by Holly Walck, devoted Iyengar yoga student and teacher
My teacher, Patricia Walden, regularly advises us to “have an adventure” in our practices. Now, I’m all for having new experiences, and I know that this state of mind comes easily when the weather is warm and the skies are sunny. However, much like the water in the frozen ponds and creeks that are characteristic of this time of year, enthusiasm doesn’t flow as freely in the cold, gray days of winter.
That’s why I’ve put together the following sequence, which is designed to counteract the abundance of inertia (tamas) inherent in the winter season and bring some playful activity (rajas) into your bones and muscles, while invigorating your organs and glands and stimulating you to take deeper breaths. Think of it as your own personal spring thaw!
Many warm, wonderful practices to you all.
Yoga Sequence for Cold Hands and a Warm Heart:
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskarasana, variation)
Benefits: Aside from waking up the musculoskeletal system, sun salutations bring the mind into contact with the body using the breath, which is the bridge between the two.
Contraindications: If you have an issue with your back, or you have very restricted movement in forward extensions due to tight hamstrings, bend your knees in Forward Bend (Uttanasana)—both the concave stage and full pose—and in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). You can also place your hands on a chair for both of these postures, and keep your hands on your waist when bending forward from and coming back up to Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
Intense Side Stretch and Warrior I Vinyasa (Pasrvottanasana and Virabhadrasana I)
Benefits: Lengthens and strengthens the muscles in the legs, hips, and spine. The arm position loosens restriction in the chest and upper back and creates more mobility in the shoulders. Done regularly, these poses can help correct a forward head position and alleviate arthritis in the neck and shoulders.
Contraindications: If you have an issue with your shoulders, elbows, or wrists, place your hands on your waist. In Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I), if you experience any pain in your knee or low back, stop bending your knee before the painful feeing arrives.
Upward Bound Fingers Pose and Full Arm Balance (Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana and Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
Benefits: Both poses open the armpits and, as a result, can help decrease depression and remove fatigue. Upward Bound Fingers Pose (Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana) corrects problems in the wrists and elbows and loosens tightness in the shoulders. Full Arm Balance/Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) strengthens the abdomen, spinal muscles, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands.
Contraindications: For Full Arm Balance (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), if you have not already been taught this pose and perform it without assistance, do not attempt it now. Simply repeat Upward Bound Fingers Pose (Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana).
Seated Forward Bend and Plow (Paschimottanasana and Halasana)
Benefits: Brings a sense of lightness and joyfulness to the body/mind. Strengthens the core muscles, which stabilize the body; relaxes tight muscles in the back of the body.
Contraindications: If you have any hamstring, back, shoulder, or neck issues, or have not already been taught how to do Plow Pose (Halasana) and/or Shoulder Stand Pose (Salamba Sarvangasana), do not attempt this vinyasa. Do a Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana) instead.
Wide Seated Forward Bend and Reclined Angle Pose (Upavistha Konasana and Supta Konasana)
Benefits: Brings a sense of lightness and joyfulness to the body/mind. Increases circulation to the pelvic area.
Contraindications: If you have any hamstring, back, shoulder, or neck issues, or have not already been taught how to do Plow Pose (Halasana) and/or Shoulder Stand Pose (Salamba Sarvangasana), do not attempt this vinyasa. Instead do Wide Seated Forward Bend Pose (Upavistha Konasana).