The world around us is filled with natural cycles. The sun and moon influence our planet on a daily, monthly, seasonal and yearly basis. We respond to these natural events in a variety of ways: emotionally, spiritually and physically. Sometimes our bodies feel in tune with the cycles; sometimes we feel out of touch with natural rhythms. One of the benefits of a regular yoga practice is the ability to tune our practice to fit particular needs. Adjusting the sequence of asanas we do each day can help to align us with nature’s cycles.
The Winter Season
Winter is a time of hibernation. Plants and animals slow down to conserve energy, biding their time until days grow longer and it’s time to emerge for spring. We often adjust our own patterns in winter, sometimes without realizing it. As night falls earlier, we settle down for the evening, less likely to spend time outside or actively working.
Our yoga practice can serve to enhance winter as a quiet time of introspection and restoration. We can work on calming the body and mind in order to rest completely and efficiently, strengthening our immune system and building up inner reserves.
Hibernating with Yoga
In general, we can be less assertive and energetic with cold weather yoga. Though we do need to warm up the body and keep it moving, we need to spend an equal amount of time restoring energy to avoid depleting ourselves. You may want to practice a little more slowly in winter, paying attention to the subtleties of each pose and how your body responds.
Forward extensions, also called forward bends, tend to be calming poses that support the health of abdominal organs. Include pascimottanasana and similar poses toward the end of your wintertime sequences. You can hold them longer by using bolsters or blankets to provide head support. Inversions, particularly headstand and shoulderstand, are regarded as good for the immune system. They should be part of your regular practice. Restorative poses such as supta baddha konasana and viparita karani can be used to maintain a quiet, inward focus while allowing the body to rest and recover.
For some people, long nights, cold weather and holidays make winter a depressing time of year. Though yoga overall serves to enhance feelings of well being, some poses are more uplifting than others. Usually, backbends are considered energizing poses that open the chest and heart center. Also, a series of sun salutations early in the day is a good way to get started when you feel like you don’t want to face the day. Most of all, pay attention to how you feel emotionally after particular poses or sequences. That will help you fine tune your practice to support your own needs.
Following seasonal cycles will help us feel more in tune with the natural world. Working with nature and using yoga to support our spiritual and physical health during winter will prepare us for the next season, spring.