Hobbling home from practice last week, watching the temperature drop, seeing snowflakes in the air, I observed that now I have fully come into my winter body. Post-holiday indulgences, dark mornings, and those face-numbing wind-chilling walks from the T-station to the yoga studio make for some stiff, heavy and sometimes downright discouraging practice. The shift in season requires a shift in my intention.
Summer is my time, its hot and steamy, days are long, I need less sleep, my body and diet are light and the practice just flows through me with ease. My body takes on the asana with little complaint and my mind is free to glide from drishti to drishti. But with the first turning of the leaves in October the residue of old injuries and imbalance comes back to haunt me; my right hamstring begins to grip again, followed by some tweakiness in my left knee, then comes the pain in my low back on the right side. Add to that tension in the shoulders wrought by bracing against the cold and my own occasional stubbornness with the practice and now you have some indication of life inside of the ashtangi winter body of these Northern climates. I’m slowly coming to the realization that what all of this demands is a shift in my awareness.
I used to look solely to the teacher to sort me out, to identify my grievances and my pains as well as my seasonal irritability and heal me, save me somehow from my own insistence that what I could do in July be just the same if not greater than what I can do in January. But after practicing Ashtanga again and again, over the years and the seasons, I’m finding that the practice itself becomes a teacher, and when my hamstring is screaming or my low back is prodding me, it is a call to self-study, to practicing with awareness at every twist and turn. Instead of grasping for some shape I made in the past, find a path to non-attachment (aparigraha) by taking my awareness to what is subtle, finding the inner world of the posture.
The pain is there to be my teacher, to point out habits and patterns (samskara) buried deep within, manifesting itself in the gross body, and magnified by the wintry context within which I find myself several months out of the year. Its a blessing which often feels like a curse. Use it as research towards breaking your old habits and finding new avenues for supporting the asana through mindful movement, breathing and drishti. The pain can be avoided, though it often is a slow and steady learning process. A process which won’t have a chance if I steamroll through it as if it is still yesterday. There is only this moment, and this one, and this one, and this one…
In addition to all of that, here are some tips for taking care of your ashtangi winter body:
1. Take a warm shower before practice.
2. Eat lots of ghee, and warming spices like cinnamon and ginger.
3. Do the weekly rub-down with Almond Oil. Or Sesame, if you’re into that.
4. Wear layers!
5. Heat up your internal fire with some Ujjayi breathing.