Warming Winter-Solstice Yoga Flow
Wintery winds and cold signal the arrival of midwinter and the shortest day of the year. Like the natural world, the longer periods of darkness invite us to pull inward and spend more time in stillness and quiet.
For myself, shorter, chilly days find me lingering in grounding, restorative yoga practices. In particular, I savor poses that invoke the qualities of earth and water, elements that are in short supply when cold, windy weather prevails. To prevent becoming too sluggish, I purposefully infuse some heat-building flows and twists into my practice as well.
Try this warming yoga sequence designed to comfort and ground you on cold, wintry days:
Grounding Breath Awareness
Begin by sitting cross-legged on a cushion or blanket with your spine long and sitz bones connected to the earth. Rest palms facedown on your knees or thighs. Notice the unhurried rhythm of your breath. After a few breaths, begin to lengthen your inhales and exhales, striving for a ratio of three to four count inhale and four to five count exhale for several breaths. Imagine your spine lengthening with each inhale and your sitz bones grounding as you exhale. Set an intention for your practice.
Sun Breath with a Twist
Use your breath to facilitate the movement of the arms in the next two poses. Twists help with digestion which can become a bit sluggish this time of year.
Allow your hands to relax at your sides, fingertips to touching the ground. On an inhale, lift both arms overhead, gazing upward. Turn your palms towards the floor, exhaling as you lower your hands in front of your torso. Imagine sending your energy into the earth, bringing steadiness to mind and body. Repeat three times.
Next, inhale both arms overhead again. As you exhale, rotate your torso to the right, allowing the arms to float down and connect with your right leg or the floor. Return to center with the next in breath and repeat the twist to the left. Repeat the twist two to three more times to each side before coming back to center. Pause and observe the body and breath.
Seated Lateral Bend
Place your right palm on the outside of your left knee or thigh. As you inhale, reach the left arm overhead and to the right, stretching your left side body. Use an exhale to come back to center. Repeat three to four times, holding the last time for two to three breaths. Release to center, pause and notice. Then repeat to the left.
Deer Pose Twist
Here you’ll move your legs like windshield-wipers, to warm up the hips and low back.
Begin by placing both hands, palms down, on the floor behind you. As you lean back into your hands, uncross the legs and place your feet on the outside edges of your mat. Slowly exhale the knees to the left side, turning your head to the right. Inhale the knees back and exhale the knees to the right as your head turns left. Repeat three to five times to each side.
Then, pausing with both knees to the right, place your palms on the floor on either side of your knee. Inhale to elongate the spine. As you exhale, walk your hands forward, bringing your chest to rest on the right thigh. Stay here for three to five breaths. Be sure to repeat on the other side.
Grounding Tabletop Flow
This dynamic flow begins to bring some heat to the center of the body and the limbs.
Transition onto your hands and knees into tabletop pose, connecting your palms firmly to the earth. If your knees are sensitive, place a folded blanket under them. Begin by gently arching the spine and lifting your gaze as you inhale into cow pose. As you exhale, round the back and drop the chin towards the chest into cat pose. Repeat three to five times. Then bend your elbows, resting your forearms on the floor and bringing your hips toward your heels into child’s pose.
On an inhale, return to tabletop, extending your right arm and left leg into balancing cat pose. Keep the neck long and your gaze towards the front edge of your mat. Exhale, return to child’s pose. Firming the belly, use the next inhale to lift the left arm and right leg. Repeat three to four more times on each side, flowing dynamically from child’s pose into balancing cat on each side.
On the last repetition, stay with your arm and leg lifted for three to six breaths. Rest in child’s pose for several breaths between sides.
Kneeling Lunge-Hamstring Stretch
Starting from child’s pose, lift into tabletop. Step your left foot forward between your hands. Use a folded blanket under the right knee for comfort as needed. Straighten the left leg and flex the left foot as you shift your weight back towards your heels. If your hamstrings feel especially tight, place your hands on blocks. Re-bend the left knee and repeat three to five times.
Next, with the left knee stacked over the left ankle, inhale both arms overhead, coming into a Kneeling Crescent Lunge. Stay here for three to four breaths. Then, place your hands back down on either side of your foot and come back into table. Repeat on the left, returning to tabletop when you’re finished.
Downdog-Plank Mini Flow
From Tabletop, lift your hips up and back into Downward-Facing Dog. Soften the knees and press the floor away to lengthen the spine. Pressing one heel towards the floor, bend the opposite knee. Alternate legs for three to five breaths.
Then, inhale forward into Plank pose, stacking the shoulders over the wrists. Hold plank for one to three breaths or move dynamically between downdog and plank three to four times. When finished, rest again in child’s pose for three deep breaths.
Reground and Slow Down
From tabletop, lengthen forward to rest on your belly. Place your elbows under your shoulders, palms and forearms resting on the earth as you come into Sphinx pose. Lift your chest, keeping the chin parallel to the ground. Breathe fully into your abdomen, softening the lower pelvis into the earth on the exhale. Hold for three to five breaths.
Next, lower your chest and rest your forehead on stacked palms in Crocodile pose for three to five breaths. Then flip onto your back, drawing your knees into your chest, and gently rock from side to side, massaging the low spine. Bring your feet to the floor and gently windshield-wiper your knees side to side a few times.
So tempting to skip this part, but don’t. Savasana, the ultimate resting pose, should be warm and cozy. Wrap yourself up in a soft, heavy blanket and put on warm socks and cover your eyes with an eye pillow or a scarf. Place a cushion or folded blanket under your knees and head as well as over your lower abdomen for additional grounding. Rest the palms down on the earth or place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Remain here for 10 or more minutes, savoring the soothing warmth generated from this practice.