Yoga Teacher Ashley walks us gently through five tips to improve your winter yoga practice and find calm. The primary feeling that comes when most people think of winter may be a chill; it’s a season characterized by the cold and both the end and beginning of a new year. We seek out warmth and home, hence the idea of “going home for the holiday.” The ongoing pandemic, though, has upturned our sense of normalcy, and that could probably have been seen and felt most around this time of year when we would gather and partake in celebratory traditions.
A long time ago, I moved away from home. It took me a long time to learn how to cope with homesickness, and I realized that home is something retained within me. Our bodies of course can be seen as our actual physical “homes,” but the feelings, memories, and unique qualities of the actual places we think of as our home never leave us; those things live on within us and make us who we are.
There are ways to go home within ourselves that don’t require any travel, and I’ve found that these five things can help facilitate that feeling of return and even comfort, especially now, during a time that has turned us on our heads.
1. Hold it. If you heard someone say, “Hold it,” you’d probably stop in your tracks. The asanas, or postures, are meant to be held. There are ongoing debates over how long a posture “should” be held, and the agreed upon consensus seems to be five to seven breath counts (one breath in and out).
Certain types of yoga practice, such as restorative yoga, are known for longer holds, several minutes long. But if you’ve found yourself in an at home practice, or have the guts to stray from the flow of your class, the amount of time you stay in a posture should be based on what feels right for you in that moment. As you flow, hold the postures that feel like a pause. While you use your breath to appease your increasingly screaming muscles, go inside your head. Do the work in there. What’s bothering you? What things can you tell yourself to calm those thoughts? What insights do you gain during the burn?
No matter how long the Winter, Spring is sure to follow.
2. Imagine your Spring. There is a proverb I remember during struggles: No matter how long the Winter, Spring is sure to follow. This entire pandemic has been a struggle no matter your personal situation, and though our struggles may not end this calendar Spring, history proves that life is in constant flux and difficulties do come to an end. Yoko Ono wrote, “Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.” This is the time when we can become stronger. Even the Warrior must retreat to regroup. During your practice, and maybe especially during your Warrior postures, envision your “Spring,” because it will arrive. Will you be ready?
3. Harness your yoga practice to get in tune with your five senses.
No matter your meditative experience, there is one meditation practice that never gets old and anyone can do. You can do this in any posture, though it is often practiced in Shavasana, or Corpse Pose; you can even do this sitting at the dining room table, on the train, or at your desk. Stop and take your time addressing the five senses: what do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Go through each sense one at a time. You may be surprised at how connected you become to the present moment.
4. Get grounded. Yoga puts a lot of emphasis on grounding oneself, and several techniques used to ease anxiety overlap with what we do in yoga. During all postures, push your feet or hands down into the ground, stabilizing yourself. This physical gesture influences our mental state. In a seated position, place one hand on your heart and another on your stomach. We often “feel” our emotions in these places, and our intuitive nature is at play in the chest or “gut.” To double up on the effectiveness of this physical gesture, explore what statement or mantra speaks to you, such as “Everything is fine right now, nothing is wrong” or a simple “It’s going to be okay.” Getting to know what mindset calms you is a powerful tool we can use at any time when we feel as though we are losing control.
5. Choose one simple thing to do for yourself off of the mat.
Any level of yoga practitioner either forgets or has not discovered that what we practice on the mat is designed to be taken off of the mat and with us into the world. These concepts, put simply, are to be kind to ourselves and our neighbors. This winter, choose one thing to incorporate into your life that will better your sense of well-being in some way. No one knows you better than you, so maybe you need to drink more water or you’d like to eat less sweets or eat more veggies.
Maybe your goal can be more outward, involving your relations with other. There is a quote I reference, especially during times of social unrest, scrawled on the wall of Shakespeare and Co. in Paris and adapted from the bible: “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.”
Photography by Jade Stephens + Annie Spratt