10 Poses of Warming Winter Yoga

Begin in Downward Facing Dog Split

Down Dog Split
Down Dog Split. © Barry Stone

The winter doldrums. Even yoga teachers are not immune to them. When the daylight hours are short and the cold weather seems to stretch on interminably, I often notice the yoga classes I go to regularly have become a bit low-energy. There’s this tendency to want to wrap everyone in a blanket and put their legs up the wall until spring comes. And while restorative practices have their place, I prefer to resist the temptation to hibernate with vigorous yoga that builds heat from within. When I’m not getting that in class, I like to do it at home. Follow this ten-pose sequence, which incorporates poses that help prevent SAD, to the letter or use it as inspiration to build your own warming winter practice. It’s a good idea to warm up with some basic stretching and a few rounds of sun salutations because this routine jumps right in with some intense poses. Speaking of which, we'll take off from downward facing dog split.

One Legged Plank Variations

Adrianna Williams/Photodisc/Getty Images

Start with some plank variations. Keep your lifted leg up the whole time it you can.
From down dog split with the right leg raised, come forward into a one legged plank. Then it's back to down dog split. We'll go forward three more times.
1. Next time you come forward to plank, curve your spine and bring your knee and nose together. Return to down dog split.
2. Come forward again, bringing your right knee to your right armpit. Back to down dog split.
3. One last time forward, this time cross your right knee to your left arm pit.
Back to down dog split, forward to one legged plank, lower one-legged chaturanga.
Finally bring the right leg down to join the left as you come into upward facing dog and then back to downward dog to go through the sequence with the left leg lifted. You can flow through each side a few times to start to build some heat.

Wide Legged Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana

Standing Straddle Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana
Standing Straddle Forward Bend - Prasarita Padottanasana. © Barry Stone

After your last round of plank variations, step your right foot to the front of your mat and pivot yourself to face the long side of your mat with your feet parallel. Now that you're getting warm, it's a good time to stretch the hamstrings.
With your hands on your hips, forward fold with a flat back to come into prasarita padottanasana.
Bring your hands to the floor in a comfortable position. You can reach for your big toes, keep the elbows in line with the shoulders (shown), or just let the arms hang loose.

Tripod Headstand - Sirsasana II

Tripod Headstand
Tripod Headstand. © Ann Pizer

If a tripod headstand is part of your practice, bring the crown of your head to the floor and lift your legs in a controlled fashion. Stay five breaths and then lower the legs. If you want to try a transition through crow pose, I'm not going to stop you.
If you're not used to this variation of headstand but can get the top of your head to the floor, try bringing your shins to your upper arms with your feet airborne and touching to start to get a feel for (and the anti-SAD benefits of) the inversion.

Side Lunge - Skandasana


Return to your standing straddle with your hands on the floor. Turn your toes out. Bend your left knee and come down to a squat with the right leg extended straight for skandasana. Keep your hands on the floor for balance if you need to or bring them into anjali mudra at your heart. If you can't squat all the way down, just come as low as you can. Put you hands back on the floor to switch sides. Move back and forth a few times.

Awkward Chair - Utkatasana

Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasan
Awkward Chair Pose - Utkatasana. © Barry Stone

Step both feet to the front of your mat. 
Bend your knees deeply enough to brush your mat with your fingertips.
Take your seat back and raise your arms to utkatasana.
Make sure you can see all 10 toes when you look dow. If not, sit a little deeper.
Hold 5 - 10 breaths as you feel the heat building in your thighs.

Twisted Lunge

Twisting Lunge
Twisting Lunge. © Barry Stone

In utkatasana, twist your torso bringing your right elbow to the outside of your left knee and your hands to your heart. 
Look down at your feet and step your right foot to the back of your mat to a twisited lunge position. Keep the arms from touching the floor if you can. 
Use the right elbow against your left knee to deepen your twist.
Stay twisted to transition to the next pose.

Revolved Half Moon Pose - Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana

Revolved Half Moon Pose – Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana
Revolved Half Moon Pose – Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana. © Ann Pizer

From your twisted lunge, look down, release your mudra and place your right hand on the floor under your right shoulder and roughly 8 inches in front of your left foot. 
Lift the right leg parallel to the floor and flex your right foot strongly.
Open your chest to the left to raise your left arm up toward the ceiling. Let your gaze follow your arm upwards. This is full revolved half moon pose.
To come out, lower the left arm to the floor next to the right one. Step your right foot to the front of your mat and come through utkatasana to do twisted lunge and revolved half moon on the other side.

Camel Pose - Ustrasana

Camel Pose - Ustrasana
Camel Pose - Ustrasana. © Barry Stone

Come to kneel on your mat. You can put a blanket under your knees if they are sensitive.
Place both hands on your sacrum and you lift the chest, backbending into camel pose
You can keep the hands on your back or reach them for your heels. Your toes may be curled under or the tops of your feet can be flat on the floor, depending how far back you want to come. Wherever you are, imagine the sun is hitting your chest and you want to get as much sunshine as possible. Let your chest rise to bring you up and then sit back on your heels. Do a total of three backbends to help counter the hunched posture we assume when it's cold out.

Hero Pose - Virasana

Hero Pose – Virasana
Hero Pose – Virasana. © Barry Stone

Spend a few minutes sitting in hero pose with your seat between your feet. If that is too intense on your knees, put a block under your sitbones or try vajrasana instead. Focus on your breath for 20 breaths. Then cover up with a blanket or sweater and relax into savasana.

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