Winter season can create notable changes to our bodies and minds. Cold weather can cause us to slump over, tighten up, and hunch our shoulders to our ears. Holiday stress may aggravate this tension in our bodies, causing us to feel even tenser and more drawn inward. To combat winter blues, we can start from within by practicing yoga sequences that open our hearts. Try these 5 yoga poses to keep you happy, motivated and energized through the long winter days.
Seated Meditation with Anjali Mudra
Begin your practice by coming to a seat. Sit on either a block, a meditation cushion, or a folded blanket so that you can maintain your seat comfortably without rounding your back. Ground down through your sit bones, lengthen through your spine, draw your shoulder blades down your back, and feel a lift through the crown of your head. With your eyes closed or a soft gaze, bring your palms to press together with your thumb knuckles pressing into your sternum. This gesture, called Anjali mudra, represents our offering of our unique gifts that we can bring to the world, and the hand-to-heart connection reinforces the sense of compassion that we can share for all living beings.
Keep this gesture for five minutes of a seated meditation. As your breath expands and contracts your chest, use this sensation of the breath’s movement as an anchor into the present moment. Each time your mind begins to wander from the present, gently guide it back to your steady breathing.
From your seated position, extend both arms straight in front of you at shoulder height with your palms facing in and thumbs facing the sky.
For eagle arms, wrap your left arm underneath your right, bend at the elbows, and wrap your forearms around one another so that the palms touch. Press your forearms toward the front of your mat to feel a broadening through the back of your heart space. If this pose feels too intense, try it with a single wrap of the arms or simply give yourself a bear hug by crossing your arms at your chest and catching onto opposite shoulder blades. Whichever variation you choose, focus on the sensation through the back of your heart as you hold for 10 breaths. Repeat on your second side, this time with your right arm wrapping underneath the left.
Roll over your shins into a tabletop pose with your knees underneath your hips and heels of the hands underneath your shoulders. From tabletop, shift your weight into your left hand and left knee. Kickstand your left shin so that it comes toward parallel with the short edge of your mat and extend your right leg to the back of the mat with the pinky edge of your foot grounded. Rotate your chest open toward the sky and lift your right arm overhead. Bring your right bicep over your right ear and hollow out the space in your right armpit. Press your hips higher to the sky and breathe into a sense of broadening across the right side of your heart space; Hold for 10 breaths before switching to the second side.
Upward Facing Dog
From tabletop, extend both legs behind you to plank post, then flip onto the tops of your feet and begin to lower your pelvis to hover off the earth. Keep the kneecaps lifted off your mat and activate the quadriceps by drawing the kneecaps toward your pubic bone. Hug your shoulder blades down your back, lift through your sternum, and draw your chest through the gateways of your arms. Without straining your neck, lift your chin slightly and shift your gaze upwards toward the space where the wall meets the ceiling of your practice space. If you feel compression in your low back, lower your legs, pelvis, belly, and forearms to the earth for sphinx pose. Whichever variation you chose, focus on the front of your heart space as you hold for 10 breaths.
For gomukasana pose, return to a seat with your spine erect and a prop underneath your sit bones. Cross at your shins with your left shin in front of right. If you feel sufficient sensation in the muscles of your outer hips, stay here.
To deepen, bring your left knee to stack on top of the right. Use your hands on your feet to adjust your feet so that they are parallel to one another. Either stay upright, focusing on the sensation in the hips and the lengthening of your spine, or begin to walk your fingertips toward the front of the mat as you continue to anchor down through your sit bones. On each inhale, feel the slightest sensation of a backbend as you lengthen through your spine. On each exhale, feel a broadening through the back of your heart space as your round forward. Continue with this breath pattern for 15 deep breaths before switching to your second side.
By opening through the front, the back, and the sides of our heart space, we can cultivate a sense of heart opening that can transcend our physical bodies. By opening our hearts to compassion, we can combat the blues of long winter days and put our best self forward into the world.