Warm Up Your Practice

The days and nights are cold and the sun, although present, is not very warming at this time of year in the northern hemisphere. Winter officially begins on December 21st – the Winter Solstice, and until then the days get shorter and shorter. Then, like magic, they start to lengthen day by day in such tiny increments that it’s difficult to notice. Short, cold days can make it difficult to find motivation for fitness or generally rolling out of bed. To counter the chill in the air here are some way to bring warmth and light into your yoga practice.

Heat Up Your Practice

When it is cold out there and the opportunity to be outside is slimmer than other months, I like to turn the heat up on the mat. My flows become more common than a hatha practice and I add variety into my vinyasa with more strength than flexibility work. By keeping the pace up and challenging myself with difficult pose varieties the heat comes from within and in a matter of minutes I’m removing a layer.

Awkward Chair Squats

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Some easy options to incorporate into your yoga practice include adding squats in awkward chair pose. Stand in chair with your feet hip distance, on the in breath stand up and squeeze your glutes pushing your hip points forward (this builds heats and tones the glutes), on the next breath, squat back into chair.
Add rounds of 10 squats at the beginning of your three Surya Namaskar B’s/Sun Salutation B’s to create fire in the lower body. Move with the breath.

Chaturanga Push Ups

Chaturanga push ups, or double dips. This can be done on the knees or from full plank. On the exhale lower down to chaturanga, hold and hover there until the breath is fully out, on the inhale push down into the floor through both hands with fingers spread wide, and push back into plank. One is enough for me, but if you have the power and energy do two or more at a time. Watch your form and drop the knees if the body isn’t straight.

Handstands at the Wall

If like me, you require the use of a wall for handstand as you build up your skill and confidence to move to the middle of the room, then begin a practice by doing handstands at the wall. The hop up into the pose is warming in its own right and to hold and build endurance using the wall for balance will teach the body the tone that is needed to hold the body upright, upside down. Do not simply allow the legs to rest on the wall creating a banana curve in the back, that relies on the wall too much meaning that no engagement is occurring in the muscles of the lower body. Instead, move one leg slightly away from the wall, over the corresponding hip, then try bringing the second leg over the hip until you are in a vertical handstand. Likely, your legs will float right back down to the floor, if that’s the case then try again. Be sure to alternate the leg you kick up with, do not favor the stronger leg. Rest in child’s pose, balasana, afterwards for 5-10 breaths.
If handstands aren’t something that you feel ready to practice, then you can substitute kick ups from three-legged-dog. Begin in three-legged-dog, walk the lower foot in slightly closer to the hands and bend that leg’s knee. Come on to the ball of the standing leg foot and do little hops, kicking your heel to your butt. Land lightly! That is key, land with a bent knee and try to land as softly as you can. Do five on each side.
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Light the Way

There are times in the winter when a mug of hot chocolate and good book sound better than anything and the same idea is true of yoga. Sometimes a fiery vinyasa flow is needed, sometimes a slow, restorative practice with mounds of bolsters and blankets is what warms the heart. For these types of classes lighting a nice scented candle, or lots of tea lights is an excellent way to bring peace and serenity to what is already a calming practice.
The glow of real candles is beyond relaxing, but could be dangerous to have around if going into savasana, especially if you’re sometimes prone to falling asleep in savasana as I am! If you are going to use real candles, I suggest investing in natural, soy, hand poured candles and having someone else in the house when you burn them and practice yoga.
An alternative to practicing with lit candles are to use battery operated ones. I have around 20 that I bought second-hand for my wedding that I use for special candlelight yoga classes. Their glow is nice, although can’t match a real candle, the downside is the wastefulness using something that is battery-powered. Another alternative could be to use Christmas lights in your yoga space as a soothing form of lighting.
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It is easy to become lethargic on cloudy, cold days. To desire to bundle up and lay around, and although that is beneficial in its own right, it is also extremely beneficial to keep your yoga practice consistent through all seasons and temperatures in order to create a habit of practice and drill the discipline of rolling out your yoga mat multiple times per week.

Hygge Yoga

Hygge (hooga) is popping up everywhere this winter season, but if you’re looking at that mashup of consonants with a furrowed brow let me explain it a bit. The word is Danish and expresses an idea of warm & cozy during the winter months. Take a moment, close your eyes, and think of what makes you feel warm & cozy on a dark, cold winter night. Candles? Christmas lights? Hot chocolate? Reading in sweatpants under a blanket? That’s hygge.

As someone who generally dislikes winter and would much rather be on a hot beach than on the slopes I received the idea of hygge with big open arms. I’m comfortable self diagnosing that I suffer slightly from SAD – seasonally affective disorder, or in my case – being grumpy and mopey in the winter.  So when I recently learned of the idea of hygge, I embraced it completely and began to prominently incorporate it into my yoga classes.

Here’s how to have a fantastically hygge yoga:

  • small talk – It can be common to go to a yoga class as a student and not speak with anyone the majority of the time that you’re there. A major part of warding off the winter blues is to create a sense of community, so make an effort to talk with some fellow students or the teacher. Learn people’s names and small talk for a while. Chances are you’ll be seeing the same people at the next class, so there’s potential for building a friendship. If you primarily have a home practice, invite a friend over to practice with you and have some tea afterwards.
  • blanket bundle – Starting class seated cross-legged or in Sukasana is the general way I do things. From here I chat with students, give my intention, and bring them into their breath. To have a hygge experience, suggest to students that they wrap a blanket around their shoulders. Dim the lights or have only soft lighting on for an added touch.
  • vinyasa flow – Yin or restorative yoga might come to mind when thinking about a winter yoga class, and they have their own place, but to feel heated and warm from the inside out, it’s important to flow. Warming up and continuing to vinyasa flow will keep your muscles warm and open and allow you to go to your deepest edge in your practice. The body heat of the class will warm the room up and have everyone feeling hygge in no time.

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  • slow it down – During the cool down of your practice light candles or dim the lights. If you like to practice with music, make sure that your playlist includes some mellow, sleepier tunes to put on during cool down and Savasana. Be careful if practicing alone, opt for Christmas lights over a candle if there’s a chance you might accidentally fall asleep.

If in Busan, come to my yoga classes to delight in the experience of hygge yoga! Class information can be found in the events section of the Busan Yoga & Meditation page.

Winter Solstice Event

Winter can be a long and cold time of year. The days are short and chilly and unfortunately, most of us are trapped inside for the short precious hours of daylight by a job or school. It’s not very easy in the winter months to get out there and feel the sun on your face without simultaneously feeling wind chill. More so even if you’re like me, and would rather sweat it out on a hot beach than ride down the side of a mountain on thin pieces of fiber glass, meaning, winter’s not my ideal time of year, so I tend to curl up in blankets with books. I generally enjoy cuddling with my pup, but it can feel antisocial. I wouldn’t say that I get terribly depressed in winter, but seasonal affective disorder can be a very real thing, which is why it’s important to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You see, onwards from December 21st, the winter solstice, the daylight begins to increase bit by bit until magically we find ourselves in spring.

Winter solstice itself is the shortest day of the year and the beginning of the winter season. The sun sets early leaving a dark evening to explore your inner self. This is something that can be done solo or with a group. I myself am very fortunate to be a member of an active yoga community in which a wonderful winter solstice event was planned and well attended. It was guided by myself and two other yoga teachers and I’d like to lay out the event as inspiration for your next winter solstice and as a reminder of the warmth to come.

After introductions, participants were asked to think of a goal or intention that they’d like to focus on and dedicate their vinyasa yoga practice to. Once they had one in mind, we all sat together in a circle and lit candles one by one to signify our intention. There was a symbolic meaning to lighting the candles in the circle; it represented the growing daylight of the coming months. In a more personal setting, intentions could have been affirmed out loud, but we kept ours silent.

Following the intentions, a heating vinyasa flow was practiced in the gentle glow of the candles. Many vinyasas were cued, but optional, to warm up as much as desired. Throughout the course of the physical practice, reminders to bring focus back to the intention were given, primarily in quieting forward folds which are very personal and often allow us to go within ourselves. Once inner heat was throughly ignited and stoked to battle the frigid air outside, there was a therapeutic partner practice to get even deeper into the muscle tissues. As mentioned before, I’m not one for outdoor winter sports, so my yoga is close to the only physical activity that I perform in winter. For this reason, a more perspiring yoga practice like vinyasa or power yoga is a good answer to my winter blues (and all those Christmas cookies!)

But alas, yoga is much more than physical and the event carried on into the mental realm. Working the body with the breath quiets the mind, so right after a yoga practice is an ideal time to meditate or simply focus thoughts. In the case of our humble event, a guided candle meditation was practiced. To top everything off there was a journal exercise. Currently (and for quite a long while,) I have fallen out of my journaling habit, but I plan to rekindle it in the coming new year. The journaling exercise of our winter solstice event involved considering the future and writing a short positive affirmation about yourself. I took a lot away from the journaling and will use the affirmation as a tool to bring me back to my target whenever I find myself straying. And that was the conclusion of our event, it was a magnificently warming, community gathering.

Solstice and equinox events can seem far off and even pagan to some, I know I used to roll my eyes in the past, but really when you think about it, they are simply calendar days that mark the changing skies and seasons. Winter solstice is the shortest day and summer solstice is the longest; the equinoxes are about equal in length of day and night. It is not easy to pay attention to the changing seasons with so many seemingly pressing matters pestering our minds, which is why making the time to plan an event or find one to attend is a good way to bring nature back into view. And if you’re still not sold on the idea, then a similar event could be planned for New Years Eve, a time when we transition into a new calendar year and look forward to the future.