YOGA FOR WINTER
"With every season our daily routines require adjustment to stay in synchronicity with nature. Yoga practice, daily habits and diet adapt to remain in optimal shape. "
- Ani Naqvi
In winter, plants and trees die and animals go into hibernation. The air is cold and wet, it's dark and still outside and life slows down and goes for a long sleep in nature.
Affect in Ayurveda
Ayurveda, claims there are three main types of energies (doshas), Vata, Pitta and Kapha. People have one or more doshas predominant and each season has a dominant dosha. Winter has the qualities of the dosha, Kapha. These qualities include cold, wet, heavy, slow, steady, still and earthy.
During winter we have a tendency to take on these qualities and this can aggravate Kapha. Ayurveda is about balance so to ensure that Kapha dosha is regulated we must counteract this. If we do not change at this time, this is reflected in our mental, physical and emotional health.
Aggravated Kapha is responsible for depression, laziness, heaviness, lethargy, sluggishness, drowsiness and melancholy. This can lead to severe depression if left unchecked.
We can be prone to weight gain; many of us pile on the pounds due to a slower metabolism and digestive disorders. Water retention or oedema from stagnant lymphatic drainage is also a Kapha disorder.
The seat of Kapha resides in the chest, and Kapha is responsible for mucus creating colds, coughs, runny noses, and congestion in the chest, asthma and bronchitis.
All of these are typical illnesses around wintertime.
With a few changes to your routines, you can combat this and transition smoothly into the new season with ease and comfort.
There are a number of these outlined in the yoga texts but one that is particularly good and easy to do is Jala Neti, an ancient yogic technique used to fight common colds, flu and allergies this winter. You need to buy a neti pot first. Then warm some filtered/bottled water to lukewarm temperature and add some Himalayan pink salt to the water. Enough so you can taste a little salt in the water but not too much. Think of the same salinity as your tears. Then pour the water into the neti pot at least half way or just below the spout. Stand in front of the bathroom sink, legs wide apart and feet parallel to each other. Tilt your head to the side and plug one nostril with the tip of the neti pot and slowly pour into one nostril. You should stand a little forward so that the solution goes only through the nose and comes out through the other nostril. The solution shouldn’t burn so long as it’s not too salty but salty enough, then repeat the same on the other side. This aids in keeping the seat of germs and diseases in the nose clean. It’s also good to help keep the ears, nose and throat passage clean from germs and practiced daily this will keep you cold and flu free all season.
Drink hot drinks with ginger and a pinch of cayenne pepper to help sluggish digestion. Eat cooked, hot food, warming soups and fresh vegetables.
Hot, pungent, spicy foods are great for winter.
Avoid too many whole grains such as rice, pasta and bread or ‘sweet' foods as they are called in Ayurveda as these all increase Kapha Dosha.
Especially avoid all dairy, milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, cream etc as these all increase Kapha and mucus in the body.
Have warm baths and indulge in saunas as we want to avoid damp but dry heat is good.
Balance the season with energising and heating cardio exercise and activity to avoid the worst excesses this winter and you'll stay bright during these dark months.
yoga during winter
During winter a dynamic, heating yoga practice works well to pacify Kapha. Creating heat combats cold, and an energetic practice counteracts the lethargy and laziness of the season. Make sure it's mindful. Stick to practices that focus on warming breaths and move between positions in a flow with full awareness.
Start your morning with a vigorous round of eight sun salutations, this will help build up a sweat, keeping the lymph flowing and detoxifying the body through sweating.
Next, incorporate some inversions into your practice as well as some chest openers to prevent stagnant fluid from build up. Chest openers are energisers, which is what we need now.
Uttanasana, is a forward bend that not only helps with elimination and digestion, but also helps move the lymph around the body. As a standing inversion, it's particularly good.
Stand in Tadasana, (feet together, straight spine, head, neck and back), raise the arms up while inhaling, slowly bending from the waist come down into a slow forward bend, exhaling on the way down. Bend your knees if you need to so as not to put any strain in the lower back. Hold for a couple of breaths then continue with Surya Namaskar, (Sun Salutations).
Sarvangasana, (Shoulder stand ) is excellent as it helps the movement of lymph as well as keeping the thyroid function efficient; this, in turn, assists with alleviating depression. Ensure you support your head and neck adequately with this inversion, as it can be easy to hurt yourself. As always do with full awareness and concentration, slowly and carefully.
Lie on your back with your head, neck and upper shoulders supported with three or four blankets. Ensure your chin is tucked in towards your chest so your neck is long. Place your hands under the small of your back then raise your legs together so they are at a ninety degree angle. Use your hands and legs to now move your lower back off the mat and support your lower back with your hands as you stay in the final position. Stay in the final position, making sure you’re comfortable and without pain for 2-5 minutes and then slowly come down vertebrae by vertebrae, with the lower back to come down last. Once you’re back to the ninety degree position, you can slowly lower your legs.
Start with a gentle preparation to backbends with Salabhasana (Locust), this is a good preparation for our next chest opener.
Lying prone on the floor with your arms outstretched in front, inhaling lift the legs and arms up a little away from the floor engaging the abdominal muscles. Feet and legs are together but arms are out straight then exhale down.
Bhujangasana (Cobra) is a stronger chest opener, it helps alleviate Kapha congestion in the chest and strengthens immunity.
Again lying prone on the floor, place the hands next to the shoulders and inhale slide the upper half of the body up with shoulders and chest wide and open. Exhale back down slowly.
Dhanurasana (Bow)is the strongest of all the chest openers and should be completed last in the sequence after adequate preparation with the two asanas prior.
Lie on your belly with your hands alongside your torso, palms up. (You can lie on a folded blanket to pad the front of your torso and legs.) Exhale and bend your knees, bringing your heels as close as you can to your buttocks. Reach back with your hands and take hold of your ankles (but not the tops of the feet). Make sure your knees aren't wider than the width of your hips, and keep your knees hip width for the duration of the pose.
Inhale and lift your heels away from your buttocks and, at the same time, lift your thighs away from the floor. This will have the effect of pulling your upper torso and head off the floor.
Hold for a few breaths and repeat three times.
We end our practice with lying on our back, as our final asana is always Shavasana (Corpse Pose).
In winter Surya Bhedana (Right Nostril Breathing), Bhastrika and Kapalabhati Pranayama heat up the body, help to energise and are good to practice. If you find yourself overly stimulated after these heating pranayamas, do a few minutes of Nadi Shodan (alternate nostril breathing) to quieten down prior to meditation.
As per Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 2 verse 31/32 "Look with fixed eyes at a minute object with concentration till tears are shed is called 1Trataka by teachers" Also, "By Trataka all diseases of the eyes are removed and sloth etc are overcome".
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ani is a writer, yoga teacher, Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant and English Teacher. She is passionate about all things esoteric and combines this with her other great love of writing. Ani is London born, she loves to travel and lives part of the year in Sri Lanka and part in Europe with her Italian husband, Andrea who is also a yoga teacher. Together they have their own wellness and yoga retreat in Italy.