Welcome Winter

 

The change in season always, always throws me into a flurry, usually I’m mourning the sudden ease that comes with getting out of bed in Summer or lamenting that didn’t go to the beach enough once Autumn arrives or get a chance to wear my favourite coat enough come Spring time.

As the seasons shift it honestly feels as though I may never swim again, ridiculous, I know, especially as my husband and I will be escaping to India during winter’s coldest part this year!  Come September, the anxiety of not being able to wear boots and a skirt (one of my favourite things) will soon come. 

It shouldn’t be like this, a change in season like all changes offers us a fresh start, a new beginning, renewal and a chance to live a different life for a while. This post is part celebration of Winter time’s glory, part survival guide from a Yoga and Ayurveda perspective. 

Food and Drink

My little habits change with the seasons in summer I love to drink water with torn mint leaves in it for its cooling and refreshing properties in winter this is swapped for warm water with a knob of fresh ginger for its cleansing and warming properties.

Ginger is imperative in winter, not only will you need it for endless cups of chai but, I like to use fresh ginger for all day hydration, a 20 cent sized piece in a mug with hot water, if you prefer dried ginger (bought as loose ginger tea if you are unsure of what I mean) is also good, much stronger in flavour and therefore warming and if you know which mind/body constitution you are in Ayurveda and are Pitta (fire) dosha, I would stick to the fresh stuff and reuse the same piece of ginger it becomes weaker the more you use it.

 If you feel you are fighting off a cold or flu try drawing a bath and adding 1/3 cup of dried ginger and 1/3 cup of baking soda and take a soak, watch your eyes though! 

Avoid cold drinks, drink even plain water warm (this helps remove more toxins from your system) and use warming spices such as cinnamon (perfect on porridge) cloves, turmeric and black pepper. Eat warming, slightly spicy foods such as curries and soups, we need more food in winter than we do in Summer, so try eating a larger than normal lunch and keep the evening meal the same size for better night time rest. 

I know we always say not to eat 2 to 3 hours before a yoga practice, you may find that in winter you need some nuts or dried fruit closer to your practice. (or even a cup of hot cacao or sweet milky, chai, unless you are Kapha (water) dosha as dairy is mucous producing and in winter we are trying to minimise mucous in Kapha.

Prepare meals mindfully, I particularly love meals in winter that take all day to cook such as slow cooked soups and curries that fill the house with warmth and delicious smells. Have a go at making chai- it is beautiful to look at and there is nothing quite like homemade chai!

Mornings

Sleep in a little later, in Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, it is said in winter to not rise before 7am. Winter is a time to be more withdrawn from the outside world, sleeping in is totally fine, I generally find that while in Summer it is easy to get up and practice yoga, I prefer to practice later in the day, usually after work. There is less chance of injury then, too much movement on freezing mornings can be dangerous for the body, a later afternoon or  evening practice can also be quite a nice way of flaming the digestive fire before the evening meal and warming up before winding down for the day.

If you a prone to stiff joints and for all round health, massage warm sesame oil all over your body in the mornings. Sesame Oil is known as the “king” of oils due to the levels of antioxidants present. I cover myself in sesame oil each day and leave it on but you can massage it in and leave for 20 or so minutes before showering. It is warming, grounding and fabulous for those sore parts. 

*with all oils always by cold pressed, organic oils not just sesame oil from the supermarket any health food store should be able to help. 

Yoga/Pranayama

I like to start winter practices with Surya Namaskar (sun salutes) or another type of vinyasa (flow) creating heat and opening up the heart, 6 x repetitions each side. While in Summer I would favour longer holdings and more cooling asana in winter I practice much more dynamically and leave time for a long savasana under a thick yoga blanket, make sure you rug up as it’s always surprising how fast and how much we cool down with the stillness of savasana. (any blanket is of course fine but the blankets found at most yoga schools are really snuggly available at yoga prop stores or  a little tip- camping stores). 

Practicing pranayama which builds heat and gets rid of mucous and toxins on the lungs is ideal in winter, practices such as Bhastrika or Kapalabhati creates energy as well as detoxifying the respiratory system especially if you know you are prone to coughs, colds and other Kapha disorders.  

Enjoy the opportunity to spend long days in front of the fire, relish in the cups of tea and wear skirts and boots as much as you can before the swimming season hits!

 

With warmth, Namaste xxx 

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Home Practice: Part 1

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Recently some friends have been asking me for suggestions for doing yoga at home- how to sequence asana and what makes a pretty solid practice. So I thought I would share some of what I know, on the advice of my best friend, Brooke :). I think attending regular classes for at least the first year of your practice is imperative and checking back with a teacher frequently is also very important. It is so easy to form bad habits and much harder to correct them, bad habits can also result in injury or muscle imbalances. I also think that the best yoga resourse is BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga which includes weekly practices and detailed intstruction on how to perform asana correctly. It is considered the yoga bible 🙂 

Some Notes

Do not perform inversions when menstruating, the consensus is still out on whether practicing inversions during menstruation can result in polycystic ovaries syndrome or endometriosis but it is a long held belief that it does. For some women menstruation can be a time of low energy and its important to listen and honor your body’s messages. Menstruation is considered apana vayu one of the five vital forces, apana vayu is considered downward and outward energy and it is thought that inversions contradict this flow of energy in the body. You may also feel that backbends or twists disturb your period so be curious about your body and listen to its responses. A dynamic practice leading up to and post your period is highly recommended and beneficial.

Sequencing, is very important you can’t forward bend of twist until you have sufficiently lengthened the spine . Generally speaking a good way to sequence poses is a small warm up, standing poses, inversions, backbends, twists and then forward bends. Always seal your practice with savasana and paying gratitude to yourself for making an investment in your health and wellbeing. 

I like to work with the lunar cycle as the moon has a powerful effect on our energy levels and moods. During full moon week my practice has an emphasis of on backbends and twists, during the waning moon it is forward bends, new moon inversions and waxing moon is standing pose week. In saying this it is important to have a well rounded daily practice that incorporates elements from the above list. 

Practice

I have heard lots of people say they practice Sun Salutations or Surya Namaskar (see image below) on a daily basis but nothing else. This is great and 2 x rounds of Surya Namaskar can be a great warm up but too much Surya Namaskar can really overwork the shoulders and under work the legs, so I would advise to add a few standing poses- you even build in some standing poses into the vinyasa or flow of postures. For a home practice I do believe it is a great start, it is easy and intuitive to move with the breath and can easily be adapted for those that require it. 

When you come to step 5. the lunge you could easily come into virbhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) and trikonasana (triange pose) and the same on the second side.

Virabhadrasana 2. see the torso remains over the hips and the knee moves more to the little toe edge side of the foot so you don’t roll in on your ankles.
Trikonasana, fore most people coming to the shin with a light horse shoe grip is better then straining to come to the floor. See the back heel is in line with the front foot instep. Feel you rotate the lower ribs around to make your torso more parallel to the ceiling. If it troubles your neck to look up, simply look forward or down.

In the morning it is best to practice dynamic energetic poses to wake up the body and light the fire in your belly. While if you find yourself practicing in the evening make it a more passive practice and always try to not eat for two hours before a practice. On recommendation from my yogi friend Dominique some almonds, seeds and dried fruit is a great little energy booster if you think you may pass out during your practice! Especially in winter be mindful that you have enough energy. Everyday at some point I practice supta padangusthasana, I find it lengthens and stabalises the lower back and can be a great way to really evaluate how the body feels on a daily basis. 

Supta Padangusthasana. You can easily use a belt or dressing gown belt as a strap. Starting with both feet to the wall can be a great assistance, don’t forget about the down leg, its your foundation. Don’t let the down hip lift when taking the leg out to the side think about anchoring through the down hip and buttocks.

This is a good start, but a well rounded practice involves additional hip openers, abdominal work, deeper back and forward bends, but I think this a is a good start to taking your practice home. spending some time lying out on your mat to begin with watching your breath is a nice addition. Remembering that yoga isn’t just physical postures and if you wanted to take your practice to the next level BKS Iyengar’s Light on Pranayama is a great introduction to breathing exercises. Our breath is a wonderful tool and can have profound effects on our health and wellbeing. 

I’ll continue to post suggestions for your home practice, but remember some days simple legs up the wall may be all you need. Happy yoga-ing but remember yoga is devotional practice so always come to the mat practicing ahimsa or non-violence, you are your greatest teacher. 

Namaste xxx