Which Yoga Poses Provide Health Benefits in Fall and Winter?


Yoga at AVE

As the seasons shift, so does our energy; therefore, it’s important to adjust our bodies to these changes. We reached out to yoga practitioner and teacher Joni Dunphey, who offers two yoga classes weekly at AVE Somerset, to share poses to shift us into fall and winter.

“As the weather gets colder, it’s important to add more warm-ups to your yoga practice,” Dunphey explains. “These warm-ups will bring more heat to the body, keeping you flexible and increasing your energy.”

1) Wood Chopper: This movement works the legs, arms and torso and quickly warms the body and increases the heart rate.

How To: Start with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Clasp your hands above your head, interlacing your fingers as you inhale. Then swing your arms and head down through bent legs as you exhale through the mouth. Inhale as you bring your body upright to standing, and bring your arms up above head. Straighten your legs.

2) Cat/Cow: This stretch and warm-up enhances flexibility and mobility of the pelvis, back and spine,” she says. “It strengthens and lengthens back muscles and improves posture. It is a great warm-up for keeping the spine flexible and ready for shoveling snow.”

How To: Begin in table position with knees under hips and hands under shoulders.
Inhaling, arch your back as your stomach moves toward the floor and you look up. Exhaling, curve your back toward the ceiling while tucking under your tailbone and pelvis, as your chin drops toward your chest. Draw your navel area in strongly upon exhaling. Continue this movement of contracting and extending the back and spine. Link the breath with the spinal movements. Return to a neutral spinal position in table pose.

The winter season also means shorter days, less time outdoors, and closer contact with people indoors. These factors increase exposure to germs that cause colds and potentially the flu. “It is a good time to boost your immunity and maintain happy and healthy moods with heart opening poses that increase blood flow,” Dunphey says.

3) Cobra (Bhujangasana): This pose opens the chests and helps to clear the passages of the heart and lungs,” she explains.

How To: Lie face down with your forehead touching the floor and your feet together. Place your palms on the floor. Slide shoulder blades down away from your ears. Squeeze your elbows toward each other. Move your tailbone toward your feet. Inhale, while lifting your head and chest up and hold. Exhale back down.

4) Bridge (Setu Bandhasana): This position opens the pelvis, hips, shoulders, spine, chest and stimulates the thyroid,” Dunphey says. “It also boosts immunity and strengthens your body and expands your heart center.”

How To: Lay on your back with legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your knees to 90 degrees with feet near hips and about hip-width apart. Toes are pointed straight ahead and slightly pigeon-toed. Rest your palms on the sides of your thighs or the floor below the hips. Begin to press down into the feet and raise the hips toward the sky. Tuck the tailbone under and squeeze the buttocks muscles. Move the shoulder blades closer to each other. Lift your chest and arch your upper back. Breathe deeply into the chest and feel as though it is reaching toward your chin. Move your arms under the body and clasp the hands with fingers interlaced, or hold onto your ankles. Roll the shoulders under more, but do not pull the shoulders away from the ears. Beginners can place the arms overhead on the floor. Keep the knees over the ankles with a slight squeezing between the legs. Relax the jaw and gaze to the center of your chest or the sky.

The holiday season can be very stressful. “It is important to practice yoga poses that keep us grounded and build stability,” Dunphey says.

5) Mountain Pose (Tadasana): “This is a very basic yoga pose that is the foundation for many other asanas,” she says. “When the colder weather comes we tend to slouch our shoulders and round our back. This pose corrects this by promoting balance, alignment and correct posture. Pressing into the feet and feeling the support of the earth establishes grounding.”

How To: Stand erect, with your feet in line with your hips, or together. The feet should be parallel with your toes pointing forward. On the balls of your feet, slowly shift your weight backward and forward until you reach a point of equilibrium. Engage the muscles of your thighs. Tuck in your pelvis. Lift your chest and lengthen the spine. Draw your shoulders back and down, away from the ears. Draw the crown of your head high, energizing through your fingertips. Relax and level your jaw.

6) Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II): This pose is very grounding, improving focus and concentration, while boosting your mood and confidence. It opens the pelvis, torso, hips, shoulders, back and strengthens legs,” Dunphey says. “It also develops balance and stability.”

How To: From Mountain Pose, spread your legs one or more leg lengths apart. Turn one foot to point forward, keeping the other pointing sideways at a 90-degree angle. Hips remain open and facing away from the front foot. Extend arms out and level to the floor in a T position. Reach actively through the fingers and keep the shoulders relaxed and rotating backward. Bend front knee over the ankle as the thigh moves parallel to the floor. Keep the waist centered over the hips and legs. Keep pressure on the outside edge of the back foot as the back thigh rotates away from the navel center. Thighs are strong. Torso, legs, hips and feet are in the same plane. Turn your head and neck to gaze at the middle finger of the front hand.

7) Proper Breathing: “Incorporating pranayama or breathing exercises into your practice will also keep you balanced during the winter months,” Dunphey says. “It centers the mind and relieves anxiety.”

How To: In order to breathe properly, you need to breathe deeply into your abdomen not just your chest. Breathing exercises should be deep, slow, rhythmic, and through the nose, not through the mouth. Put one hand on your belly, and the other hand on your chest. As you inhale, let the belly rise, filling up the lungs. Bring the breath all the way up to the chest and collarbone. As you exhale, let the chest, ribs and belly fall toward the spine. Depression alleviates and anxiety releases as you let go of the breath.

Joni Dunphey owns a yoga business, Body To Earth, in Hillsborough, NJ, only 8 miles from AVE Somerset. She teaches complimentary yoga classes weekly in the AVE Somerset Fitness Center for all AVE Somerset residents. Call Resident Services for the seasonal schedule.

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