Yoga Winter Warmers

Yoga Winter Warmers

December 17, 2019

Yoga techniques naturally warm and heat the body.

For over three thousand years yogis have been using ancient techniques to increase tapas (not Spanish food but internal warmth), to maintain and ignite an internal fire known as agni.

This internal warmth and fire has the ability to remove toxins and impurities from both body and mind, which in turn produces a strong and healthy body free from tension and ailments with a clear and focused mind. 

So instead of reaching for a hot chocolate and snuggling up next to a heater to keep warm this winter why not try a few warming yoga techniques.

For fire to light and stay alight, air is required. In yoga this comes in the form of breath  or pranayama, to keep the fire steady and controlled, the breath should remain steady and controlled. The inhalation and exhalation help to maintain and direct the internal fire, so by changing the flow of your breath you can redirect the internal fire and warmth.

To help intensify and control the heat, internal and external breath retentions (khumbhaka) are used along with bandhas (energy locks or seals). 

Bandhas

Bandhas are not just muscular contractions, they are designed to lock and connect internal systems, they lock and seal energy inside the body and then through releasing the bandhas and engaging them energy can be redirected.

Bandhas are crucial for maintaining tapas (warmth) and agni (fire). Bandhas can lock tapas and agni inside the body, allowing extra heat to generate accelerating the detoxifying and purification processes. 

Mula Bandha – the root lock

A simple and basic way to begin to activate the root lock is to draw up the pelvic floor muscles, by practicing this eventually it is possible to locate the lock and activate only mula bandha.  It’s true location is the cervix for a woman and the perineum for a man. 

Uddiyana Bandha – the abdominal lock

Once Mula Bandha has been activated continue to draw up the internal muscles, then the core muscles and finally pull your navel back towards your spine.

Jalandhara Bandha – the throat lock

To perform the throat lock the breath must be retained, the tip of the tongue is rolled to the roof of the mouth and the chin is then dropped onto the chest.  Always release the lock before you release the breath.

Maha bandha – the great lock

The great lock is when all three bandhas are performed simultaneously in the following order on a internal breath retention, Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and then Jalandhara, release in reverse order.

It is also important not to confuse inner heat with external heat. The aim is to keep the heat locked inside the body for internal warming and the benefits that this brings. The inner heat will help remove the physical and emotional impurities. 

For a warming yoga practice try the following upon waking.

Kapalabhati – frontal cleansing breath

Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight. Inhale deeply through the nose filling the lungs completely. Use a short sharp contraction of the diaphragm to push some of the air out through your nose. Now allow a little more air to enter the lungs through the nose before pushing it out again using the short sharp contraction of the diaphragm. Continue breathing like this. You should be creating a sound similar to a steam train.

When starting this technique begin with a cycle of twenty breaths. This can gradually be increased up to a cycle of a hundred breaths. At the end of each cycle take one complete inhalation followed by a complete exhalation. Then inhale and retain the breath for a comfortable length of time whilst activating mula bandha (advanced practitioners might like to perform the great lock on this breath retention). Slowly release the breath and repeat the whole technique for three complete cycles

It is important that you remain strong through mula bandha and uddiyana when you perform the following two pranayamas.

Breath for Life (A)

Begin sitting in Sukhasana (the easy pose) with the ankles crossed and a straight spine.  Bend your elbows and position them against your lower ribs. Lightly clench the fists and turn the palms up. Inhale and reach the right arm forward in front of your sternum, open your hand and turn the palm down, the exhalation is performed with a short sharp contraction of the diaphragm as you do this return to your starting position. Repeat on the other side. Continue this technique start slowly and gradually get quicker and quicker. Continue this technique for approximately two minutes.

Rest in sukhasana with the eyes lightly closed breathing slowly in and out through the nose.

 Breath for life (B)

From sukhasana lift the arms out level with the shoulders. Breathe in and lift the right arm whilst lowering the left arm. Make sure that the arms move in one piece.  As you exhale lift the left arm and lower the right. Again, start slowly and gradually speed up. Continue this technique for approximately two minutes.

Rest in sukhasana with the eyes lightly closed breathing slowly in and out through the nose.

Surya Namaskar A

This Sun Salutation is performed as a part of the Ashtanga primary series to help warm the body and generate internal heat.

Begin standing at the top end of your yoga mat with your hands in a prayer position in front of your chest, inhale and lift the arms up above your head.

Exhale and fold forwards placing both hands onto your mat, palms down (bend your knees if you need to so that the whole of your palm is in contact with the floor).

Inhale as you look forwards and soften the knees whilst drawing up the pelvic floor and core muscles.

Retain your breath as you jump back to a high push up.

Exhale as you bend the elbows to a low push up (chaturanga dandasana).

Inhale lifting the chest and head to upward facing dog.

Exhale lifting your hips to create a triangular shape with your body and the floor (downward facing dog).

Hold downward facing dog for five complete breaths, whilst activating mula bandha and uddiyana bandha.

At the tail end of the last exhalation soften the knees and continue to activate mula bandha and uddiyana bandha (preparing to jump the feet forwards).

Inhale as you jump the feet behind the hands, landing with the knees slightly bent looking to the hands.

Exhale and fold into a deep standing forward bend with the legs straight.

Inhale and uncurl bringing the hands to a prayer position above your head.

Exhale and bend the elbows slowly lowering the hands and arms in front of the body finishing with the hands in prayer position in front of your chest.

Repeat five times.

Yogic Winter Warming Recipes

The agni is also regarded as the great fire of digestion these two easy recipes will also help warm the body from the inside out.

Carrot and Ginger Soup.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs or 700g carrots, peeled and chopped

2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp powdered ginger

3 pints /1.6 litres of vegetable stock

Sea salt and black pepper

Rind of 1 lemon, finely shredded

Preparation:

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the onions and carrots, cook for several minutes, stirring from time to time, then add the garlic and ginger.

Add the stock and lemon strips to the pan, half cover the pan with its lid, and simmer gently for 20 minutes until the carrots are tender.

Cool slightly then liquidize the soup until smooth.

Reheat to serve.

Winter Chai Recipe

4 plastic free black tea bags

4 small sticks cinnamon

4 – 5 lightly crushed cardamom pods

1 inch fresh ginger

10 whole cloves

1/2 tsp vanilla essence or flavouring.

4 tbs of brown sugar/coconut sugar/honey or other sweetener.

Place four cups of water in a medium saucepan. Add the cinnamon sticks, tea bags, whole cloves and ginger (peel and slice the fresh ginger).

Bring to the boil, place a lid on top, reduce the heat and simmer for at least five minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat, while the chai is still hot, stir in the sugar and vanilla and then allow it to cool. Strain the chai and store the concentrate in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.

To make a drink, combine one part chai concentrate with one part milk (cow or soya). Heat and serve!