Usually I do asana practice in my yoga shala, but the cold is starting to really get to me, so lately I prefer to practice in my small, warm, cosy living room.
Most asana related injuries I ever had were from practicing or demonstrating asana on the class while not warm enough. It’s usually a pulled hamstring or my SI starts to act up when I go to deep without building enough heat in the body.
With this cold, wet weather, we have entered Kapha season mixed with some cold, windy dry Vata days, so we need to adjust our daily rituals as well as our practice to fight off the imbalances this season can bring. To stay balanced and decrease Kapha, we need more fire and air. In terms of diet, warm and spicy but light food and warm drinks are great for this time of year. I use a lot of ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and chilly. Most spices are Kapha pacifying.
As for the asana practice, this is the time when I really build up my strength and do the work. I do a lot of fiery practice, I work on my balances and transitions as well as backbends but I make sure I am really warm enough before I do anything weight bearing on the joints or before I go too deep in asanas which require flexibility. This is a good time to really give it all you've got on the mat, without the risk of overheating and overdoing it.
So, here are some tips for practicing on minus something degrees Celsius.
Get up and do it
This is the time we all prefer to stay under the blanket, and, even though we do need be more careful with our energy and rest more, any form of physical movement will reduce the heaviness and sluggishness we may feel this time of year.
I do my morning meditation but I leave asana practice for the afternoon and this feels perfect. Whatever time of the day you find is good for you, that is your perfect time to practice. Listening to the body is always a good idea;).
Start the practice gently, using 50% of your flexibility before you feel the heat building up. Don't skip your Surya Namaskars, they are meant to warm up the body and move the energy around before we start holding asanas. I never (not even in warmer days) jump back or forward in first few Surya Namaskars (too much for still cold ankles and wrists) and never do Chaturanga (too much weight on wrists before they are warm) or Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (too deep of an extension, Bhujangasana is better as it warms up the spine gently) in the first two Namaskars. I also keep my knees bent in Uttanasana until I feel my legs are warm enough.
Slow is the key
Rushing through the practice often results in using more the momentum - like in a vinyasa when you run trough Chaturanga - Urdhva Mukha - Adho Mukha instead of moving slow and with the breath, and the flexibility rather than muscle strength. Moving slowly and really working your muscles will not only increase the heat in the body but will also work on your strength. If you have been doing a more dynamic asana practice for some time now but feel you still lack strength, look at how you practice. Do you rush through your vinyasas or do you really use your body? Winter is perfect for practicing slow, mindful transitions from one asana to another as it’s not easy to create too much heath in the body.
This is the time when I work on my core strength. Working with the fire element is great now; it decreases built up Kapha and with it heaviness, built up toxins in the mind and body. If you are working on some standing or arm balances, inversions like Pincha or a handstand, more difficult transitions like from one arm balance to another, this is a good time to up your game.
Finish with some gentle back bends and a nice, long Shavasana.