Yoga for the Coldest of Days
Yoga for the cold! Brrrr. As the temperature in New York and elsewhere refuses to creep above 21 today (and feels like 10F with windchill), many of us are housebound, cold, and perhaps a bit grumpy. While warm tea and soup certainly helps, I find there is nothing like movement to really take the chill off. I generally do force myself to stay active outside, even on the coldest days, but I have been cleansing as well as fighting off a cold, making me feel more cold and less willing to brave the great outdoors. I practiced this yoga sequence today and felt thoroughly stretched, strengthened, and toasty warm!
Stand at the front of your mat with your eyes closed in mountain pose. Begin breathing with ujjayi breath. This breath not only helps to concentrate the mind but it also creates and stokes the internal fire. If you are unfamiliar with this breath, inhale and then as you exhale open your mouth and make a whispered “ha” sound. Feel the breath at the back of your throat. Then close your mouth and try to create this sound on both inhalation and exhalation.
Saluting the sun (and again, creates internal heat!)
- Inhale. Raise your arms over your head and look up to your hands.
- Exhale. Fold forward over your legs and touch the floor. (It’s a good idea, especially in colder weather, to soften your knees if you are tight and/or use blocks under your hands.)
- Inhale. Lengthen your spine and gaze forward
- Exhale. Step your right leg back to a lunge
- Inhale. Step your left leg to meet your right in plank pose
- Exhale. Lower down to a hovering Chatarunga, or to your belly if need be
- Inhale. Draw the chest through the arms into Upward Facing Dog or Cobra
- Exhale. Press back to Downward Facing Dog. Stay here for five long, slow, smooth, ujjayi breaths. Don’t rush this part. Feel the body in stillness, and make the breath as smooth and even as possible. At the end of the fifth exhalation, step the right foot forward into a lunge.
- Inhale. Step the left foot forward and lengthen your spine
- Exhale. Fold into Uttanasana (standing forward bend)
- Inhale. Sweep the arms up over the head and come up to stand
- Exhale. Return to Mountain Pose at the the front of your mat.
Repeat this 3 more times, alternating which leg you step forward and back with. You can also choose to jump back the 3rd and 4th time if you are familiar and comfortable with that, although I always like to start with the step back and step forward versions first (especially when the body is not as warm).
Now open sideways on your mat and take a wide stride. Turn your right foot 90 degrees out and turn your left foot 10 degrees in (or not at all). Line up your right heel with the instep of your left foot and then stretch your arms out from the center of your chest. Bend your right knee tracking over your second and third toe and come into Warrior 2. Lots of work to be done here. Keep the front leg externally rotating and the back leg slightly internally rotating. As the left thigh internally rotates and moves back, scoop your tailbone and your right buttocks flesh under. Feel a subtle twisting of your abdomen from right to left and tone your left waistline back as you gaze past the middle finger of your right hand. Hold up to one minute. Lift all ten toes off the floor and feel the power in your legs… Phew!!
Now start to slide your left hand down your left leg into a REVERSE WARRIOR. This lateral pose will open up the breath in each nostril, evening out the sun and moon channels, regulating your body temperature and more. Hold for 5 breaths and then come all the way up to two straight legs. Pivot your feet and switch sides. Repeat on the second side.
Come again now to the top of your mat in mountain pose. Take the arms straight up over the head and make the arms sharp, reaching through the fingers and hugging skin to muscle and muscle to bone all along the arms. Bend the knees and sit back in an imaginary chair for UTKATASANA. Stay 8 breaths.
Exhale and fold over your legs into a standing forward bend. Inhale and look up, as you exhale bend you knees and place your palms flat on the floor, jumping back to Plank or Chatarunga as gracefully as possible. Inhale through upward dog and exhale into downward dog.
Step or jump! Through to sit down and bend your knees into your chest. Hold the backs of your thighs and begin to take the feet off the ground for the beginning stages of NAVASANA (boat pose). If you are feeling strong here, straighten your legs. Hold for 5 breaths and then hug the knees into the chest, rest, and then repeat 2-4 more times.
Lie on your back. Bring your legs into HAPPY BABY and pause. Feel the heat created in the body, and notice the effect of even a short yoga practice, physically and otherwise. Take a moment to simply observe the breath moving in and out. Allow a feeling of peace and gratitude to wash over you. The temperature will rise, this too shall pass. Honor the seasons as we also honor the natural cycles of our bodies.