Yoga has existed as a formal practice for thousands of years. Before that, earlier humans probably used it without having a specific word for it.
What’s the secret to its longevity? The practice remains popular, even today, because of its transformative curative properties. Here’s how to use Yoga to ease your winter aches and pains and get back to feeling better more quickly throughout this season.
Find stretches that suit your body
There are thousands of Yoga poses. That’s good news if you have chronic pain, as you can find stretches that seem custom-fit to your body.
For example, movements such as figure-four pose or supine pigeon open up your lower back and hip muscles. Many people tend to carry emotional tension in these areas. When you don’t release that pent-up stress, it manifests as muscle aches and pain.
Don’t be surprised if some emotions come up during your practice. Use these moments as opportunities to practice mindfulness. Remember, feelings themselves can’t hurt you—only your actions regarding those feelings can do so. Therefore, sit with each feeling for a while, letting yourself experience it and letting it inform you of your needs. Listen carefully, in the silence, for answers from your higher self.
Other heavenly stretches for your back include child’s pose and gentle twists, such as Matsyendrasana (also known as Lord of the Fishes pose). As you perform these, it’s OK if you feel or hear your back crack a little when you rotate. Forward folds stretch the piriformis muscle, which can tighten with prolonged sitting, causing considerable low-back pain. You can reverse the arch with bridge pose or take it up to a full wheel if you have the strength and want to extend your mid-back region as well.
Yoga poses for other areas frequently plagued by chronic pain include the following sets. If you aren’t sure how long to hold each pose, aim for about a minute for each one you perform, and remember to switch sides for all poses except Hero’s.
For your shoulders
- Reach-under: Get into all fours on the floor. Extend your right arm, crossing it under your chest as you press back with your buttocks. Bring your right shoulder to the floor, turning your head to look in the direction of your extended palm. Stretch the left arm overhead for a bonus upper-back stretch. Repeat on the other side.
- Fingertip touch: Extend your right arm directly overhead, with your elbow next to your ear. Bend it backward, as if you’re trying to scratch your mid-back. Wrap your left arm behind your body from below, while attempting to touch your fingertips behind you. Please don’t worry if they don’t meet—the stretch is the important thing.
For your hips
- Pigeon: Begin this pose in a plank or downward-facing dog. Bring the right leg through with your knee bent. You can point the foot toward the groin or extend the leg closer to a 90-degree angle. Extend the left leg behind you. Lift your chest, then lower it over the bent front leg.
- Seated double-pigeon: Begin sitting criss-cross applesauce like you did in grade school. Place one leg on top of the other with your knees bent and one foot resting upon the opposite knee. Think of stacking firewood—the Sanskrit word for this pose is Agnistambhasana, or fire log.
For your knees
- Lotus prep: If you can get into lotus, great! If you aren’t quite there yet—or aren’t sure you ever want to be—you can still protect your knees with prep work. Sit with your legs extended in front of you as if you were going to do a forward fold. Place one foot on top of the opposite thigh. Gently press your knee towards the floor without using force. You might want to rely on leg strength alone, reminding yourself to stay static without bouncing.
- Hero’s pose: This move stretches your knees in the opposite direction of lotus prep. Begin in a kneeling position with your buttocks resting on your feet. Take your feet slightly to either side so that your glutes sit flat on the floor. If this movement is too intense, use a pillow or bolster under your fanny to take some of the pressure off your knee joint.
Stay warm with Vinyasa or Ashtanga
The cold can aggravate winter aches and pains. The temperature forces your muscles to work much harder than they would under warmer conditions, leading to tension and, sometimes, painful spasms.
You can crank up the heat right in your living room if you clear some space and participate in an energetic Ashtanga or Vinyasa class. Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient, formalized style that repeats the same primary poses with vinyasas in between to keep you sweating. Bikram Yoga builds off this tradition, performing the same sequence in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40 percent humidity.
A vinyasa refers to combining breath and body movement. For example, you may inhale as you stretch your arms overhead, and exhale as you bend into a forward fold. In contrast to Hatha Yoga, where you hold poses for several breaths, this style keeps you moving, increasing your aerobic capacity. You may only hold each asana for one breath count, but repeat flows several times, improving your neuroplasticity.
Heal deep tissues with Yin
Yin Yoga focuses on holding poses anywhere from three to 20 minutes, targeting deep connective tissues like fascia and ligaments. More and more physicians and trainers now turn to this Yoga form when it comes to helping their athletes heal and recover. If you get hurt while shovelling, make this style your go-to while you get better.
If you find Yin too intense—the stretches are looooooong, y’all—tune into some restorative Yoga. This form is similar to the Yin tradition, but many guides don’t hold poses for what feels like an eternity. It’s a good idea to tune into such a class before bed if you’ve been experiencing sleepless nights. The gentle motion calms your central nervous system, helping you calm restlessness and get your Zzzs.
Meditate on impermanence
People typically have one of two attitudes towards winter. You either love the season or you despise it and can’t wait for it to end.
If you fall into the latter camp, perhaps because of seasonal depression, use Yoga to benefit your mental health. Throughout your practice, meditate on change and impermanence.
Some things feel good, like a yummy restorative Yoga class. You want them to last forever, but they can’t. Conversely, you want other things to end. Impermanence also means that unpleasant things won’t last forever. You can stand strong against winter’s storms in the same way you stood against every other difficult thing in your past. When you emerge in the spring, the sound of birdsongs will sing that much sweeter.
Ease aches and pains in a mindful way
The cold season can increase symptoms in those with chronic conditions and cause new feelings of discomfort for other people. Use Yoga to ease your winter aches and pains by following this handful of mindful tips.
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