from people that they’d love to start doing yoga too, but they’re unsure of where to begin. This blog post is for you!

If you live in a rural area, yoga studios are few and far between. For my urban friends, sometimes it is just really intimidating to show up at a yoga studio as a complete beginner. Not that it should be–I’ve found yoga communities around the world to be very warm, welcoming, and supportive. But sometimes you just aren’t sure about the level of the class, and practicing beside someone who can do a headstand when you aren’t sure what child’s pose is can be daunting indeed! If you have access to a studio, consider signing up for a “Foundations of Yoga” or beginners’ class. Classes like this will slowly take you through the basics and ensure that you have a thorough understanding of what key poses feel like in your body. If you’re feeling some anxiety, it’s a good idea to talk to the instructor first. Ask if they are comfortable with providing options for yogis of all abilities and if the instructor recommends their class for new yogis.

A few private sessions are not as pricey as you’d think and can go a long way to helping you feel comfortable on your mat. I began my yoga practice with private sessions with a yoga instructor and my best friend. It was a wonderful introduction to the practice and made me realize that yoga was key to managing stress and taking care of myself. But my private sessions were only once a week and I wanted to learn more on my own and practice on a daily basis. I had a couple of friends who mentioned 30 Day Yoga Challenges, so I decided to begin one on my own. Since then, I’ve discovered a number of great online tools, classes, and challenges.

My Favourite Free Yoga Resources

Do Yoga with Me

For the past year, I lived in Victoria, BC, where I became part of a vibrant yoga community. My dear friend, Melissa Krieger, is a well-known Victoria-based yoga teacher with excellent online offerings. I recommend checking out her classes on Do Yoga with Me…there are free classes with Melissa and other talented instructors, and subscription options as well. Melissa also has some fantastic classes on her website, Bloom Yoga, and hosts retreats on beautiful Salt Spring Island twice per year.

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Kayce Yoga’s 30-Day Challenge

Kaycelyn Rosales-Knight was my first yoga teacher–she introduced me to the benefits of the practice and encouraged me to pursue my teacher training.  She teaches in neighbouring communities (Hamiota, Miniota, Shoal Lake) and throughout the year, offers an online 30-day challenge using Facebook as a platform.  Visit her website or follow her on social media for updates on the next challenge and free yoga resources.

Yoga with Adriene

This was my first 30 day yoga challenge and it had a huge impact on me. Although Adriene can be really chatty and somewhat annoying, she does know what she’s talking about. She really encourages you to listen to your body and “find what feels good”. She has tons of free content on her website, and you can sign up to have a weekly class sent to your inbox.

Erin Motz: Bad Yogi

Erin Motz is my one of my favourite online yoga instructors. She is very down-to-earth and accessible for new yogis, but her videos have a nice level of challenge to move you forward in your practice. If you visit her blog, she has lots of free content, and you can also sign up to receive a free weekly class emailed to you. Erin is a huge figure in yoga counter-culture and maintains that we need to take the snobbery and pretentiousness out of yoga–yoga is for everyone and every body type.

What supplies do you need to get started?

Truthfully, you can practice yoga on the floor in your bare feet with no props or mats. However, it is more comfortable with a mat. If you’re not sure that yoga is for you, I’d suggest picking up an inexpensive mat, such as this Gaiam one from Amazon. If you continue to practice and want something more supportive, I’d recommend purchasing a B Mat Strong. These mats are my absolute favourite…learn more in an upcoming post!

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I would also recommend two blocks. You can purchase inexpensive foam blocks that work well, such as these ones for $12 a set. A yoga strap isn’t a must (you can always use a scarf), but a strap is very inexpensive and I always like to have the proper equipment. A strap is invaluable in seated forward fold if you can’t reach your toes yet, and as well as variety of other poses!

Important Points to Remember

They say it takes weeks to develop a new habit, so try and carve out a bit of time each day to explore yoga–even 15 minutes! I prefer to practice in the morning–it is a wonderful start to my day and no matter how crazy my day turns out to be, I’ve already got my yoga in! Pour yourself a cup of  tea or coffee and put some music on…make this a special time for yourself.

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Some days you just won’t feel like doing yoga. For those times, I have a rule that all I have to do is get on my mat and do child’s pose (still wearing my pajamas). Sometimes I’ll stay in child’s pose for ten minutes, but usually it feels so nice that I’m inspired to do more. It’s getting on your mat this is the important part…staying there is easy!

Listen to your body. If it hurts, don’t do it! Pay attention to what your body is telling you. A bit of discomfort in a new pose is normal, but pain is not. And always make sure that your body is warmed up before increasing the demands on it!

Lastly, remember to breathe. Linking breath with movement is what makes yoga the transformative practice it is. And don’t forget to be kind to yourself and enjoy every step of this new journey you have started!