Winter time can be a challenging time of year.
The sunlight fades, we get the sniffles, and the ‘Winter blues’ can set in. It’s also the time of year when we feel our aches and pains more due to the cold. So we decided to continue our series with 5 Best Yoga Poses to Support You Through Winter.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, affects around 2 million people in the UK. A lack of vitamin D due to less sunlight can cause depression, overeating, sleep problems, and low energy levels. Yoga practice can help boost serotonin levels and other ‘happy hormones.’ Often seen as the ‘sister science of Yoga’ Ayurvedic medicine is a consciousness-based healing system that treats the whole mind, body, and spirit; Ayurvedic doctors prescribe Yoga and meditation for depression.
A 2019 study showed that Ayurvedic style wellness courses are more effective at reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms than holidays.
Yoga also builds strength in the joints. So if you suffer from neck, shoulder, hip, or knee pain, you can reduce painful symptoms with regular Yoga practice.
Ebbing vitamin D levels also depress the immune system, which can make you become vulnerable to colds, flu, and other infections. Yoga can also help to protect you from these illnesses as it is also scientifically proven to boost immunity.
An interesting study conducted by Daejeon University in South Korea showed that doing daily Yoga for 12 weeks “significantly” decreased inflammatory markers and increased immune-related hormones.
The anti-inflammatory effects of Yoga are partly due to the breathing aspect. Research shows that certain pranayama, in its simplest form, can directly affect the central nervous system. Those of you familiar with the Wim Hof method will recognise the strong exhales and breath-holds, these can be seen as a type of pranayama.
Kaphalabhati breathing in particular is a type of pranayama that is suited to surviving the greyness of winter. Kapalabhati is also dubbed ‘breath of fire’ as it helps to create heat in the body.
The technique of kapalabhati entails taking a deep inhale through the nose, followed by short sharp exhales through the nose. A suggestion is 2 exhales a second although the practice still has benefits at a much slower rate. Initially you may find that you run out of breath and have to take a conscious inhale, but over time and with practice it’s possible to find a continual flow of short inhales and exhales.
Kapalabhati breathing creates respiratory and cardiovascular changes in the body. Blood pressure increases, and blood oxygenation increases during the exercise.
The sharp awareness of body and breath in the practice can also focus the mind, creating an almost meditative experience for some.
Please note that if you are prone to any of the following, kapalabhati breathing could be dangerous and is not recommended:
- High or low blood pressure
When you start breathing normally again, you can feel calm, energised, and even euphoric. It’s best to do kapalabhati breathing before Yoga practice and on an empty stomach.
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara)
Surya Namaskar is also referred to as a Sun Salutation, a sequence consisting of 12 asanas choreographed into a fluid, unbroken movement.
Sun salutations are great for winterising because synchronising the breath with each pose and transition increases awareness and calms the mind. This sequence is common across many types of yoga because it focuses on the body as a whole.
The sequence can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73sjOu0g58M, but we’ve also broken it down:
- Tadasana (good for grounding)
- Arms up (stretches the spine)
- Forward fold (stretches the backs of the knees, hamstrings, and spine)
- Step left foot back, then sink into the hips to forward lunge (stretches the psoas muscle)
- Plank (strengthens the core muscles)
- Onto knees and chest to the floor (builds strength in the arms, shoulders, and chest)
- Inhale roll forward onto the belly and up to cobra (stretches the psoas and activates the glutes)
- Exhale, take toes under and up into downward dog (for a delicious full-body stretch)
- Inhale, step right foot back and down into a lunge (stretches the opposite psoas muscle)
- Then up into uttanasana, forward fold
- Back up into tadasana
Sun salutations are ideal for winterising your body because:
- Gets your heart rate moving
- Each pose flows into the next. As you repeat the sequence, you develop a meditative rhythm.
- As you do sun salutations, the movements fit around your breath, which promotes relaxation and calm.
- Pausing in between each round helps you centre yourself and feel grounded.
Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I)
The next Winter asana we recommend is a strong standing pose. Warrior I creates emotional and physical strength. This pose requires you to stand strong with one leg ahead, the other supporting you from behind while lifting your chest.
In this stance, you cultivate a courageous mindset as it takes a bit of stamina to keep it up. The hip flexors (psoas muscle) get a good stretch, which helps to increase the flow of blood, and ‘happy hormones’ can flood the body on release.
Warrior 1 is an isometric exercise, which means you contract the muscles for an indefinite period. Isometric exercises strengthen the muscles and joints and get your heart rate up.
Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Boat pose is another pose that cultivates mental and physical focus. This pose works your core on a deep level as well as the psoas, groin, and lower back muscles.
There’s a bit of an endurance challenge with boat pose as you must work through difficult emotions. You’ll feel like giving up at times. But, pushing on through the discomfort and heat can reward you with feel-good chemicals on release.
This pose also creates heat in the body as you exert energy to hold it.
Revolved Pyramid / Parivrtta Trikonasana
This standing deep-twisted pose generates mental focus as it is challenging. Difficult poses tend to feel uncomfortable. But, using your focus to hold the pose correctly for some time develops concentration and mind-body awareness.
Just like in meditation, revolved pyramid gets you to keep returning your focus on the demands of the pose. To hold the pose you cut through distracting thoughts and emotions which reign in the monkey mind.
Twisting poses also internally massage the digestive organs. The benefit of massaging the intestines is that it improves digestion and produces serotonin. If you didn’t know, 90% of our serotonin receptors are located in the gut. These receptors can release serotonin throughout the central nervous system to produce a sense of calm.
Hand To Big Toe Pose
This balancing pose focuses the mind and improves balance. Physical balance helps to balance emotions. You can only do a hand-to-big-toe pose successfully with a calm mind as you must balance on one leg while holding the big toe of the other leg. Distracting thoughts can take your mind off the demanding task of balancing.
Mastering this pose entails mastering your mind and emotions. At first, you’ll wobble and wane. But, once you become calm and centred in the pose, you can stand firm and steady.
If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start with your leg bent. Then you can gradually work on straightening the leg.
This pose gives the hamstrings a great stretch and builds strength in the legs, feet, and toes.
Get Winter Ready
As you can see, the poses we recommend incorporate an element of physical and emotional mastery. Balancing, holding, and focusing poses train the mind to stay present in the moment and persevere through difficult and uncomfortable feelings. This is great training for processing depression and anxiety.
Always have a brief relaxation time at the end of the practice to give your body some space to integrate the effects of the poses. This can be a wonderfully relaxing and restorative reward after your practice.
Research shows that the benefits of the poses are more effective when practiced regularly. Yes, it can be tricky if you don’t feel very motivated. But, regular Yoga practice will reap the greatest rewards.
You don’t even have to venture out of the house to go to a Yoga class as we have an excellent range of Yoga classes online that are updated weekly. We have classes of all levels and abilities so there should be plenty of content to get you going.
Sign Up Here and get your first 10 days for free. We look forward to seeing you!