Inside Yoga 253 (10/12/2018)
It’s gloomy, it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s windy, and it happens every winter yet many of us react with incredulity that the weather is so bad, plus, we wonder why we don’t feel that great at the moment, instead we feel lethargic, moody and simply flat. Welcome to winter… but does it have to be this way?
We cannot change the weather but we can alter how we respond to the season. If we accept that it is winter (I know, you are saying, “I know it is winter”) we then adapt to the season, instead of trying to live the way we do during the summer when it’s light for longer and warmer.
Yoga means union when translated from its Sanskrit origin, and union means many things, including being in harmony with our environment and its seasons, and in harmony with ourselves and how we feel in winter, and for those who feel this is impossible, bear in mind, that most of the benefits described here come from our efforts to find union: as the saying goes: it’s the journey which is most important.
With our modern way of living, including the 24-7 lifestyle when we never switch off, the darker days of winter and the need to sleep more is a challenge. We might feel that winter is like an uphill hike carrying all our belongings on our back.
The advice is simple: adapt and accept.
Ayurveda is what we call traditional Indian medicine and health, and yoga is very much part of this. It offers plenty of advice on what to do during winter in order to feel better and healthier and combat the struggles of the season.
Sleep: in winter with the shorter days simply sleep more, by going to bed earlier than usual and perhaps getting up later (if possible). Why fight it, by saying, “I don’t normally go to bed this early”. Stop and go to bed! And remember to turn off those devices which emit blue light (that’s just about all devices!) well before going to bed!
Yoga asanas (exercises): yoga exercises which open the chest, stretch the throat, and relieve congestion of the chest are ideal, for example, sun salutations, Locust, Boat, Bow, Fish, back bend, and Camel are good examples. What is important is that we know how long and how much to practice, because we aim to do enough to feel energised and to get rid of the feelings of lethargy without exhausting ourselves (it is winter after all!).
Pranayama: Breathing exercises which help to energise the lungs are useful, such as the strong breathing exercises, for example, Bhastrika (bellows breath or breath of fire) which involves doing a series of full breaths to pump the breath as one would do using a bellows on a fireplace to get a fire going.
Meditation: Sit still and simply meditate, even if you feel drowsy and half-awake during the meditation session, this practice will help you restore your energy levels. See it as a short (or long) moment to stop and sit (or lie down if necessary) – especially useful if proper sleep is not possible.
Winter is the season of kapha in Ayurveda. This is one of the three doshas (kapha, pitta and vata) with kapha being associated with qualities such as water, phlegm, mucus, slowness and sleepiness. In basic terms, winter is a time of slowing down, it is also a time when we get most colds (hence the reference to mucus and phlegm). That is why the advice is to slow down during winter, adapting to what it happening not only around us but within us.
Food and drink: consuming meals and drinks which are warming and easy to digest is advised. Having ginger, cinnamon, cloves help to warm us up, and eating stews and soups help our digestive system and warm us from within. This advice might be coming from yoga but think again, the traditional winter recipes and remedies also use these ingredients… it makes sense!
A lot of what is written above makes sense, if fact, it is common sense but we can be our own worst enemies when we ignore the signs our body and mind are giving us about slowing down for winter, eating the right things in the cold weather, exercising appropriately for the time of year, and simply slowing down or the season.
We are, after all, animals trying to be human… look around in winter, the other species in the animal kingdom, and the plants as well, all adapt and make changes in winter, why don’t we?
I have written about this in past years because winter keeps coming round! If you want to see them click on links below:
Winter guidelines: https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2014/12/08/winter-guidelines/
A winter’s tale: https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2014/01/20/a-winters-tale/
Restoring energy in winter: https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2011/12/04/restoring-our-energy-in-winter/
Practising yoga and sleepiness: https://www.yogabristol.co.uk/2017/11/20/practicing-yoga-sleepiness/
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