Everything in nature goes through cycles at a microcosmic as well as a macrocosmic level. We are a reflection of everything that exists. In other words, we are a microcosm of the macrocosm. A great example of this is women’s menstrual cycles and the cycles of the moon. Another one is the seasons. This is the first of a four-piece series we are introducing this year: Embracing the Seasons. In line with the current season in Europe at the time this post is written, we will begin with the winter season.
First, let’s talk a little bit about why seasons are significant in our lives. There are different ways of living that correspond to each season. The seasons play a big role in the way nature influences our internal disposition. City life tends to disconnect us from natural rhythms. Don’t panic – there are many things we can do to attune to the natural cycles of life regardless of where our feet find us!
The first step is to acknowledge our connection to the natural world, and in this way, we also honour the connection to ourselves.
It is common to experience varying feelings at different periods of the year. If you like, take a moment to reflect on what this is like for you. What’s the air like? What about the smells, sounds and sights around you? How does all this influence how you move through your life? Pause, look around outside, feel it, and ask yourself: how are my inner processes connected to all this? What vital part of me comes alive in the winter?
People seem to love summer, and always be active and on the go. No wonder people end up getting burn-outs, not taking the appropriate time to rest and repose which is very much needed. The all too popular dislike of winter hampers people from tuning into the great potential winter can offer. Winter is very yin in its essence, meaning that its qualities are receptive, passive, feminine, cooling, restorative, dark, and quiet. It is a great time to practice serenity, and nourish yourself with peaceful rejuvenating practices, silence, and stillness. You can find lots of yin yoga classes at saktiisha to meet this need.
Remember that in the yin yang symbol, there is a little white circle in the black half, and vice versa, meaning that there is still activity within the overall passivity. This keeps the greater whole in balance. The activity within the passivity we are talking about here is an inner form of activity that takes the form of reflection and restorative practices.
Why practice Yoga in the Winter?
As the seasons come and go, they remind us of the impermanence of it all, which makes a consistent yoga practice very valuable in keeping our centre throughout our experience of an ever-changing world.
The cold weather is likely to make us feel like lazy couch potatoes – a great reason to roll out our yoga mat and beat the winter blues. Yoga creates heat from the inside out and keeps you warm, improves your circulation, reduces cramps and stiffness, boosts your energy levels, immune system and mood, it opens your heart, a voids winter (weight) gain, and keeps you in balance, grounded and strong. What more reasons do you want?
Creating Heat in your Yoga Practice
• If you are feeling cold before your practice, a simple solution is to drink a hot glass of water (feel free to add some lemon, cinnamon, or make it a herbal tea if it tickles your fancy). Now here comes the fun part: a list of yoga practices for you to integrate into your (perhaps daily) yoga practice in the winter season:
• Sun salutations (surya namaskar – a dynamic practice that cultivates heat)
• Activate and energize manipura chakra (the solar plexus) as it is related to the element of fire with poses like boatpose (nabhyasana), cat-cow (marjariasana), camel pose (ustrasana) & triangle pose (trikonasana).
• Standing Twists (they tone the abdominal area)
• Warrior poses (they generate heat as you use a lot of leg and core strength)
• Choose to keep your arms up as much as possible in standing asanas, as doing so tends to increase heart rate and raise your body temperature.
• Agnisara Dhauti (fanning the fire) & Kapalabhati (breath of fire) – if you are not familiar with these practice, ask a yoga teacher to show you
• Practice Heating Inversions such as handstands, forearm balances and headstand.
• Practice Backbends (they are heat-producing) such as bridge pose (setubhendasana), wheel pose (chakrasana) and camel pose (ustrasana)
• And throughout it all, keep that ujjayi (victorious) breathing going to get more lifeforce flowing through your being.
An Ayurvedic Perspective
Adapting your lifestyle, habits, yoga practice and food choices is important when attuning to the change of seasons. From an Ayurvedic perspective, kapha (water & earth) and vata (air) doshas tend to get aggravated throughout the cold, dry, and often wet winter months. This is why colds, improper circulation, joint discomfort and negative feelings are so common for this season. So it’s best to not indulge in kapha & vata foods (dairy, cold drinks etc), and increase your pita intake to up your fire. As a disclaimer, please note that this is a very general statement so please do consult your doctor or ayurvedic therapist if you are currently undergoing any treatment! Everybody is different and one size doesn’t always fit all.
Overall, eating warm and hearty meals is very beneficial for the winter – it is also very likely that you crave this much more than a summery watermelon – lettuce salad!
Great foods to enjoy in the winter that suit the winter season are soups, stews, grains (oatmeal, quinoa, barley and rice), nourishing healthy oils such as of coconut, avocado and olive, and root vegetables (turnips, carrots, turnips etc). Moreover, drink plenty of herbal teas, hot lemon water, and have fun preparing your meals and get funky adding warming spices like cumin, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, fennel, and black pepper.
A little bonus tip to fight the winter blues
Do things that make you happy: organize yoga date nights and get moving – perhaps discover a new winter sport, or make your favourite homemade hot chocolate, put it in a thermos, get all wrapped up and go for a charming winter walk!
Life is what you make of it, so why not embrace the charm of the winter, enjoy winter fashion and dress warm, practice gratitude (this is of course something for every day, every season), journey inwards with reflective and restorative practice, and make it beautiful as can be!
With love always,