Slippery sidewalks, days and nights spent inside, and constant daydreaming about the summer paddling season too often define the cold winter months. As this pattern repeats itself, tension begins to build in the body and mind. A regular yoga practice can help melt away any physical stress and bring the mind back to the present from its almost magnetic attraction to the paddling season.
Combining pranayama (control of the breath) with a series of asanas (postures or positions of the body) lays the foundation of all yoga practice. Yoga offers the practitioner more than just a stretch; it is a journey of self-discovery. Asanas have been used to enable practitioners to sit in meditation for extended periods of time. A regular yoga practice is a powerful tool for anyone, but especially paddlers during the off season. The same feeling of presence and awareness that is produced when we are paddling on a misty body of water at dawn can be achieved, with practice, from a quiet space in our home during the winter months.
Below are a series of asanas that target areas of the body that often hold stress and tension during the winter months. The series also focuses on building core strength which is important for long days on the water.
Salamba Setu Bandha Sarvangasana/ Supported Bridge
(1) To begin lay on your back with your knees bent. Use your arms for support, gently lift your hips off the floor and slide a block, blanket, or bolster under your sacrum (triangular bone at the base on the spine). Ensure you are comfortable with no pinching sensations.
With hands on your ribcage, relax into the pose by breathing deeply for 3-5 minutes.
(2) Once you have settled into your breath, on an inhale lift both feet toward the ceiling bending your knees as much as you need to. Hold your legs in this position for 5 cycles of breath.
To release the pose, lower the feet back to the ground with knees bent. Pushing into the ground with your feet, gently lift your hips and remove the support from under your sacrum. Using your arms for support, slowly relax your spine to the ground vertebrae by vertebrae until you are lying flat on your back.
Uttanasana/ Standing forward bend
(1) Come to standing, with feet hip width apart, toes pointing forward. Bring your hands to your hips. With a slight bend in your knees, hinge forward from the hips with a flat back. Bending your knees as much as required, fold forward until your chest comes to rest on your thighs. Hold onto opposite elbows with your hands, breathing deeply into your back body and hamstrings. Relax here, gently rocking side to side and nodding your head to release any tension in your neck. Hold this pose for 5-10 cycles of breath.
(2) On an inhale find a flat back and bring your hands to your shins. Keep your neck in line with your spine. On your next exhale return your hands to the floor and chest to thighs. Repeat this on your inhale and exhale 2-3 times.
Utthan Pristhasana/ Lizard Pose
From standing, bring your right leg all the way to the back of your mat coming to a high lunge position. Drop your right knee to the mat, releasing the toes, and bring your hands to the floor on the inside of your left foot. Shuffle your left foot towards the outer edge of your mat.
Let your hips grow heavy; you should feel a stretch on the front of your right thigh. Breathe slowly and deeply into your back body, hips, and legs. Extend your heart forward and lengthen your spine and drawing the shoulder blades together.
Melt into this pose for 5-10 cycles of breathe, then repeat on the opposite side by stepping the left leg back from standing.
Paripurna Navasana/ Boat Pose
Begin sitting on the floor, legs in front of you with feet on the floor. If you have one, hold a block between your knees. Place your hands behind you, finger tips pointing towards your hips and gently lean back making sure to keep your back straight. You should feel balanced on your sits bone.
Exhale and lift your feet off the floor so they are at 45 degree angle to the floor. Finding your balance on your sits bone, lift your hands, reaching toward your feet. Spread your shoulder blades as you reach forward, keeping your arms parallel to the floor. Try to keep your spine straight, avoiding any rounding in the upper back.
With your belly flat and tight, breathe into the pose for 10-20 seconds. Repeat two more times, gradually increase the length of time in the posture each time. Release your legs on an exhalation and lift on your inhale.