By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
The Polar Vortex blew in and brought winter into full swing. Pulled into our seasonal gloomy stupor, we can also get caught in a mental vortex of wishing for something other than what we have. We yearn for spring, wish for warmer climates, or try to muster up that last bit of energy to strap on those skis. We forget that winter is given to us (and all of nature) as an opportunity to hibernate, to rest and reconnect, to find a little bit of quiet before the chatter and business of spring begins. We just need the tools to make the best of this cold season, and that’s why it’s a great time to practice yoga.
During the months of outdoor work and play, our body and mind ingest and experience more than we can ever be fully aware of, so winter comes just in time for us to sit still, tune in and assimilate. As the cold drives us indoors, winter provides the quiet environment needed to better experience the yoga practice called pratyahara, the drawing of all our senses inward.
In winter, the outer brilliance of nature fades, we have more hours of darkness, and the world is blanketed in white. Our sense of sight is dulled to the outside world, now devoid of the distractions of color and light. With nature at rest and the blanket of snow muffling external noise, we become more aware of our own sound, movement and breath. Staying indoors away from our usual “play” and bundling up against the cold limits communication with others, and our sense of touch draws closer and moves inward to a deeper sensory experience.
Pratyahara may draw us in from the distractions of the outer environment, but this does not mean we just tune out. In practicing yoga, the active form of posture (asana) keeps our senses awake and aware to all inner activities. Each pose brings consciousness to our body working, the breath moving and the mind reacting. The postures become physical tools to train the mind and senses toward pratyahara, and this inward attention draws us away from any external vortex of thought, distraction or cold.
For an even more peaceful experience of winter, practicing yoga also brings us Savasana. In Savasana, the corpse pose, we lie down in an even and balanced manner, resting the body from its work. With the body at rest, we can let go of any outer physical connection and train the mind specifically toward the breath. However, during Savasana — as too in winter — we do not want to become dull or gloomy. Letting go of our physical connections — like we let go of warmth and color in winter — only serves to remove external distraction to double our mental efforts toward pratyahara. With this deeper practice, our mind may concentrate more readily toward meditation.
Escaping the cold and practicing yoga leaves the mind and body refreshed and renewed. The day, the week or even the season feels much more warm and bright. The Polar Vortex may blow through, but with our mind drawn to a deeper and more focused place, we are unfazed. Yoga provides us with the ability to be still, be aware and be at peace, giving us the opportunity to enjoy and reap benefit from an inward journey.
Spring will be here soon enough, drawing our senses once again outward to the light and beauty of the outside world. Nurturing our practice of yoga through winter, we can prepare and refuel for any coming distractions, emerging more rested, more focused and a bit more connected. So, take advantage of the darkness, the quiet, the time to yourself. Escape the vortex, practice yoga and learn to enjoy even the coldest of seasons.
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the Jan. 29-Feb. 4, 2014, issue