Dr. Jill Hoffman, ND

winter yoga

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For those of you living in a four season climate, these winter months can feel like an endless ice-age of darkness and cold. The impulse to stay in and hibernate is ever-present, and if we give in to it too often we can be left feeling lethargic and sluggish, even depressed.

At its best, yoga is balancing physically and mentally – when we’re spinning with excess energy, a restorative yoga sequence that calms and settles. When we feel stagnant and low, a more active, fiery series of poses energizes and uplifts. To counter the winter doldrums, you need to move!

So if your winter survival kit has meant too much time curled up on a sofa with hot chocolate, try this 15-minute sequence. Best to practice a warming yoga routine like this first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach. Even if you have to drag yourself out of bed onto your mat, by the time you’re finished this practice you’ll be fully awake and refreshed. The dividends of morning yoga continue to pay off physically, emotionally, mentally and even metabolically for the rest of the day and into the following day – enjoy!

Kapalabhati

Kapalabhati Breath – translated as “shining skull” or “that which brings lightness to the skull.” It is a warming, invigorating breath recommended for morning or mid-afternoon practice, times we often need a boost of energy. It consists of a series of forced exhalations and passive inhalations.

find a comfortable seat on your mat, a cushion or bolster. Blow your nose if necessary.

  • Inhale deeply through your nose.
  • To exhale, quickly contract the abdominal muscles sharply, drawing navel to spine, forcing air out of your lungs.
  • Relax the abdominal muscles allowing the lungs to fill with air without effort. This the inhale; it happens automatically in between exhales.
  • The exhalation is brief, active and audible; the inhalation is passive and silent.

Continue this way, snapping the belly in for the exhale, relaxing the belly on the inhale. If it sounds and feels you’re just doing a series of exhales with imperceptible inhales, you’re on the right track.

After 15 rounds allow your breath to return to normal, close your eyes and observe any sensations in your body. Notice if you’ve become tense anywhere – jaw, shoulders, hips – and relax. Repeat this cycle three times, 15 rounds of breath each.

Table pose (on hands and knees)

stack shoulders over hands, hips over knees. Hands are shoulder width apart (or wider for tighter shoulders). Hands and shins press equally into the mat.

Cat-cow

Inhale, drop your belly and lift your heart, look up. Spread collar bones wide, chin and tailbone move up towards ceiling

Exhale, round your back, lift your navel to your spine hollowing your belly, curl in chin and tailbone and towards each other.

Repeat for 3-5 breaths

Retuning to a neutral Table pose, lengthen your spine. Curl toes under and lift hips into downward facing dog. Widen your feet to the edges of the mat. Lift sit bones high as chest moves towards thighs. Modify as needed with bent knees. Stay for 5 breaths.

Return to Table pose – 1 breath

Child’s pose

big toes touching, knees hips-width apart, hips reach back to heels as torso rests on thighs, reach arms forward, palms down. Forehead rests on the mat. Stay for 3 breaths. Then, activate the arms, walk fingers forward and towards corners of the mat and lift the palms, wrists and forearms, press fingertips (spider hands) into at. Feel the opening across the upper back. Stay for 3 breaths.

Repeat #3-5 twice more. End in downward dog. Walk hands back to feet. With knees bent, root down through all four points of each foot, legs strong begin to slowly roll up, vertebrae by vertebrae, tailbone tucking under as core supports low back. Head and neck are last to come up, continue to raise arms up overhead, palms touch at the top.

Draw thumbs to touch at your sternum, close your eyes and pause for a few breaths. Walk to the top of your mat.

Half sun salutes

Inhale arms stretch up overhead

Exhale, swan dive down, torso folds over legs into forward bend, modify for tight hamstrings by keeping knees soft.

Inhale press hands into shins, chest parallel to floor, reach chest forward

Exhale hands release, fold forward, contract belly to deepen the fold, gaze at the wall behind you

Inhale rise to stand, arms up overhead, palms touch at the top

Exhale lower arms down by your sides.

Repeat 5x

Tadasana

standing at the top of your mat, feet together, big toes touching. Close your eyes and feel the imprint of the poses you just did. Maybe something feels looser, or warmer.

Inhale arms rise, exhale forward fold. Step back to Table pose, on an exhalation lift hips high to downward facing dog. Deepen your breath, focus on lengthening your spine on the exhale.

Step R foot forward in between hands into lunge. Carefully lower your L knee to the ground (pad or fold the mat underneath if knees are tender). Inhale and raise arms up overhead, exhale and draw your tailbone down. Stay for 3-5 breaths, upper spine reaching up and back avoiding any overarching in the low back. Step back into downward dog and switch sides. Repeat 3-5 times, option to move more quickly, one movement per breath. End in downward dog. Walk feet to hands taking forward fold at the top of the mat.

Chair pose

Walk feet together, shift weight back into heels.

On an inhale bend your knees, draw shins back, sit down in an imaginary chair behind you.

Hands on hips or arms lifted up by ears, palms face each other. Lift the front hip points off your thighs.

Keep sitting down, tracking knees over ankles. Allow heat to build in your legs, stay calm, fill in your breath. Stay for 5-10 breaths.

Inhale to stand.

Return to Table pose for a side stretch

Walk left hand over to the right corner of the mat. Right forearm drops down to the mat, forehead can rest on the mat or a block. Draw the L sit bone back towards the L heel, lengthening the left side body. Breathe deeply into the L lung and rib cage. Stay for 5-7 breaths. Walk back to center and pause. Repeat on other side.

Return to Child’s pose for a breath.

Make your way to a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and observe. Notice physical sensations, observe what has shifted since you first stepped onto your mat this morning. Consider a gesture or expression of gratitude for your practice, for the beauty of the never-ending cycle of all the seasons.

Namaste.


HoffmanJill Hoffman, ND, RYT 200, is a naturopathic doctor with a private practice in Philadelphia, PA, where she is also a yoga teacher. In addition to her one-on-one work with patients, Dr. Hoffman promotes naturopathic medicine through public speaking events and runs group detoxification programs at an organic spa. Dr. Hoffman is a graduate of Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona. Prior to receiving her naturopathic degree, she graduated with honors from Skidmore College. During her undergraduate work in French, she studied in West Africa and attended university in Paris where she first stepped on to a yoga mat over twenty years ago. Many classes later she became a certified yoga teacher through YogaWorks in Los Angeles. In addition, Dr. Hoffman has been privileged to study with gifted teachers around the world and continues to expand her knowledge of yoga in all its dimensions.

Part of Dr. Hoffman’s mission as a yoga teacher is to make yoga accessible to all, since the benefits of consistent practice offer something for everyone. She is known as an enthusiastic and challenging teacher with an emphasis on proper alignment and breath as the gateway to finding ease in postures. Mindfulness and compassion are at the heart of her teaching, and she encourages students to integrate both as part of their own daily practice, on and off the mat.

Although her roots are in rigorous physical yoga practices, in recent years Dr. Hoffman has been moving towards teaching gentler practices that emphasize relaxation and balancing. As with her naturopathic patients, Dr. Hoffman meets yoga students where they’re at: modifying to accommodate areas of restriction and expanding from there.

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