As I mentioned in the post,"How to Keep your Yoga Fire Burning ... ", the winter months aren't the time to develop a strong physical practice. We instinctively seek to move to the body's inner seasonal rhythms, naturally moving away from the expressive, expansive flows of summer towards a quieter, more subdued practice.
That's not to say yoga in these darker, colder months need be dull. Rather, it becomes more nuanced, more subtle. Accompanying this pull to move inwards is the opportunity to commune with stillness. Within this stillness, we're provided the space to practise svadhyaha, or self study, the fourth Niyama.
As we work quietly and conscientiously on our mat, we can reflect on the habits and attitudes that may or may not work for us, habits and attitudes that the more energetic impulse of summer often ignores in its excitement.
Now, I'm not suggesting we should put on the onesie and spend the winter buried under a quilt in Savasana. What I am suggesting though is making your time on the mat more considered. You can still have a strong practice but slow it down so you have time to watch yourself ~ your body, your breath, your thoughts ~ and to really see. It's a time of reassessment. What do you keep; what can you throw away?
A pose to help you with this is Vyaghrasana ~ Tiger Pose. At first glance it seems dull, pedestrian. All-fours, taking one leg back, whoop-di-do. Don't be fooled, this is merely camouflage, This is a deceptively strong pose, perfect for stoking the embers of your agni (inner fire) to a blaze on the coldest of mornings.
HOW to TAME the TIGER
1. After a few slow rounds of Cat/Cow, resettle yourself in Table Pose ~ hands under shoulders, knees under hips, feet hip-width apart.
Take a moment to press the tops of your feet and your hands into the mat, at the same time gently lift your belly so you're not hanging in the lower back.
Press into the earth beneath you at the same time drawing up strength.
2. Slowly inhale, gently drawing up mula bandha as you take your right leg behind you to hip level, foot flexed, toes pointing to your mat. Breathe.
3. Are you dumping weight into your left hip and right hand? Are you able to equalise the weight distribution? Can you draw your shoulders back so the shoulder blades sit quietly on your back? Can you bring your neck in alignment with the rest of you spine?
Investigate what's going on for you. Keep drawing up your belly, enabling your spine to extend out of the pelvis and the crown of your head to lengthen forward.
After five slow breaths, return your right knee to your mat. Take a moment to notice how you feel and where you feel it.
4. Repeat on the other side, observing any differences, any symmetry. Take a wide Child's Pose, surrendering belly, back and shoulders. What thoughts come to mind; do you recognise them? Are they true?
5. From Table Pose inhale, drawing back your right leg to hip height as before.
6. Exhale, fully engaging mula bandha, draw your right knee towards your nose.
Press down through your hands, creating space across your shoulder blades as you lower your head. Avoid forcing your head to your knee, simply allow its own weight to effect the move, without force or effort. Hold for three slow breaths.
This is difficult; you may be unable to lift the right foot off the floor or to find the strength to keep space open for the knee. How do you feel about that? Do those feelings serve you or distract? Examine what's going on.
7. Inhale the right leg back bringing the head back up.
8. Exhale to Table Pose, then to Child's Pose.
9. Repeat on other side.
10. Inhale, take the right leg back and bend at the knee, pressing the ball of your foot to the ceiling. At the same time, tilt the pelvis, lifting the tailbone and feeling a sense of extension flowing along the front of the spine. The head should lift as a natural consequence of that extension. Raise your gaze, without straining the neck.
Keep your hands rooting down, broadening the collar bones, keeping the shoulder heads back and gently squeezing the shoulder blades towards each other. Keep some lift to the belly to support the spine. Feel your heart centre advance.
Hold for 5 slow breaths, staying with any sensations that turn up. When we find things difficult, it's easy to react habitually. Can you do anything differently this time to ease the discomfort? Would that mean coming out of pose early? How do you feel about that?
11. Exhale, drawing the right knee to your nose.
12. Inhale the right leg straight back.
13. Exhale to Table Pose and then slowly ease into Child's Pose as before.
14. Repeat leading with left leg.
Vyaghrasana works on the manipura chakra, the seat of your ego and sense of self. She challenges you to meet yourself head on, and discard habits and behaviours which no longer serve.
The days may be darker but let the Tiger light your way.