The temperature is dropping, rapidly… you know because the duvet covers seem like a warm cocoon each morning. Bravely you throw back those covers and take the first step of the day, the cold floor sending a rush of shivers up your spine, you are alive.
It is hard to approach the mat on days like this… anticipating the stiffness that has settled into your joints, the muscles that seem ever so tight. The reality is it is days just like this one when you need it the most, when you need to call on the tapas of all the teachers and students that have come before you, and experience for yourself – yoga. It does not matter if you are stiff, tight, sore, uncomfortable what matters is to find the breath and the rhythm, to set aside the time, to simply “be” for as long as you can, maybe 15 minutes maybe 2hrs. Find the will to maintain the practice, keep the fire burning even with just a few embers it is still warm and heating, it is still yoga.
I have always found asana in winter to be difficult, I will admit that. What I have found works to keep me going is to emphasize different aspects… strength and endurance versus flexibility, inversions instead of backbends, focus on the breath instead of technical alignment, increasing pranayama, chanting, and philosophical study. These are just a few ideas. Practicing a bit later in the day after the sun has been around for a bit might also help.
What seems particularly clear is the advice from my teacher Peter Sanson, “go to the mat with no expectations,” allow the practice to unfold, recognize that the winter practice is simply different then summer, autumn or spring practice. Enjoy the time on the mat. It is a time to be with yourself, to contemplate each moment as it is happening, to appreciate the energy of others if you are practicing in a class or with a group. Just make sure you dress warm (layering is best), have an extra blanket to put down underneath you in your final relaxation, and look forward to the hot drink when you are finished.