Cold dark mornings and winter nights are not particularly conducive to getting to your regular yoga class or doing your practice, however this time of year is actually the best time to be practising.
Sleep is something that comes better in winter time. Shorter days and longer nights promote sleep. And just as winter is the time of hibernation, sleeping comes naturally when you are cosy under a warm doona. Even though it may be more of a challenge to actually get out of bed early in the morning, and it may take your body longer to warm up and stretch when you are in class or doing your own practice, a good night’s sleep enables your body and mind to be in a more willing state. If your mind is fresh you will be able to engage and focus, and have a richer experience in your practice.
At this time of the year there are also less distractions. Because it is a time of hibernation there tends to be less social events, and the lure of outside activities, such as an early morning or evening dip at the beach, is a lot less appealing! We become more inward focused and insular. This allows more time and energy to be focused on indoor activities, such as a yoga practice. As such it is a perfect time to establish a routine, something that is essential for an effective yoga practice. If you can establish a good routine to your practice at this time of year, the more chance it has of ‘sticking’ at more challenging times. Sow now and reap later.
The health benefits of practising yoga at any time of the year are indisputable, however this is especially the case in winter. One of the most important things yoga does is to take blood to all parts of the body. Improved circulation boosts the immune system and therefore helps in warding off cold, flu and other winter bugs.
Doing yoga over the colder months can help counter low or fluctuating moods, lack of energy, increased appetite and general tiredness. This is not just because of the physical activity involved in practising postures. BKS Iyengar used to say that you cannot get depressed when your armpit chest is open, so the chest opening poses and backbends that are practised in Iyengar yoga help to counter that hunched over posture we tend to be more inclined towards in colder weather. Other poses, especially inversions, have a stimulative effect on the pineal gland. This gland, situated in the skull behind the eyes, is responsible for producing and regulating our levels of melatonin and serotonin. It is the imbalance of these hormones that is a major cause of what is known as the winter blues.
There are different benefits to be found from yoga within each season, and winter is definitely no exception.