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Winter Yoga

Is yoga on your list of new year’s resolutions? Or thinking of taking your yoga practice to the next level? Experts say don’t wait until spring to kick-start your yoga training – winter could be the best time to put your wellness goals into practice.

While spring may be thought of as the season for growth, renewal and rejuvenation, winter is typically considered to be the season of rest, inactivity and reserving our energy. But health experts warn we shouldn’t spend the colder, darker months being completely sedentary. In fact, there are several common winter-related health issues that can be effectively treated with regular activity – yoga being one of the most beneficial. A recent article published by Australian Natural Health expands on this topic, highlighting five major winter health issues that can be greatly relieved through consistent yoga practice.

Managing Chronic Joint Pain

Research has shown yoga to be an effective pain management strategy for those suffering from chronic joint pain. And since joint pain is typically exacerbated in winter (thanks, barometric pressure changes), practicing yoga during this season can provide much-needed relief.

“In general, practising asana (postures) in a Vinyasa (flowing form) style maintains joint mobility and increases circulation while loosening stiffness within the joints,” writes Emma Palmer, contributor to Australian Natural Health. “An essential part of easing pain during this time is to ensure that the body stays warm, as heat also helps muscles to relax and, therefore, asana as a therapy is a soothing way of decreasing joint pain.”

Respiratory Care

One of the most underappreciated natural aspects of maintaining our health and wellness is our breath. By being mindful of our breathing and practicing it correctly, we can do our respiratory system a kindness and potentially treat some of the symptoms of common winter illnesses.

Here’s what the article had to say on the subject:

“One of the most natural ways that asana protects the lower respiratory system is to consistently breath [sic] via the nose, through the practice of ujjayi (victorious) pranayama (breathing practices), and this is for two main reasons. Firstly, the lungs constrict when the air coming into the body is cool, and inhaling through the nose warms the air before it enters the lungs, caused by air passing over blood capillaries underneath the mucous membranes. Secondly, the groove-like passage of the turbinates in the nasal airway swirl and filter air, thus protecting the respiratory system from potential allergens that may irritate the lungs. Stronger pranayama practices also benefit the lungs and strengthen the relationship between the nervous and respiratory systems – such as kapalabhati (skull shining breath) and bhastrika (bellows breath) – as they both aim to support, strengthen and protect both the upper and lower respiratory while increasing the tonicity and integrity of lung function and respiration.”

Skin Care

Did you know the skin is the largest organ of the body? Why not take good care of it throughout the drier winter months? (And we don’t mean slathering on perfumed lotions). Through the practice of yoga, particularly heated yoga, the sweat from your body can work to cleanse and detoxify your pores, which helps maintain hydration and suppleness. Plus, since your body is working harder through heated yoga, your cardiovascular and respiratory function increases and can help you maintain a healthy body weight.

Improving Your Mood

Ever heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD)? This is a very common condition that is estimated to affect 10 million Americans, according to Psychology Today. SAD is a form of depression in which people experience depressive episodes during specific times of the year. Most commonly, SAD seasonal patterns begin in the fall or winter and tend to diminish in the spring. Symptoms include but are not limited to feelings of hopelessness and sadness, thoughts of suicide, hypersomnia (tendency to oversleep), change in appetite, weight gain, drop in energy, difficulty concentrating and increased sensitivity to social rejection.
“An effective way that yoga may help to alleviate these symptoms is to incorporate the practice of surya namaskar (sun salutations) variations into your morning practice; not only will they build heat and increase cardiorespiratory integrity, they will also elevate the mood, provide a greater feeling of energy and endurance as well as contribute to rebalancing the circadian rhythms,” writes Palmer.

Stress Management

Stress isn’t just an unpleasant feeling we experience when we’re overwhelmed, dissatisfied or fearful. Stress can actually contribute to a decline in physical health. When someone experiences stress, their hypothalamus (master gland of the endocrine system) releases a hormone called cortisol, which is something we all need for the “fight or flight” response. Cortisol is also responsible for regulating the body’s immune system. When there is too much cortisol in the blood, it can actually suppress the body’s immune system, leaving it vulnerable to disease.

When it comes to destressing, Palmer says focusing on the slower, more relaxing aspects of yoga is the way to go.
“Although a strong, heated vinyasa practice is an essential part of the limbering process and a crucial part of working synergistically with the systems of the body during winter, it is also important to recognise that the slower, more relaxing aspect of yoga supports immunity, particularly where high levels of stress are a factor in day-to-day life,” writes Palmer. “When the nervous system is relaxed, the immune system has a greater chance of attacking bacteria and viruses.”

To learn more about the specific benefits of winter yoga practice, read the full article from Australian Natural Health here.

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