Brrr! Winter is the season of kapha, the dosha that ayurveda (yoga’s sister science) describes as cold, wet, and heavy—like a blanket of new-fallen snow. Kapha is comprised of the water and earth elements, and it provides us with physical structure—the body’s tissues and fluids. Strong bones; beautiful teeth; lustrous hair, skin, and eyes; physical and emotional stamina—these are the gifts of kapha dosha.
The external influences of winter, however, can aggravate kapha. Symptoms of excessive kapha include a sense of heaviness or “stuckness” (or actual weight gain), chest colds, low energy, even depression. When kapha dosha is out of balance, you may feel a resistance to physical activity, including asana, or your poses may feel like they never get off the ground.
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1.) If you are feeling the effects of winter too strongly, you can balance by introducing more heat and lightness to your asana practice, emphasizing vinyasa, balances, and backbends. The Chopra Center offers some simple and helpful tips for balancing kapha dosha through asana. A practice from the Bihar yoga tradition that is especially effective for warming up is named, appropriately enough, Chopping Wood (Kashta Takshanasana). It not only heats the body but also boosts the spirits.
2.) Another way to “unstick” yourself is to try something new, such as learning yogic cleanses (the shat karmas) from an experienced teacher. Using a neti pot and practicing kapalbhati pranayama help to reduce excess mucus, another sign of aggravated kapha. Traditional yogic cleanses also include “blinkless gazing” or trataka, usually done by concentrating on a burning candle, which seems fitting this time of year when we invoke light with yule logs, ornaments, tinsel, and other things that sparkle and glow.
3.) At Winter Solstice (December 21), welcome the return of longer days by imbuing your Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) with mindfulness. Slow down this familiar vinyasa to incorporate chakra awareness and the twelve mantras that correspond to each movement. Each mantra honors an aspect of the sun. (Swami Satyananda Saraswati’s text Surya Namaskara: A Technique of Solar Visualization is a helpful reference.)
Though this is a season of darkness, when the earth appears to sleep, underneath the surface nature is gathering energy for the regeneration of spring. Take a cue from nature and make winter an opportunity to dive deeply into your practice. Explore your inner realms. Making peace with your shadows—including the long-buried impressions known as samskaras—is a good way to clear the slate for a new year.
What are some of your favorite energizing winter practices?