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December 21, 2015

‘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 our motivation to finish projects, be active, and connect with others. Luckily, yoga includes several heat-building practices you can use every day to build an Inner Fire of your own. Here are 10 of the best natural defrosters yogis have been practicing for centuries.

Asana  (poses or physical practice)

  1. Heated yoga: Practicing yoga in a hot room warms you from the outside in, which can be a great quick fix, and give you the energy you need to practice some of the techniques below. If you’re looking to practice at hot yoga studio, check out Bikram, Baptiste, Moksha, or any classes branded as “hot.” Make sure to always stay hydrated after a heated practice (that includes an outdoor practice in the heat!).
  2. Vinyasa: Dynamically flowing from pose to pose takes muscles through their full range of motion, which builds more body heat than statically holding single poses. Heat produced by your own muscles warms you from the inside out, and will stay in the body longer. Look for astanga, vinyasa, or any classes described as “flow.”
  3. Standing poses: 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 Ayurvedic tradition (ancient Indian medicine), there is a fire called agni in the belly that drives digestion. 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. Pause after your exhale, tuck your chin, engage your pelvic floor, and 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 so the lungs are 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 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: According to ancient Indian text, 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 to a natural breath pattern. Close the eyes and notice the effect on your body.

Ayurveda  (traditional medicine)

  1. Abhyanga with sesame oil: Abhyanga is the ayurvedic practice of massaging generous amounts of warm oil into the body. Sesame oil is thought to be particularly warming, but you could use coconut or almond oil. 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 (but not too generous). Try antioxidant-packed turmeric tea or apply cardamom-infused oil around the nostrils after using a neti-pot to decongest.
  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 or honey.

You may choose to practice something new each day, or focus on one style of pranayama or asana, or just sip a lovely cup of tea before bed every night! Please note that some of these practices may not be suitable for everyone. If you have any questions relating to your personal practice, please consult your local yoga teacher or physician.