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December 21, 2015

Inner Fire

‘Tis the season to throw on some PJ's and curl up with a book in front of the fireplace all evening long. There is nothing wrong with indulging in vegging out, unless it is keeping you from doing the work and play activities that are part of a full, balanced life. Feeling happy and fulfilled takes effort, and cold weather has a way of sapping your motivation to finish projects, be active, and connect with others. Luckily, yoga includes several heat-building practices you can practice every day to build an Inner Fire you can take everywhere you go. Here are 10 of the best natural defrosters yogis have been practicing for centuries. Please follow up with an experienced teacher for more detailed instruction on practice and contraindications:


Asana  (poses)

  1. Heated yoga : Because heated yoga warms you from the outside, instead of from within, its heating properties are short-lived; however, this quick warmth infusion may give you the energy you need to practice some of the techniques below. Heated yoga is not only Bikram any more; look for Baptiste, Moksha , or any other classes branded “hot.”

  2. Vinyasa : Dynamically flowing from pose to pose takes muscles through full ranges of motion, which builds more body heat than statically holding single poses. Warmth produced by your own muscles heats you to the bone, and will dwell in the body for longer. Look for astanga , vinyasa , or any classes branded “flow.”

  3. Standing asana : Think virabhadrasana (warrior) and utkatasana (chair). These powerful poses challenge the large muscles in the legs, which create more heat than smaller muscles elsewhere in the body.

Kriya  and Pranayama  (cleansing and breath)

  1. Agni sara : In the Aryuvedic system (ancient Indian medicine), there is a fire called agni in the belly that drives digestion, and agni sara is a yogic practice to stoke this fire. From standing, bend your knees and lean slightly forward to place your hands on your thighs. Inhale to prepare, and then exhale through your mouth to empty your lungs. Hold your breath out, tuck your chin, engage your pelvic floor, and then draw your belly in and up under the rib cage. Without inhaling, repeatedly relax your belly outward and draw it back in and up. Continue for as many repetitions as is comfortable, then lift your chin, inhale, and return to standing. Take a couple breaths to reset, then repeat three to five more times.

  2. Kapalabhati : Kapalabhati  is a heat-building breathing practice. Inhale the lungs to half-full and begin series of short, sharp exhales driven by the belly snapping back toward the spine. When your abdomen relaxes between exhales you may not even notice the inhale that occurs naturally. Repeat for 20 to 30 breaths.

  3. Bhastrika : This breathing technique translates, appropriately, to “bellows breath” (as in, the air-bag-laden device designed to breathe oxygen into a dwindling fire). It is just like kapalabhati , but faster.

  4. Right Nostril Breathing : In traditional knowledge, there are energy channels running to the left and right of the central channel called ida  and pingala , respectively. Ida  represents yin, the moon, and cooling whereas pingala  represents yang, the sun, and heating. By breathing preferentially through the right nostril, you direct more energy through pingala . Use your fingers to plug the left nostril. Through the right nostril, inhale for four counts, and then exhale for eight counts. Continue for two to five minutes, and then return the a natural breath. Close the eyes and notice the effect on your body.

Aryuveda  (traditional medicine)

  1. Abhyanga  with sesame oil : Abhyanga  is the aryuvedic practice of massaging generous amounts of warm oil into the body. Sesame oil is thought to be particularly warming. Follow this practice with a steamy shower for some extra heat.

  2. Spice : Many spices are warming for the body. Add ginger to sweet potatoes, cinnamon to apples, and cumin and cayenne to soup. Be generous with black pepper (it is available at nearly any restaurant). Try antioxidant-packed turmeric tea. Apply cardamom-infused oil around the nostrils after neti.

  3. Hot tea : Swap out chilled drinks for warm ones, such as tea. Consider making homemade chai by combining black tea, your own signature combination of the spices mentioned above, milk (or milk alternative), and optional brown sugar.


Happy, warm, and, energized holidays, yogis!


 Barbie Levasseur
Written by
Barbie Levasseur , Bay Area writer, yoga teacher, and mom.

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