Tips for staying healthy and happy during the shortest and coldest days of the year.
It’s already snowing at my house. So naturally, I’m thinking of blizzards and being wrapped up in the covers with hot tea. How to stay warm and most importantly happy/healthy? I met with Cassandra on this subject. She’s a Vinyasa Yoga teacher in Bellingham Washington. Together, we brainstormed on yogic routines for staying happy during the upcoming cold and dark season. Often, we eat tons of rich foods or sink into a moody funk, especially during the US Holidays. So we asked, how can this be avoided? We came up with a few poses or (yoga asana) that are energizing and grounding. We also found a few tips for your morning that will help to keep seasonal depression at bay.
Some of us work in industries, like retail, that pick up at this time of year, while others have the added stress of family obligations, throwing parties, or the need to travel. These few tips won’t take too much time away from your busy schedule but will allow you to feel more grounded, strong and relaxed in your body, and carry an overall happier glow to your demeanor.
First Thing’s First: your Morning Routine
Both of us have experienced the rewards of becoming early risers. Cassandra traveled to Costa Rica for yoga training, while I studied at an ashram in India. We were taught to wake up before sunrise to begin practice. Even though it can be difficult at times to keep up this routine while we are back at home, I understand the value and do my best with it. Cassandra and I agreed that not only do we feel super productive in achieving things during a full day after rising early, but also it allows for the perfect spiritual space, first thing upon getting out of bed. It’s quiet and all the other things have not started distracting our attention yet, at least that is the idea.
Keeping Quiet and Focused: No Phones
Cassandra’s Costa Rican teachers wouldn’t allow any phone time before asana practice. Additionally, they instructed: no reading, music, or holding conversations. It’s great advice, to reserve this time for your own inward time. It’s a few minutes of your day before the emails or work tasks start to build up. Time to be quiet, contemplative, and meditative only. The first thing I do after I open my eyes is sit in bed and take several deep breaths. Knowing that my mind will start getting active right away, the goal is not get carried away in the strong current of my thoughts. In meditation- the goal is not to rid oneself of thoughts. But we don’t need to identify, or becoming attached to the thinking process. Instead, I focus on the breathing motions while allowing the mental activity to come and go. A warm cup of chai or coffee in your hands is fine if you prefer -just leave that smartphone in its sleep mode until after finishing yoga asana.
Get Moving into Asana Practice
In the Ashram, we discussed what to do first, meditation or asana? This is your personal preference, as one can help prepare for the other with calming effects. I usually set out my yoga mat the night before for an easy transition from bed to asana. Warm up with something simple. I like to do Cat/Cow posture for three minutes.
During our session, Cassandra and I started with simply rotating our joints, while in a standing position. Start breathing. Shoulder rolls, head rolls, swimming motions with the arms, move the hips in circles, lifting the knees up and around in a circle. Rotate the ankles and feet as well. If alone (and I know no one is watching 😉 then I dance. This is a great pre-yoga warm-up and mood elevating practice! Have you been breathing? If so, and the joints are feeling looser and muscles warm, then it is time to begin a short yoga asana routine. Sun Salutations is a tried and true classic morning set of yoga poses.
Give Salutations to the Morning Sun
Surya Namaskar (or Sun Salutations, as it literally translates to Sun Greetings) can be done in a few variations refered to as A, B, or C. When I was living at the Ashram we brought our mats up to the rooftop and said prayers to Lord Sun as we did these movements, but this is optional not at all required (see below to reference this mantra). The physical benefits of doing these Sun Salutations are endless. Cassandra and I talked about how great they are for those cold Winter mornings because doing this short sequence of movements only a few times will produce a lot of inner heat. Leaving the yogi or yogini to feel warm from within, but also grounded and strong. If learning the movements is too much at first, we suggest starting with these two poses: Mountain Pose and Warrior.
Start with Simple Postures First
Keeping it simple at first, especially if you are new to yoga, means you will be more likely to stay with the routine. A lot can be learned in each new asana (yoga posture). Mountain Pose can help us find our balance and become centered before starting a long day. Warrior, either variation One or Two are excellent for becoming both grounded and strong in the core and through the arms and legs too. Warrior pose is found in Sun Salutations, if new to yoga you may want to start with learning Warrior before learning the full sequence. If you’re an experienced yoga practitioner, we recommend 8-12 rounds of Surya Namaskar. Here’s a good resource on how to do Sun Salutations. It is such a great strength builder to be able to do this many rounds, you’re gaurenteed to break a sweat!
Winter time is hard, it is easy to sink into a moody funk. Our solution is to stick with a morning routine. Step 1: Wake up early. Step 2: Keep the cell phones shut and all media aside. Step 3: meditate Step:4 warm-up Step 5: do a set of yoga asana (postures). Doing all this before breakfast will keep your energy focused and centered within your spiritual space, providing time for self-care. Breathe. Maybe even dance, break a sweat and build strength with Surya Namaskar. Sticking with this routine may bring more bright moods and a feeling of groundedness into each day. We’ll leave you with this Surya Namaskar mantra below, traditionally recited with each yoga pose at the time of sunrise.
Surya Namaskar Mantra and English Meaning
1. Aum Mitraya Namah
Prostrations to Him (Sun) who is affectionate to all.
2. Aum Ravayre Namah
The radiant one, who is the cause for change.
3. Aum Suryaya Namah
Who dispells darkness and induces activity.
4. Aum Bhanave Namah
Who illuminates all, the bright one.
5. Aum Khagaya Namah
Who is all-pervading, one who moves through the sky.
6. Aum Pushne Namah
Giver of nourishment and fulfillment.
7. Aum Hiranyagarbhaya Namah
Who is golden colored brilliant.
8. Aum Marichaye Namah
The giver of light with an infinite number of rays.
9. Aum Adityaya Namah
The son of Aditi, the cosmic divine Mother.
10. Aum Savitre Namah
One who is responsible for all life.
11. Aum Arkaya Namah
Worthy of praise and glory.
12. Aum Bhaskaraya Namah
Giver of wisdom and cosmic illumination.