Ashtanga in Winter — Keep it Simple

by Jul 18, 2022

It is Winter here in Aotearoa/New Zealand and it’s cold, wet and windy in Wellington. This makes the Yoga āsana practice more challenging. When you get to my age (mid sixties) its like pick-a-part of the body to be sore this week. All these little aches and pains arise seemingly from nowhere.

My way to manage this is to take it back to the basics. The KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid, theory of Yoga that is a good rule no matter what the season or what your age. It seems to be a thing with many people that they want to complicate things. For myself, the simpler I can keep things the happier I am.

I think this is what I found so attractive about Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga when I first started 30 years ago. This is such a simple method. Our Guru, Sri K Pattabhi Jois stressed the simplicity of it by repeatedly telling us “Practice, practice, practice, and all is coming”. It really is that simple. No need to read books, no need to do endless workshops, festivals and retreats, just practice.

By practice of course he meant the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice, this simple method of breathing and moving through a specific sequence of āsana. For so many people this is not enough. They seem to need to know more, to do more, to incorporate more into their practice.

Our practice is based around the Suryanamaskara/Sun Salute. What a beautiful set of Vinyasa these are and how lucky are we to have them? I love that the first movement of my practice is “ekam, inhale, raise your arms up”. There have been times when I’ve done warm ups before starting my practice despite Guruji and Sharath stating clearly that we should start with Suryanamaskara. Now that’s what I do and I totally get it. The second vinyasa, “dwi, exhale, bend forward” I can feel my hamstrings. I know where my body is at today, I have my base line. I love that first, stiff forward bend. And so we move and breathe, breathe and move. I love observing my body warm up as it should through the practice of Suryanamaskara. I love feeling the energy in my body start to move as it should. Simple!

This is particularly true in Winter. It’s cold so it is easy to come up with excuses and to procrastinate. I just put my mat down, come to Samastithi, chant the opening Mantra, take 3 or 4 breaths and start. Don’t think about it, just start. Watch as the practice of Vinyasa gets the agni, the internal fire, going and your body warms to the core.

In Winter your body is expending energy just dealing with the elements, so help it out. Stay warm. Wear that extra layer, those thick socks, that wooly hat, those gloves. Keep your house warm, keep your practice space warm. Understand that you will not be as loose and flexible as you are in warmer times and cut your body some slack. Practice with no expectations. Practice with good grace and compassion, be kind to yourself.

Keep it simple. Practice what you have been taught. Don’t fall into the trap of adding something to your practice because you’ve seen some else do it or even worse, seen it on the internet and you think it looks good. Respect your teacher and the method. We are lucky because Guruji showed, and Sharath continues to clearly show the way. The method is clear and we don’t have to try to improve it.

Remember what Yoga is – yogas citta-vritti-nirodhah – Patanjali 1:2. Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. Don’t fill your mind up with information, don’t over think your practice just DO it. Winter is a great time to remind yourself of this. Bring your focus to the job at hand and “Practice, practice, practice.”

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