Warm Up with These 8 Yoga Poses for Winter
Drinking hot cocoa by your fireplace isn’t the only way to get warm during the colder winter months. Shifting the contents of your yoga practice toward postures that heat and stimulate the fire within will keep your Agni strong. Agni, or digestive fire, isn’t just vital for digesting food and nutrients, but for keeping alive the fires of passion, discipline, and willpower.
Just as the fire element can transform energy from one of its forms to another, the fire within you processes events, experiences, and emotions, keeping the drive to live consciously and fully strong and forward-moving. The following asanas (hatha yoga postures) support this process by heating the body, stoking your digestive power, and strengthening your ability to focus and stay sharp.
Child’s Pose with Belly Compression
To bring more awareness to your belly and breath, try these two variations of Child’s Pose.
- First, slide your arms through and back between your knees, so your hands end up between your ankles.
- Place your forehead on the floor; tuck your chin slightly so you can breathe free and clear through your nose.
- Take a few deep breaths all the way down to your belly.
- Then, release your arms to the outside of your shins, moving into a classical form of the pose.
- You can cup your heels from the outside, or flip your wrists to cup them from the inside.
- Allow your belly to press down onto your thighs, so you have some effortless compression of your abdomen. If your head doesn’t quite touch the ground when doing the pose in this manner, slide a block underneath your forehead.
Sun Salutations with Ujjayi Breath
As you move through your Sun Salutations, bring your awareness to the breath and create a slight constriction in the back of the throat. Just a few rounds of Surya Namaskar with this Ujjayi breath will increase your body temperature, get your blood pumping, and stoke that flame. Each time you reach up to the sky, honor the sun above you and each time you bow in toward yourself, honor the sun within you in the solar plexus. Adding the visualization of the sun into the sequence will continue to bring up the heat.
Utkatasana (Fierce Pose)
If you only have time to do one pose to get your circulation moving and turn up the inner heat, Utkatasana is it. You’ll be amazed what five to 10 breaths in this pose will do for your inner fire.
- Bring your big toe mounds to touch with a slight space between your heels; this keeps your legs parallel to one another.
- Squeezing your knees toward one another, send your weight back and down, as if you were sitting into a chair.
- Extend your arms up alongside your ears or straight out ahead of you at shoulder-height if you have any shoulder restriction.
- Slightly scoop the tailbone down toward the floor to fire up the abdominal muscles.
- As you continue the Ujjayi breath in and out through your nose, imagine your body in the shape of a lightning bolt, and let that powerful imagery move through your system.
Transitioning from four limbs to two limbs challenges your focus, equilibrium, and strength. It requires a firm and active center to hold the pose together.
- From your hands and knees, extend one arm forward with the thumb pointing up, as if you were shaking someone’s hand.
- Extend the opposite leg back, and try to find a straight line of energy between your lifted arm and leg. As you do so, further connect to your core by hugging your limbs back into their respective sockets.
- Breathe smoothly and fully as you hold stillness in the pose for five full rounds on each side.
- If you want greater challenge in the pose, try it again with the same arm and leg lifted.
Downward Dog Variations
These two variations of the familiar Downward-Facing Dog pose challenge your balance and require added focus and finesse.
For the twisted version:
- It helps to take a slightly shorter and wider stance than you usually would.
- Thread your right arm to the outside of your left leg with your thumb facing up.
- Use your arm strength to pull your chest through and look under your left armpit toward the ceiling.
- Then repeat on the second side.
For the three-legged dog:
- Lift one leg at a time as high as you can without letting the hip open out to the side.
- Keep the toes pointing down and roll your outer hip down.
- It can be tempting to use momentum to kick your leg up, but to really feed your inner flame, move very slowly, and try to hold the lifted leg up behind you for five to seven breaths.
- Another option is to lift and lower your bottom heel a few times as you keep the lifted leg skyward.
Lunge Twist Progression (with Jump Switch)
This progression of lunge twists is meant to build up your stamina and increasingly promote compression and detoxification of your internal organs, including your digestive track.
- From Down Dog, begin by stepping your right foot forward to an active lunge, and lift your left hand high to the ceiling.
- Lean back, so your spine eases into the twist.
- Jump switch to the second side, and repeat. For the second round, come upright into a high lunge, bring your hands to prayer position, and cross your left elbow to the opposite knee.
- As you press down with your bottom elbow, draw the belly in and up, simultaneously twisting from the heart space.
- Release your hands to the floor on an inhalation, and jump switch to the second side to repeat. For the third round, start with the prayer hands version, but cross the armpit around the thigh, rather than just the elbow; this will get you into a deeper twist.
- Extend your arms, bringing the bottom fingertips to the earth, and take the top arm alongside the ear with the palm face down.
- Although it will be more challenging to breathe deeply in this position (your lungs are quite compressed), do your best to breathe smoothly and evenly for a few rounds.
- Again, jump switch to the second side to complete the series.
Rest in Child’s Pose when you are done.
Vashistasana with Leg Lifts
This powerful arm balance is at once beautiful and bold. The reliance on a fiery solar plexus will make the pose feel empowering and reduce a sense of heaviness in the hips.
- Take a deep breath and reconnect to your center.
- Pass through plank position (top of a push-up) and come to balance on the outer edge of your bottom foot and a flat palm.
- Keep the hips lifted, and the bottom shoulder on the back plane of the body.
- Keeping all 10 toes pointed in the same direction as your naval, lift your top leg up about 18 inches, and gently lower it back down.
- Do this three to five times, and then gently release to plank to move into the second side.
Agnistambasana (Firelog Pose)
This pose is aptly named Firelog pose, as the two shins stack on top of one another like a pile of fire logs.
- Try to vertically line up the soles of the feet with the opposite knee; however, if your hips won’t accommodate this degree of depth, simply cross your shins one in front of the other.
- Breathe in deeply to the bottoms of your lungs and as you exhale, fold forward over your shins, bringing your forearms to the ground.
- Allow the breath to help you to process and digest any sensations you are feeling.
- Repeat on the second side after you have experienced around 10-12 breaths.
The colder weather can either keep you cooped up or can be a call to align with nature. The more you move and keep your fires burning bright, the healthier you will be on every level. Like a bellows feeds the flame with air, pranayama, asana, and meditation will feed the flame with awareness and vitality.
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