In Which I Share Some Thoughts on Winter
Winter is here and there is a heck of a ton more coming. Unfortunately, all we get to relive us from the frigid Siberian depression of what is objectively the year’s worst season is a brief holiday break. Once” the most magical time of year” passes we’re all at the icy winter mistress’s mercy until we can finally pretend that spring is on its way in March. So, in a bid to make the darkness more bearable, I offer to you some escapist yoga for you to try when you fire up your SAD light-therapy lamp and force yourself into a kinder, gentler, warmer headspace.
Winter Issue: Feasting
You went into full-on bear mode and decided to try either hibernating or eating your way through winter (whichever comes first). We get it, we’ve all been there. One minute it’s all eggnog and holiday cheer by the fire, and the next it’s leftover ham and boy scout popcorn in your dark winter shame cave.
But introducing rich decadent foods (and regret) into our diet even just occasionally can lead to bloating and unease. Twists are a great way to cleanse digestion and keep the body running at optimal speed. My favorite twists for when I have indulged (ok fine, binged) are half lord of the Fishes (Ardha Matsyendrasana) and Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
Escapist Fantasy: Okay, so you’re a bear. But you’re a full-on take charge kind of bear, not a tubby root chomping Panda or tree dwelling marsupial wannabe. You’re doing twists now because of your past actions, but from here on out it's all catching salmon with your bare hands (get it?) for breakfast.
Winter Issue: Stressful Job
Work is stressful. Or worse, it’s boring. Coming in out of the cold to sit under flickering fluorescents and drink stale coffee eight hours a day is beginning to feel as exactly pointless as it sounds. You need a distraction but photocopying body parts never really appealed to you, and the joy that you used to get from that adorable kitten telling you to “hang in there” is starting to feel empty and hollow inside.. What to do? Give it all up to tell everyone to go to hell and start that secluded Himalayan yak farm (ranch??) like you’ve always said you would?
Maybe! But first, why no transition in to focusing on yourself with some forward folds? Forward folds are a great way to allow the body to relax, look in on itself and calm the nervous system. Refocusing energy at this time of year is going to be vital to make the most of the that sweet time off. Hang out a little extra in Standing Forward fold, Ragdoll (Uttanasana), or release some tension in the heart and shoulders with extended puppy pose (anahatasana).
Escapist fantasy: You’ve strung your hammock between a couple of palms and embraced a routine that makes you at peace with doing next to nothing. The kitten’s there too. You've patched things up and become best friends. You're talking about running a sushi fusion food truck together: Hanging in There
Winter Issue: Winter Blues
Rarely do I meet someone who claims that this cold season is their favorite. When I do, it's a clear sign that they’re a masochists or a liar. I feel a great sense of bleak solidarity in knowing that there are a bunch of us just slogging through, praying that the temperatures will be above Zero some day. Obviously the solidarity only warms you so much, and once it runs out most of us are just...sad. So sad and so cold. Options? Moving to a sunnier tropical climate sounds great, but may not be in the cards. Besides, somehow this girl managed to get a vitamin D deficiency living in Spain, so annecdotal experience shows it may not even be the answer anyways. You can count on some holiday cheer to maybe push you through, but some things are harder to shake off than that dirty snow packed into the arch of your shoe (you know what I mean...right?). So what do we do, hole up and take it easy till summer?
No! Winter has a hard time hitting a moving target. It may be tempting to take a more relaxed approach to your practice, but if you keep things moving not only will you create energy in the body you will also keep warm when it’s so chilly outside. Downward-facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is a staple in many practices, and has a great benefit of calming the nervous system and building some fire in the upper body. Wheel/Upward Facing Bow (Urdhva Dhanurasana) is also a great option. It will help open the heart, get the blood flowing and give your back a nice workout.
Escapist fantasy: All the sun? Sure! But this isn’t some easy, relaxing, lounging on the beach fantasy… No, this one is hardcore. Feel freel to picture some kayaking, surfing, skydiving, or gator wrestling if you like. If you can film this fantasy to sell energy drinks you’re on the right track.
Winter Issue: Overwhelming Family
You thought you'd escaped, but here they are, here you are, and don’t you all feel just so damned obligat… happy to see each other? If you're having people over the stress of cleaning and keeping up appearances is going to get to you before anyone even shows up, and if Home Alone has taught me anything it's that traveling is just setting the stage for an epic tragicomedy or tight psychological thriller (which one of those is that movie??).You may be past the age of having your cheeks pinched, or sitting at the kids table, but no you’re still not sure when youre getting married or having kids so OH DEAR GOD WILL YOU STOP ASKING?
Having peace of mind and a calm attitude walking in will help you be less defensive, or sensitive to judgement from your nosy aunts/sisters/cousins/uncles and neighbours that are always at your house for some reason. You’re serenity is guaranteed to either put everyone in a good mood, or catch them so completely off guard they just won’t know what to do with you. Either way, you’re golden and free to coast through the holidays on your cloud of not giving a (redacted). Being grounded and confident in yourself is going to be what gets you through all of the chaos, so make sure to work in your practice when you can.
I suggest working on some balance poses and some inversions. As these can be very difficult, they are a great way to not only build confidence and strength, but can help create stability and playfulness. Work in some Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana) as the extra fold can help calm the nervous system and there are many variations for any level, and for an inversion I highly suggest Plow Pose or Halasana for its benefits to the nervous system. Also work in the variations you can do by extending your legs upwards.
Escapist Fantasy: You're on that memorable family vacation. The one where they all went to Florida, but you got on the wrong plane or something and spent your time trashing a fancy New York hotel room and catching up with some old friends/home invaders.
To Sum Up
Whatever may stress you out at this time of year, just know that yoga will always be there for you, ready, and waiting. If you are spending this holiday season alone or away from family I would recommend finding a new-to-you local class to go to. Many studios will be closed on the big days but the flipside is that many people will be off on holiday so those that aren’t won’t be as crowded. This is great as you can get some more time 1 on 1 with the instructor, and it’s a great place to chill out with a smaller more intimate group. If you are traveling and want to get out of the house, check out a local studio, most all of them have “drop in” classes and it would be great to try something new in a different environment.
Besides, you’ll want to get in there now. Assert your dominance and stake out your claim for when everyone starts flocking in sometime in early January...