As the nights get longer and the winds get stronger, the cold air becomes less inviting and more something we shelter ourselves from. Our desire to stay in, curl up and warm up in a restful way is real and on most occasions should be honored. But in the yoga practice, we always seek balance so at this time of year, lets reverse our thinking a bit. If the tendency is to feel cold, our yoga practice has to heat us up. If when we walk down the street, we round our shoulders and tuck our head down to keep the windy gusts away, then our yoga practice must open our chests, our bellies, and our throats back up. A yoga class during the winter time can sometimes feel like a shock: the body clearly feels more stiff from the cold, but once you find yourself breathing deeply, moving vigorously and opening into poses that reverse the tendencies of the season, you will want nothing more than to sweat and heat things up. Here are a few suggestions of mine to build your inner heat during the cold of winter.
1. Work with a heating pranayama or breath practice as you begin. A favorite of mine is Kapalabati. In a seated position, take a deep breath in and then breathe all the way out. Inhale about half way and then began rapidly drawing your belly (every few second) in toward your spine in a quick rhythm. The exhale will move out of your nose every time your belly draws in. The inhale should be totally passive at this point. You might feel dizzy so it’s nice to stabilize yourself by putting your palm on your belly and feel where you are generating heat. When you finish allow for a deep exhale and then begin to breathe normally. After about two rounds of this pranayama, there are some beads of sweat forming. This kind of internally generated heat is great for you. Avoid this pranayama if you’re pregnant or feeling aggravated/anxiety.
2. Always begin a yoga practice with several rounds of sun salutations. These allow the body to naturally warm up and for blood to flow. It also is a body prayer to the sun. When its cold out, the visual of warming the body in devotion to the hot and healing sun can be mentally very positive. You can find many varieties of sun salutations demonstrated on youtube.com. Allow some of the versions you see to inspire your own way of moving and warming on your mat.
3. As your practice builds, bring in some heart openers. These are the poses that roll the shoulders back, open the belly and chest and allow you to reverse the rounding forward experience of the upper body during the winter months. Here are a few of my favorites.
Winter can be a time that is hard for many of us. We miss warmth and light. Allow the tools of yoga to bring both into your own body and mind this season. We aren’t captive to the season; in fact, this season can inspire us to discover our own version of joy and balance whenever we want it. Namaste!