The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year for those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere. These cold winter months call for a unique set of self care rituals to help keep the inner fire stoked. Here are five warming practices that you can integrate into your daily routine.
1. Healing Waters
A surefire way to warm chilled bones is by ending your day with a hot bath. Enhance the benefits of a soak by adding epsom salts and essential oils.
If you don’t have a tub, a long hot shower before bed and/or upon waking can help heat your heart. Try hanging fresh herbs from the shower head to let the hot water send you into steamy bliss. Eucalyptus helps clear sinuses and improve breathing, rosemary’s anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe sore muscles, and lavender is known to reduce stress and anxiety.
When it’s hard to leave the house, try planning an excursion to a local hot spring, joining a bath house, or planning a sauna date with friends.
2. Fan the Flames
If you have a fireplace, get in the habit of building a nightly fire. Setting yourself up with good firewood, kindling, and paper can make the task of building a fire as easy as 1,2,3.
Consider getting a small outdoor fire pit. It’s a great way to gather with friends and celebrate togetherness and light to combat the dark night.
Invest in a stock of candles so you can light them up as soon as it gets dark. The warmth of candle light can improve your mood as well as add warmth to your space.
3. Build Heat with Breath
Try yogic breathing exercises to help you build internal heat. Practicing them in the morning to before stepping out for the day will warm your body and increase alertness in your mind.
This staple of asana practice involves engaging in a light constriction in the back of your throat as you breathe slowly in and out through your nose. This constriction adds a challenge to the muscles of respiration, which focuses your attention and allows you to begin to build inner heat.
Breathe in through the nose—you can use the Ujjayi constriction and sound—then exhale forcibly out through the mouth with a “haaaaaaah” sound. A few rounds serve to build heat and shake out tension.
Sit comfortably in an upright posture and rest your hands on your lower belly. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your belly with air about ¾ way full. In a quick motion, forcefully expel all the air from your lungs while drawing your navel in toward your spine. Perform this cycle 10 times, then allow your breathing to return to normal and observe the sensations in your body. Repeat these cycles of 10 movements, 3 to 4 times. Bonus points to this breath for activating the digest system on a sluggish morning!
4. Tea as Ceremony
Warm yourself from the inside out by sipping tea throughout the day. Opt for herbal blends that offer healing benefits as well as aromatherapy to soothe your soul.
Winter is a great time to learn or practice a tea ceremony, which has roots in several East Asian cultures. Pouring tea in a ceremonial way can transform the casual act of sipping a beverage into an intentional ritual.
Try setting aside time to sip tea and journal or sit in quiet contemplation. A tea ceremony is a great way to connect with a partner, housemates, or friends. Deepen your practice and connect with community by attending tea ceremonies at a local Japanese teahouse or studying with a teacher.
5. Warming Winter Yoga Flow
Practice a warming flow to energize your winter mornings. This sequence starts slow to gently awaken stuff muscles, and moves into heat-building postures to invigoratye your body and mind.
Engage a Warming Breath
Begin in a seating position and practice a warming breath, as outlined above.
Seated Warm Up
On an inhale, raise your arms overhead. As you exhale, lower your arms to your sides, fingertips brushing the earth. Repeat three to five times.
Transition into a seated spinal twist by placing your right palm to the outside of your left knee. Reach your left arm overhead and to the right, lengthening your left side into a lateral stretch. Hold for one to three breaths. Release, then repeat on the other side.
Connect both hands to your knees and inhale into Seated Cow, gently arching the spine. Exhale into a Seated Cat, rounding the back. Repeat three to five times, warming up the spine.
From Table, press up and back into Downward-Facing Dog, pedaling out your legs to warm up the hamstrings. Inhale forward into Plank pose, stacking the shoulders over the wrists, and hold for one to three breaths. Flow from Plank to Down Dog three to five times.
From Downward-Facing Dog Pose transition into Crescent Lunge Pose by step your right foot forward between your palms and lift your torso upright, extending your arms up toward the ceiling. Engage your core, knit your ribs together, and root down through your tailbone.Take an inhale breath, and exhale to bend your back knee toward the earth, hovering it about two inches off the mat. Continue straightening and bending your back knee in this way for three rounds and then lower your palms to the earth and step back into Downward-Facing Dog Pose. Switch sides.
Make your way into Chair Pose from Downward-Facing Dog, by walking your hands back toward your feet to a forward bend, keeping a slight bend in your knees. Bring your big toes to touch, leaving a couple inches of space between your heels, and bend your knees toward 90 degrees. Inhale to stretch your arms overhead in line with your ears while keeping your shoulders soft. Draw the tailbone under and engage your core, letting the bottom half of your body be heavy; bring your weight into your heels. Hold here for five breaths and then sit down on your mat.
From the seated position, lift yourself in Boat Pose by balancing your weight between your sitting bones and tailbone, and lifting your chest, shoulders and shins with your left and arms extended parallel to the ground. On your inhale, lower your body toward the earth, hovering your feet about two inches off the mat and keeping your head and neck lifted; exhale to lift back up into Boat Pose; continue this flow for five cycles, eventually lowering all the way down to your back.
Once complete, move into Bridge Pose by bending your knees, place your feet flat on the ground—hips-width distance apart and parallel. Press down through your shoulders, palms, and feet to lift your hips off the ground. Hold here for 10 breaths, and then mindfully lower yourself down to the ground.
Seal in the Heat
Finish your practice with an energized Mountain Pose to keep your body warm and your mind focused, and ready for the day ahead. Stand up with your feet hips-width distance apart and parallel, engage your core and root down through your tailbone. Close your eyes and vigorously rub your palms together for a couple of breaths. Place your palms over your heart, allowing the warming sensation to spread across your chest.