Having just spent three months in Goa, South India, I was fast becoming accustomed to the climate.
The sun was shining brightly every day, the temperatures were up in the late 20s/30s (or for you American folk, or anyone who uses Fahrenheit it would be…..something much higher). I only experienced one night of rain whilst I was in Goa, which happened to be the first night I arrived, and it was a spectacular electrical storm.
Other than that, it was plain sailing — beautiful, predictable sunshine every day. That’s my kinda weather.
Cut to: 3 months later…
I am living here in South Korea, and suddenly my warm little bubble has been burst. It’s cold, freezing cold.
There is frost in the mornings, there is a biting wind, I can see my breath indoors, and am generally longing for a Goan climate.
Yoga, weather and daily practice
With regards to my yoga practice, this has been a struggle thus far.
In India (particularly South India) where yoga originates it is standard to be warm. When I first arrived in Goa I had traveled from the UK and it had been pretty wet, cold and miserable (basically traditionally British).
Whilst I was excited to be in a warm country, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to practice, and moreover teach yoga, in this intense heat. However, people have been practicing yoga in this Indian heat for centuries, and it is part of why yoga is so great.
Of course yoga works just as well in any climate, but there is something extra rewarding about practicing in the heat.
Quickly my body started to acclimatize to the heat, and it started to become a wonderful thing to do my yoga practice. With each practice I was sweating like a pig (to be fair, with each stroll to the end of the road I was sweating like a pig, so I have no shame).
Sweating is good for detoxification of the body.
During my time in Goa, I created a Twist & Detox class, which primarily focused on using twists to detox the body; within this class there was a focus on plenty of vinyasas and as much movement as possibly, keeping the practice dynamic in order to make us sweat more. Sweating can aid with the detoxification of the body and help circulation and getting the blood flowing and the heart pumping.
Ujayi breath and yoga breathing techniques
As I have spoken about before in no doubt countless articles, the ujayi breath (or ocean breathing…or Darth Vadar breathing) is a key component in creating a heat within the body.
This breathing technique is used primarily in Ashtanga yoga, and dynamic classes.
The breath is done by breathing in through the nose and out through the nose, on the exhale gently closing the back of the throat to create an ocean sound. This strengthens the diaphragm and creates an internal heat.
If you have heard of, or tried, Bikram yoga you will know that this is a type over yoga which uses external forces to heat the body. It is generally done in a heated room (rather like a sauna) to allow the body to heat up, allowing for more sweating and improved flexibility.
Those who have studied ashtanga/hatha yoga from a traditional perspective (learning the philosophies and spirituality behind it) know that these schools of yoga do not agree with Bikram yoga, believing that this heat should be an internal process, which is more natural and healthy for the body.
The outside factors are unnecessary.
If you have a naturally hot climate, as well as using the ujayi breath, you tend to feel pretty amazing after a practice. My practice started getting easier and easier in the heat, in the mornings it started getting easier to wake up at 5.30am (still being a reasonable temperature at this time), and though I’d be a little blurry-eyed and fuzzy-headed, once I’d completed my sun salutations, I was raring to go, and I’d coast through the practice enjoying every moment: the sweatier the better!
Yogic stability for a colder climate
Over here in the colder climate it’s a slightly different story.
I desperately wanted to keep up my schedule of rising at 5.30am and doing a super early morning practice. However, over here with a different work schedule and different life factors, that only lasted 2 days. I found it pretty difficult to wake up early, as is often the case for those of us in a colder climate.
Of course once you’re warmed up and over the sun sals, you’re pretty much home-free and warm enough to get over the shivers and awake enough to enjoy the practice rather than resent it, using the practice as a means to keep warm is essential due to the pathetic efforts (and extreme expense) of Korean under-floor heating.
But that initial stepping out from beneath the covers, I don’t recall such a difficulty in Goa.
The one thing I found the most frustrating was the inability to remain in a long savasana. After a rigorous, intense practice my favorite thing is to have a long savasana, and enjoy a well earned rest. After you’ve slowed down with an inversion and some pranayama, you’ve pretty much gone back to a just-out-of-bed low temperature, so shivering and glancing at the clock during savasana tends to override any peace and tranquility.
I was starting to miss out on the best and possibly the most important part of my practice!
It got me thinking about finding a stability and balance for yoga in a colder climate. Yoga originated in a warmer country, but there are cold countries in the world, moreover colder areas of the same country! I personally am someone who does better in the heat, my body type does not suit the cold. In the heat I feel more comfortable, healthier and more at home.
However, during the end of my time in Goa, after intense heat for 3 months, I was quite looking forward to a little bit of cold. After 3 months of sleeping with no covers, always being under a fan, riding around on my moped for an afternoon just to keep cool, I was rather excited about wrapping up warm in a big sweater, cosying up to a fire, and having the novelty of cold fingers and toes.
Needless to say, the novelty wore off. Fast.
Although I am certain that I am not suited to the cold, the acknowledgement and awareness of this allows me to focus more on what I need for the Winter months.
I know that plenty of exercise, a consistent yoga practice, as much sunlight as possible, good sleep, and a healthy diet will allow my body to survive through the months until it can reach it’s most comfortable state.
Winter brings with it a feeling of darkness, a cold bitter sense of a season which seemingly lasts forever. Or so my negative attitude would have me believe. I have a friend who claims that “Summer is for doing, and Winter is for thinking.”
It is so easy for us to curl up into hibernation in the Winter and use it as an excuse to hide away from the world, denying that any outside-life exists until the sun appears again. We can take advantage of this period of time, by using this mantra “winter is for thinking” — we can use this time we have been given as a time out of our active lives, to slow down, take time to think.
Using our practice as a meditation in motion, a way to reflect on ourselves, learn, discover and gain from this time.
In other words, we need to embrace the seasons and the change in climate, everybody (and every body) needs both cold and hot in their life. There needs to be a sense of balance and stability among our needs, and an acknowledgement of where we individually do better in ourselves, so we can bring our awareness to how to improve our health and happiness in that which is weaker.
So this Winter, by all means, curl up by the fire, fire up the furnace and turn up your fully functioning central heating to full blast (not bitter at all).
But remember to embrace the season for what it is worth: a time to be reflective, a time to turn your awareness inwards and better yourself from this. As The Byrds so eloquently put it: To Everything there is a Season.