Having lived in cold winter weather places for the majority of my life, I can attest to the fact that a yoga practice definitely feels different in the winter than in the summer months. It’s harder to feel open and flexible—and there is also a tendency to be more lifted or even hunched in the shoulders and upper back.
Luckily, there are specific yoga poses you can do to help fight the external cold. These postures build heat internally, which allows your body to feel soft and more relaxed. If you are familiar with Ujjayi breathing, which is a heating breath, definitely use that during this sequence.
Seated Breath with Movement
Find a comfortable cross-legged position at the front of your mat. If it’s not comfortable to sit on the floor, sit on a cushion or a block. This is a moving-with-breath exercise that’s meant to warm you up fast. On an inhalation, reach your arms up to the ceiling, spreading your fingers wide apart. On an exhalation, make fists with your hands and quickly draw your arms down, bending your elbows so they’re by your sides and back behind you. Immediately on your next inhalation, reach your arms up as high as you can toward the ceiling and spread your fingers. Continue these movements quickly to help build heat fast. Just make sure to move with your breath, practicing Ujjayi breathing. Repeat for a few minutes before moving on to the next posture.
Make your way onto your hands and knees. Line up your hands so they are shoulder-width distance apart, fingers spread wide with the creases if your wrists parallel to the front of your mat. Take your knees hip-distance apart and directly under your hips, with your feet also hip-distance apart. Moving with your breath, on an inhalation, create a back bend through your spine by lowering your belly toward the floor and lifting your chest, chin, and sit bones toward the ceiling. On your exhalation, round your spine in the opposite direction and like an angry cat, lift your middle back up towards the ceiling, drawing your chin toward your chest. Continue back and forth between these two positions, moving with your breath, 5 to 10 times.
Standing Side Stretch
Stand at the top of your mat with your feet together, big toes touching, a little space between your heels. Root down through your feet and firm your thighs, lifting your knee caps up. Reach your arms up and overhead and interlace your fingers, crossing your thumbs and extending your index fingers up to the ceiling. Keeping a tone in your legs and core, lift your chest up and slowly start to tilt to the right side. Continue to create length on both sides of your body, being careful not to collapse the bottom side of your rib cage. Take a few breaths here, hugging your arms to your ears and squeezing your palms together. Come to center and repeat on the second side.
Stand at the top of your mat with your feet together and extend your arms out to shoulder height. Take your right arm underneath your left, crossing at your elbows. Bring your wrists toward each other and then cross your wrists so that your palms are touching. Squeeze your arms and hands together and extend your elbows forward, dropping your shoulders away from your ears and liftting your fingertips toward the ceiling. Now, bend your knees like you’re sitting in a chair, move your hips back in space and shift your weight toward your heels. If this feels like a lot (or if you have any knees issues) just stay here. Otherwise, take your right leg over the left, crossing at the knees and then see if you can wrap your right foot behind your left ankle. Stay here for 5 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Chair Pose, variation
Stand at the top of your mat with your feet and knees together and bend your knees like you’re sitting back and down into a chair. Keeping your chest lifted, take your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers. If you can’t interlace your hands together, use a strap or towel between your hands. Straighten your arms back behind you, drop your hips a little lower, and shift a little more weight back into your heels. Take 5 breaths here and then slowly release the pose.
Warrior III, variation
Stand in the middle of your mat facing the short edge (front) of your mat and interlace your hands together behind your back. Lift your chest and extend your arms behind you, reaching your knuckles away from your back. Step your right foot forward and, leaning the weight into your front foot, tip your chest forward until your torso is parallel to the floor and your back leg is also parallel to the floor. If you tend to hyperextend your knees, bring a soft bend into your standing leg. Keep your gaze forward, your core engaged, and hold the pose here for 5 breaths. Step back gently to release the pose and repeat on the other side.
Sit down in the middle of your mat. Bend your knees and place your hands behind your knees. Tip your weight back until you can balance with your torso and thighs in a V position. Start with your knees bent and extend your arms out so they are parallel to the floor. Engage your triceps and biceps and hug your fingertips together. Gently draw your navel toward your spine and, if it feels comfortable, try to straighten your legs, pointing your toes. Stay here for a few breaths, then release your feet to the floor to rest. Repeat 2 more times.
Reverse Table Pose (with Breath of Fire)
Sit in the middle of your mat and bend your knees. Place your feet in front of you so your feet and knees are hip-width distance apart. Place your hands behind you, fingertips pointing forward and hands a bit wider than your shoulders. Lean your weight back a bit and bend your elbows. Roll your shoulders back, hug your elbows toward each other, and puff your chest up to the ceiling. Now, root firmly down with both feet and hands, lifting your hips up until they are in line with your knees and shoulders. You should look like a table from the side. If you have any neck issues, keep your gaze on your knees. If your neck is OK, you can release your head back in space, lengthening across the front of your throat. Try this one time holding it for 5 breaths and then add Breath of Fire.
Breath of Fire involves a forceful, quick exhalation out through the nose; the inhalation happens on its own, so you don’t have to do anything to produce an inhale between your forced exhales. Start by taking a deep breath in through your nose, making a gentle hissing sound in the back of your throat. Then exhale, exhale, exhale, feeling your navel drawing toward your spine with each individual exhale. You can try this sitting down first to get the hang of it and when it feels comfortable, add the two together. You can do about 30 exhales while you’re in this posture.
Come onto your hands and knees in the middle of your mat. Place your wrists shoulder-width distance apart with the creases of your wrists parallel to the front of your mat. Spread your fingers wide apart and firmly press down with the whole of each hand. Extend one leg at a time back behind you until your legs are straight with your toes tucked under and feet hip-width distance apart. Keep your torso parallel to the floor and lift your navel toward your spine. Lift your chin slightly so you are looking toward the front edge of your mat. Firm your thigh muscles and as your heart reaches forward, extend your heels toward the back of your mat. Take 5 deep breaths here.
From Plank Pose, push your upper thigh bones back in space, lifting your hips up and back until your body looks like an upside-down V. Take your gaze back toward your feet and start to peddle your legs, feeling a stretch through your calves and hamstrings. Notice the foundation of your hands and root down and forward with both palms evenly, as if you were trying to press the front edge of your mat away from you. If your hamstrings feel tight, practice this pose with your knees bent. (Just make sure to keep your knees and feet hip-width distance apart whether your legs are bent or straight.) If your shoulders are tight, take your hands a bit wider and turn them out slightly toward the edges of your mat. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
Side Angle Pose
Standing at the top of your mat, take a wide stance facing the right edge of your mat. Extend your arms out at shoulder height and take your feet as wide as your hands, about 4 to 5 feet apart or wider if you are taller. Open your right leg and foot 90 degrees so that your right toes are pointing directly toward the back edge of your mat. Turn your left foot in about 10 to 15 degrees and bend your right knee so your knee stacks on top of your heel and your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Make sure the center of your knee cap is pointing toward the second and third toe of your front foot. Keep your back leg steady and strong and root down through the outer edge of your foot. Then, reach your right hand forward and bring your fingertips to touch the floor on the inner edge of your right foot and extend your left hand straight up to the ceiling. Broaden across your collar bones, creating length across the width of your chest. If this feels too challenging, place a block under your bottom hand. Spread your top fingers wide apart and reaching your top hand to the ceiling, see if you can get lighter on your bottom fingers. Hold the pose for 5 breaths, then root down through your feet to press back up to standing and switch sides.
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From Down Dog, step your right foot forward toward your right hand, toes pointing toward the front of your mat. Spin your left foot down at a 45-degree angle at the back of your mat; your left toes should be pointing toward the front left corner of your mat and your feet should be hip-width distance apart. With your back heel rooted, firm your back thigh and bend your front knee to a 90 degree angle. Your front knee should be stacked on top of your heel with your thigh aiming at being parallel to the floor. Lift your torso up so that you are vertical to the floor and extend your arms and hands up to the ceiling. Square your shoulders and chest to the front of the room. Lift up through your lower belly and keep your gaze steady in front of you. If it feels comfortable, you can lift your gaze up toward your thumbs, bringing your hands together in Prayer Position. Hold here for 5 breaths, then place your hands on the mat around your front foot. Step back to Down Dog and switch sides.
Come onto your hands and knees in the middle of your mat. Walk your hands one hand print forward so that you are in a slightly longer tabletop position, with your hands shoulder-width distance apart and your knees and feet hip-width distance apart. Move your right knee forward to touch your inner right wrist. (Your right knee should be to the right of your torso.) Move your right foot forward slightly so your right heel is in the midline of your mat. Then, slowly start to inch your left knee back until your right hip starts to lower to the floor and you feel like you can’t move it back any further. If your right hip doesn’t come all the way down, which it most likely will not, place a folded blanket or pillow under your right hip so you feel supported. Lower down onto your forearms and rest your forehead on the back of your stacked palms. Soften the muscles of your face and shoulders and move your attention to your breath. See if you can take 5 to 10 deep, slow breaths here, feeling the stretch in your right hip. To come out, walk your hands back in space. Place your palms flat, tuck your back toes under, and lift up and back into Down Dog. Then, lower to your hands and knees and repeat on your other side.