This Silent Sunday offers a gentle routine to help stave off the season’s bugs. If you are already felled by the flu or captured by a cold, the oils and postures will help ease your symptoms and promote healing. And although the practice is specifically designed for times of illness, it is also a wonderfully effective antidote for general fatigue or doldrums.
Typically, I suggest that any practice begin with a round of active warmups. When sick, however, your entire body may ache, and your initiative likely is low. So, the opening move for the following session is a shower or bath: Use water that is as warm as you can tolerate; the heat will help to relax your muscles and ease congestion.
To heighten the healing effect of a bath, you can add a few drops of any or all of the following essential oils (which also will be used in the next step of the routine): eucalyptus, geranium, and lavender. If you have epsom salts, you can stir the oils into them, and then dissolve the salts into the water. Or, if you choose to shower, you can make a simple scrub out of the salt and oils. Focus the exfoliation on the chest, neck, and upper back, as well as the feet.
After your spa-like warmup, wrap yourself in soft clothing (or pajamas). Place a few drops of your selected oils in some unscented lotion or oil; massage the blend into the feet, ankles, neck, and shoulders. Although a yoga practice is usually done with the feet bare (which enhances detoxification and allows for complete pranic flow), today’s set calls for swaddling yourself in warmth and comfort. After your feet have absorbed the oils, put on toasty socks, ideally cotton or wool.
Next, begin a dynamic version of Seated Forward Bend. The legs are stretched in front of you, feet together and gently flexed (toes toward ceiling). If you are feeling achy or stiff, sit on the edge of a pillow or folded blanket; you may also place a bolster under your knees. Inhale to lengthen up out of the base of your spine; exhale to move the chest forward over the legs. If possible, hold the outer edges of the feet; if not, hold the ankles or shins, or even place the hands on the floor next to your thighs. Inhale, then exhale as you pull yourself forward toward the feet; inhale to come back to your starting position, then exhale forward. Find a steady rhythm that will begin to release the muscles of the back body. Continue for 1 minute.
Now, settle into a traditional forward bend: Ease yourself as far forward and down as possible. You may enjoy the added support of a pillow on top of the legs; then you can rest the entire torso and head on the pillow. Close the eyes, and breathe deeply through your nose. If you are congested, you may initially need to breathe in and out through slightly open lips. Eventually, the eucalyptus will begin to loosen mucous and allow for nasal breathing. Breathe in whatever way allows for the fullest breaths. Remain here for 1 minute.
For the next position, remove the bolsters. Bring the right foot into the groin, so that the sole nestles into the upper, inner left thigh. Extend the left leg out and open at an angle, i.e., into a half-straddle. Turn your entire torso to face the bent right leg; your left side should be in line with the left leg. Slowly try to lay your left side onto the left leg. When you have gone as far as can, allow your torso to bend into the side stretch. Close your eyes, breath as fully and deeply as you can, and settle into the posture for 1 minute. Then, switch legs, and take the stretch to the other side for another minute.
Finally, you are ready for a restorative chest-opener and digestion-soother. Place a folded blanket or firm pillow under your shoulder blades as you lower into a lying position; the bolster should be high enough to allow your shoulders to roll open away from the chest, but low enough to let the head rest comfortably on the floor. Alternatively, you may opt for a thicker bolster that increases the opening of the chest; in that case, you would use another small pillow or rolled towel underneath the head, so that the neck is not strained.
To enhance the calming quality of the posture, slide a bolster under your knees. Your entire abdominal region and pelvis will thus be in the “valley” between your elevated knees and upper body. This position thoroughly relaxes the organs of digestion and elimination, which often become hampered or crampy during illness. Close your eyes, and give yourself an extended svasana of at least 15 minutes.