December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Yoga.

The Winter Solstice marks the beginning of a season that brings cold snow and rain to many parts of the United States.  Cozying up to a fire with tea and a warm blanket sounds divine as the nights are long and the hours of daylight short.  Finding the motivation to get your body and soul moving on your yoga mat can be a great challenge.  This coming season is time of reflection and slowing down, but it does not mean hibernation from your practice.

Restorative or yin yoga might be just the styles of yoga to keep you on your mat during the long winter days.  Restorative encourages relaxing in restful poses, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous and immune systems.  It lowers blood pressure and heart rate, not unlike what happens to animals that hibernate during the colder months.  Yin yoga involves longer holdings and fewer asanas than many other styles.  It focuses on stimulating the connective tissue, rather than the muscles that are utilized so readily in other practices.  The asanas in yin yoga are often named differently than in other Hatha yoga styles, and can be held for a length of one to twenty minutes.

Here are some suggested poses and the reasons for doing them during the winter months:

Viparita Karini: This restorative pose is great for helping circulation in the legs which might not get used as often during the snowy/rainy days.  It also is fantastic for relaxation and is an alternative position for the body during Savasana.

Ardha Matsyendrasana: A spinal twist is a great way to energize the back of the body and awaken the organs. With winter’s less active lifestyles, we tend to spend more time seated and neglect the spine and internal organs.  Spinal twists of any seated or supine variety are a great way to keep these parts of the body alive and stimulated.

Uttanasana:  Many people find the shorter days during winter and the minimized day light bring on feelings of sadness and depression.  Forward bends are a way to counter these negative emotions and gently raise energy.  In addition, forward beds stretch the spine and the hamstrings which need it during sedentary winter months.

Utkatasana: If you wish to keep up strength in your legs and bring in some warmth to your practice this asana is a great way to fire up your legs and breath.  Chair pose can keep your legs active and is an excellent choice for people who ski or snowboard during the snowy season.

Supta Baddha Konasana: It is important not to forget our hips, Supta Baddha Konasana provides a restorative way to stretch the muscles of this joint.  It is said that many emotions are held within the hips and keeping them healthy is a way to help keep our minds healthy too.  Supporting the knees with bolsters can lessen the tension on the back in this asana and increase the restorative nature of the pose.

Whether you are a power or yin yogi it is important to keep the body moving during all seasons of the year.  However, we also should pay attention to the changes in our environment and adjust our practice accordingly.  As always, you are the best judge of your body and what asanas feel appropriate.  It is important to always remember ahimsa, especially to one’s self, and never overdo asanas that are within our practice, or include asanas that are above our abilities.  May the winter months find you slowing down on your mat, and enjoying the wonder of this restorative season.


Author: Nancy Alder
Image: Unsplash/Maria Shanina

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