The Problem with Prescribing Yoga Poses

I’m sure you’ve seen some of the ubiquitous YouTube or Instagram yoga videos where a beautiful woman or an Indian Swami tells you exactly how their perfect yoga poses are going to solve all your problems.

Recently, my father told me he clicked on a link to a 30-minute video explaining that one magical yoga pose would make all his low back pain disappear—instantly and forever. In addition to low back pain, my dad has had a few knee operations and lives with a persistent case of post-glory-days football arthritis. He explained the video to me. Apparently, they spent 30 minutes describing how this one pose was the key he’d been looking for his whole life before they finally revealed the magical secret.

Then he described the pose to me. It was Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose).

Yeah, I didn’t see that coming either. He asked for my opinion. I took a long breath. How do you briefly explain that yoga is not a prescription, you can’t take poses instead of pills, and really, you kinda have to spend a little time doing it regularly over time before you start to see real, lasting effects? So, I told him that in addition to being contraindicated for knee pain, it could actually exacerbate his back pain and he’d be better off deleting that video forever and sticking with his PT exercises.

This morning, as I was thinking about writing this blog, and how I’ve recently fielded many requests for yoga to help improve immunity, I realized that yes, sure, I can suggest three poses for greater immunity, no problem.

A Yoga “Prescription” for Boosting Immunity

1. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Purportedly has a beneficial effect on the thymus, and is great for breathing and depression.

Female yoga student practicing bhujangasana cobra pose

2. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose): May be very good for respiration, and builds feelings of strength and courage.

Older male yoga student practicing virabhadrasana I, warrior I pose

3. Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose): Beneficial for the parasympathetic nervous system

Female yoga student practicing viparita karani legs up the wall pose

How Yoga Might Really Help Immunity

And now that we have that out of the way, can we talk about how yoga can really help build immunity?

If you are practicing yoga asanas regularly, as well as utilizing the yamas and niyamas as a decision-making framework, and practicing pranayama and meditation, you are already doing a great job of boosting your immune system. Yay! eight limbs of yoga, yamas, niyamas, yoga for a balanced lifestyle, yoga for improved immunity

Right now is a really good time to do more of all of it. It’s times like this, when things feel out of control and the future is uncertain, that yoga practice can help us feel more grounded, calmer, much more in touch with our spirituality, and able to take things one day at a time with a greater sense of equanimity.

So, the secret to improving immunity is not three poses, it’s actually the cumulative or synergistic effect of using the whole system of yoga, regularly and in earnest. That’s the real immune-boosting secret.

So if you want to build a stronger immune system do more practice, meditate on and implement the yamas and niyamas in your life, eat well, sleep well, work on your relationships, and get a lot of support.

I have no idea if it will prevent you from getting sick.

But I do know one thing for sure – regular, holistic integrated practice of the yoga system will help you remember that when push comes to shove, there are only a few things that matter:

  1. We only have a short time on this planet regardless of when the messenger comes calling to escort each of us home,
  2. Our relationships – with ourselves, our higher power, and with each other are basically the only things that truly matter, and
  3. Every breath is a precious gift.

And I doubt pigeon pose can deliver that all that by itself.

Reprinted with permission from Subtle Yoga.

c-iayt certification logoCommitted to the widespread adoption of yoga as a population health strategy, Kristine Kaoverii Weber, MA, C-IAYT, eRYT500, YACEP has been studying yoga and holistic healing for nearly 30 years advocating, speaking, and teaching about yoga since 1995, and training educators since 2003. Her organization, Subtle® Health, LLC, provides holistic, mind-body training, education, and clinical services with the mission of enhancing community health infrastructure. She is the director of the Subtle® Yoga Teacher Training for Behavioral Health Professionals program at MAHEC in Asheville, NC, presents workshops and trainings internationally, and is frequently invited to speak about yoga at health care conferences. After completing her BA and MA at Georgetown University, Kristine trained extensively in many styles of yoga, including Viniyoga, as well as in Asian bodywork therapy and homeopathy.

She is the author of The Complete Self Massage Workbook and has published articles in the International Association of Yoga Therapist’s journal, Yoga Therapy in Practice, and other wellness publications. Her work has been featured in Redbook, BodySense, Women’s World, Natural Health, and Lifetime TV.

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