Home Practice: Cure for the Winter Blues
Has this cold spell left you feeling rigid, disconnected from your body, and maybe a little deflated? Warm up and cheer up with this simple home practice to release you calves, open your shoulders and mobilize your upper back.
Sit in virasana (hero's pose) on a block, blankets, or bolster. Pause in stillness for several breaths. Practice garudasana (eagle) arms on both sides. Stretch your triceps and reach your arms overhead to lengthen the side body and build some heat.
Practice several rounds of cat and cow. Focus on mobilizing all of your spinal joints as evenly as possible. Different sections of the spine have more or less range of motion in certain directions. Observe where you move easily and where movement is difficult. Pause for several breaths in the spaces where you feel restricted or congested. Be patient.
Come into a puppy dog variation of child's pose. From hands and knees with toes tucked, bring your hips back just behind the line of your knees (but not all the way back to child's pose). Stretch you arms as far forward as you can, lengthening the sides of the torso. Walk your hands to one side, to the other side, and back to center. Come into down dog.
From down dog, step forward into a lunge. Check out the angle of my front leg in the photos above. You will see that my knee is in front of my ankle, and my heel is very close to the floor. Lower the back knee to the mat, and reach you hands forward using you arms for support. You should have a paper-thin space under your front heel. The heel is almost down and you are working to anchor it to the mat. This leg position is an excellent stretch for soleus, a deep calf muscle. I like to use one hand to massage along the sides of my leg and to press my heel toward the floor. Linger here for up to 1 minute. Step back to down dog and observe the difference between your two legs before repeating on the second side.
Bring your knees and feet together into child's pose with arms along side the body. This position brings the spine into flexion (a rounded shape). Then stretch your arms forward and lift your head and chest, mobilizing the upper back towards extension (a backbend shape). Move between the two positions several times to slowly coax more range of motion from the thoracic spine.
Now set yourself up in a supported backbend. You can use a roll of blankets, towels, or a bolster under your shoulder blades/upper back. Place a block or stack of books under your head. Lie down over the support with knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor. Open your arms wide to the sides with a little bend in the elbows. Let go of the weight of your arms. Breathe. Try stretching your arms overhead, holding opposite elbows - you might want to straighten you legs here or bring your knees wide into baddha konasana (bound angle pose).
Finish your practice with a seated twist to neutralize the spine. Set up for savasana with legs elevated. Here I've shown a variation with my feet on blocks and a bolster under my knees. You could also try putting your legs up on a chair seat, sofa, or bed. Elevating the legs is important in the drier winter months. It increases the circulation of fluids in the body to boost energy and immunity. Be sure to drink plenty of water and stay warm!