“He has no disease, nor old age, nor death, who has attained a body born of the fire of Yoga.” – Svetasvatara Upanishad
When the weather is cooler, we need to modify our yoga practice to help maintain our energy and ‘inner fire’. In yoga and ayurveda (its sister science) the term agni describes an internal flame that is said to burn in the mid section of the body, in the area behind the navel. Agni is the fire that ‘cooks’ and digests our physical food, as well as helping us to ‘digest’ life’s experiences in a more complete and integrated way. It is also the fire that gives us vitality and maintains our immunity to disease, and our body temperature, as the cold weather sets in. When we work with yoga postures that both compress and stretch this middle region of the body, we fan the flame of agni. Thus twists, abdominal strength work, and backbends all raise our body temperature, our sense of energy, and our ability to withstand winter coughs and colds.
1. Single Leg Cycling (Pada Sanchalanasana)
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet hip width apart. Inhale as you raise the right leg to upright. Exhale as you slowly lower the leg straight down to half way towards the floor. Then bend the knee. As you inhale bring complete the forward peddling movement, and bring the leg back to upright. Repeat for 5-10 cycling movements, and then change direction, back-peddling, for the same amount. Then change legs.
Keep the hips grounded and the lower back still by pressing down strongly through the back of the hips into the floor throughout.
Strengthens the rectus abdominus muscles, as well as the deep supporting muscles of the abdomen and pelvic floor. Increases inner heat and improves digestion.
2. Moving Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Vinyasa)
Lie on the back with the knees bent, feet hip-width apart. Keep the feet firmly planted on the floor throughout. Start to breathe consciously and evenly. Start to inhale, and begin to raise the arms, hips and spine away from the floor. On the exhalation, slowly move the arms, spine and hips back down to the starting position. Try to imagine that the movement is initiated by the breath. Finally, hold the pose, taking the arms underneath the back and clasping the hands if possible, with elbows straight.
This practice helps to stimulate the adrenal glands, creating a feeling of greater energy and vitality, as well as strengthening the lower back and legs.
3. Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana variation)
Lie down on the abdomen. Place the palms beneath the shoulders. Have the legs, and feet together, and press the tops of the feet into the floor. Start to breathe smoothly and slowly. On an inhalation, raise the torso off the floor to the height of the navel, using the strength of the lower back muscles, and supporting with the arms and hands. Stay in the pose for five breaths if possible without strain. Then rest.
Repeat three to five times.
As well as strengthening the muscles of the lower back, inner thighs and buttocks, this pose also compresses the abdomen, improving digestion, and stimulates the adrenal glands, giving the system a boost of energy and heat.
4. Lying Spinal Twist (Shava Udarakarshanasana variation)
Lie on the back, with both knees bent, and both feet on the floor. Straighten the right leg, and tuck the left foot just behind the back of the right knee. Take the arms out to shoulder height, palms turned upwards. Take the right hand to the left knee. Inhale and as you exhale, roll to the right, using the left knee as a lever. Try to keep the left shoulder on the floor. Breathe naturally, softening the abdomen. After five to ten breaths, inhale and return to the starting position. Then perform on the other side.
Relieves tightness and tiredness in lower back muscles. Massages abdominal organs, improving digestion and elimination, and stimulating agni, the fire element.