Stretching towards warmth and energy.
Staying active and healthy throughout the winter can be challenging. Sometimes it can be too cold or dark to leave your cozy living room. Or maybe the options for winter activities are too limiting—not all of us are brave enough or have the resources to go skiing or snowboarding. But a regular yoga practice is accessible to most anyone, and these four poses can help keep you heated, energetic and inspired throughout the winter.
Before beginning, warm up your body, breath and mind with three Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara).
Crescent Lunge is a powerful standing pose that strengthens the legs and stretches the entire body. Adding the upper body twist increases the challenge of balancing, warms up the belly and stretches out the spine, shoulders and chest.
Standing at the top of your mat, take a big step back with your left foot. Keep your heel lifted and find stability on the ball of your foot. Bend deep into your right knee, keeping it aligned over your ankle. Don’t sink into your hips, but feel strong and stable in your feet. When you’re ready, lift your arms over your head. Keeping your fingertips activated, exhale and twist to the left, dropping your arms in line with your shoulders. Keep your neck over your spine. Rotate this twist from left to right, coming back to centre and lifting your arms up before switching sides. If at anytime this feels like too much, drop your back knee down.
Not only will the lunge build heat in your legs, but pairing it with a twist will activate the Manipura or Navel Chakra, which is located in the middle of your abdomen, behind your navel. Its element is fire, and activating it can help warm up your body from the inside out while building self-confidence and self-awareness.
Upward-Facing Dog expands your chest, shoulders and abdomen while strengthening your arms and lower back muscles.
From Crescent Lunge pose, sweep your fingertips down to your mat with your hands on either side of your front foot. Press into the palms of your hands, activate your core and step your front foot back so you find yourself in Plank pose. From there, lower down onto your belly and place the tops of your feet on the mat. Place your hands beside your rib cage. Press into your palms and knuckles, squeeze your elbows by your side, roll your shoulders back and begin to elongate your arms. If this is enough of a stretch for you, stay here in Cobra pose. If you want to take it further, lift your hips and thighs off the mat so that only the tops of your feet and your palms are in contact with the mat.
It’s important to keep your collarbones facing forward, your head lifted and your throat open. This will help activate the Vishudha or Throat Chakra, which is associated with communication and speech; its element is sound. Do you get frequent colds or sore throats in the winter? If so, this chakra could be out of balance. Don’t fall into the temptation of isolating yourself this winter. Practice this pose to help you stay healthy and vocal.
This expansive standing backbend will help open up your chest, increase your flexibility and build strength in your back and your standing leg.
From Mountain pose (Tadasana), step your left foot back. Bend your knee and pick up your left foot with your left hand. Spin your palm away from you so that your thumb is aligned with your big toe. Lift your right arm up, and slowly tilt your chest forward while kicking out your left leg behind you, with your gaze straight ahead and soft.
Opening your chest here will help activate the Anahata or Heart Chakra. Anahata is associated with feeling calm and serene. The element associated with it is air. It’s important to exercise Anahata in the winter, as we often limit our air intake in the cold months by taking short, shallow breaths. This pose counters that habit and invites long, calming breaths into your body.
This pose strengthens and stretches your inner and back legs, your spine and your shoulders; relieves mild backache; and calms your mind.
From Mountain pose (Tadasana), take a wide stance lengthwise across your mat. Reach your arms wide and up over your head, interlacing your fingers. If this is too much, keep your hands on your hips. Lift your ribs high, opening your chest towards the sky, and then hinge forward. Keep your spine straight and a slight bend in your knees. Your knuckles will reach away from you as your arms come overhead, bending forward. Aim to reach the top of your head to the mat as your arms continue to come forward, but stop when you feel a comfortable stretch.
Bending forward like this is a good way to change your perception—something we don’t do often enough—and can help activate your Sahasrara or Crown Chakra, inviting trust and a deeper connection to oneself. Its element is inner light, allowing you to feel happy and connected to the universe. Inversion poses are also known to help fight depression, a common diagnosis in the winter. Opening your shoulders intensifies the stretch and opens your chest, helping your breath to flow freely and warmly throughout your body.
Remember that everyone’s practice and bodies are different. Some poses may be more accessible to some people than to others. What’s most important is that you show up for yourself and do your best while continuing to breathe and challenge yourself.
Lisa Peters is a 200-hour certified yoga instructor born and raised in Grande Prairie, Alberta. She has over five years of experience with yoga and loves to share yoga and learn from others. Lisa believes in the physical, spiritual and mental benefits of yoga and hopes to help students find their own unique yoga journey.