Are you feeling the chill as much as I am?! After spending the last year in India, and the previous three and a half in sunny Sydney, this Winter weather here in the Northern Hemisphere is a touch harsh. It’s dark when we wake up, the Sun rises, we blink, and it’s dark again. So for those of you reading who have a regular practice, I don’t know if you’re experiencing similar to me, but I’m finding it extremely challenging to get out of bed in the morning to commence my daily sadhana (practice). And for those of you who don’t have a regular practice.. I hope this blog post doesn’t bore you or put you off.. but it’s all part of the journey!
So.. I am trying to look on the bright side (ahem.. excuse the pun), and here are some of the positives keeping me motivated this cold winter season:
1. Brahma Muhurta
In Winter, rising for my sadhana (practice) at 6/ 6.30am, I am practicing in Ireland’s equivalent of India’s Brahma Muhurta, the 90 minutes before sunrise. In the Vedic tradition, this peaceful, tranquil period is considered an auspicious time to practice yoga and most appropriate for meditation. In India, Brahma Muhurta is usually between the hours of 4am and 6am, depending on the time of year, but remains pretty constant due to India’s proximity to the equator. For us more northern Earthlings, our time of sunrise fluctuates greatly with the seasons. In Summer, sunrise may be 4.30am compared to Winter’s 8.30am… and I will not be waking at 2.30am for practice.. so I am looking on this as a Winter blessing!
2. East facing practice
The room I’m currently practicing in faces East. These days I’m starting my daily practice with 20 minutes of ajapa japa (mantra repetition), which I have carried on since my stay in Sivananda ashram in Kerala in November 2014. Many sages and yogic masters believe that during Brahma Muhurta, the entire atmosphere is charged with powerful electromagnetic vibrations that travel from Northern/ Eastern directions. I found a great blog article that summarises why it’s good to face East, check it out if you want to read further about this. Anyone who would like to read more on vibrations – I strongly recommend you read Autobiography of a Yogi. Rumour has it Apple’s founder, the late, great Steve Jobs, read this book every year and it was said to be the only book he had downloaded on his iPad2.
3. Practicing in the cold helps build strength
Gregor Maehle, in his book ‘Ashtanga Yoga, Practice and Philosophy’ advises cold yoga rooms helps with strength, and also increases awareness and attention to detail (compared to practicing in a hot room – which helps with flexibility). Maehle says we have to study the posture more deeply to get to the same point in a cold room, but this pays off in terms of benefits:
- There is more learning if the temperature is low; and
- The body becomes sturdier due to the awakening of physical intelligence.
So if you’re like me, and you don’t know how to change the central heating timer.. which in my house comes on at 6.30am.. then this is definitely a positive. However it is all about balance, and as Maehle acknowledges.. we should never build up a degree of flexibility that is not matched by the necessary support of strength, and vice versa… building up great strength without increasing one’s flexibility restricts the range of joint movement. So.. to increase the heat.. I light that internal fire with some extra vinyasa. If the sages in the Himalayas can practice in sub zero.. so can we! 🙂
Beating the Winter blues
Sharing below some pointers that were passed on to me, that have definitely helped me this winter:
- Remain positive. Focus on the positives.
- Have a weekly or monthly goal, e.g. conquering a new asana, trying out a new sequence.
- Attend vinyasa classes or step up the number of surya namaskaras/ vinyasa in your home practice. This will help ignite the fire within during the cold.
- Wear layers. Including socks, perhaps two pairs of leggings, stay warm.
- Indulge in massage… the art of abhyanga, self massage, before showers preferably, using warming heating oils on your dried out joints, such as sesame oil. For more on the art of abhyanga – check out this blog post, which I believe sums up the technique very nicely.
- Do try get out in nature, winter has its own beauty and charms. That blast of cold crisp air in my opinion is second to none!
In the words of one of the most iconic vinyasa yoga masters..
“Do your practice and all is coming”
~ Sri K Patthabi Jois