The natural world has it right. In the winter, when it’s cold and dark, our animal friends turn inward. Some of them hibernate throughout the winter. Others only wake up to look for food or to enjoy the occasional warm winter day. Deciduous trees shed their leaves and go dormant. What do we humans do? At least in this culture, we get really busy with holiday parties and gift buying. But we can align ourselves with the natural world, at least for a several minutes a day, when we enjoy a soothing winter solstice yoga practice.
This time of hibernation is perfect for practicing Restorative yoga. In Restorative practice, we support our poses with various yoga props. This allows us to rest in our poses for longer periods of time. When we’re able to hold a pose for several minutes—even up to 20 minutes—the benefits go deeper. Rather than simply stretching muscle tissue, our yoga practice transforms us physiologically. Our frayed nervous systems can return to equilibrium. We often emerge from Restorative practice renewed, with smooth, fresh energy to carry us through the day.
A Restorative Winter Solstice Yoga Practice
Any sequence of Restorative poses, or even a single Restorative pose, can be a part of your winter solstice yoga practice. I’ll include three of my favorites here. Of course, there are lots of Restorative poses to choose from, but these three balance each other nicely. Feel free to practice one or all of them. You can stay in each pose for 5 minutes or up to 20, depending on the time available to you. Finally, make sure to finish with a nice, long Savasana (Relaxation Pose).
For this practice you’ll need the following:
- Standard Yoga Bolster
- Yoga Blanket
- Yoga Mat
- 1 Yoga Block (You may want 2 blocks for the first pose in the sequence.)
Supta Baddhakonasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose)
I like to include this pose in a solstice yoga practice because it has multiple benefits. It passively expands the chest and fronts of the shoulders, and it can be very helpful in calming digestive stress.
- Place your bolster lengthwise on your yoga mat.
- Fold a blanket and place it at the head end of your bolster.
- Sit in front of your bolster with your glutes touching it.
- Place the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to the sides. If you experience any knee discomfort, place blocks under your knees to elevate them. I also think it’s important to support the thighs and knees with blocks if your legs open to almost horizontal here. Supporting your knees with blocks helps prevent sacroiliac (SI) joint compression.
- Lie back on your bolster and adjust the blanket so that it supports your head and neck.
- Relax and enjoy for as long as you like—5 to 20 minutes.
- To leave the pose, lift your knees up to vertical. Then roll gently off your bolster onto either side. Rest on your side for several breaths before pushing up to sitting.
Restorative Spinal Twist
This solstice yoga practice includes a backbend, a twist and a forward bend. I like placing the twist in the middle because it seems to soften the transition between the backbend and forward bend.
- Place your bolster lengthwise on your yoga mat.
- Sit sideways on your mat with your right hip next to your bolster and your knees bent to the left.
- Rotate your torso to the right. Then lower your torso down onto your bolster. Feel free to adjust your position relative to your bolster so that you can breathe easily. Sometimes if your belly is on the bolster, it can inhibit breathing. If that’s the case for you, scoot a few inches away from the bolster so that your abdomen is free.
- Turn your head in the direction of the twist, and then rest your arms on either side of the bolster.
- Relax and enjoy for 5 to 20 minutes.
- To leave the pose, push down on your forearms to lift your torso. Take a few breaths in a neutral position—maybe Sukhasana (Seated Cross-Legged Pose) to let your body absorb the twist.
- Practice your other side.
Salamba Upavista Konasana (Supported Wide-Angle Pose)
Forward bends have a reputation for being inherently calming for the nervous system. This Restorative forward bend provides the perfect balance for the two previous poses in your solstice yoga practice.
- Place a block in its tallest setting at the head end of your yoga mat.
- Sit on your mat, legs wide apart, facing the block, a few feet away. In order to keep your whole hip system aligned, angle your legs no wider than 90 degrees to each other. This keeps your SI joint in a neutral position. Widening the angle of the legs can compress the joint.
- Place your bolster in front of you with the far end on your block, so that the bolster is slanting upward away from you.
- Lie down on the bolster and turn your head to one side. If you want, halfway through your pose, you can turn your head to the other side.
- If you’re not lying flat on the bolster here, feel free to fold your arms on the head end of your bolster and rest your head in your arms. You can also “raise” the bolster by placing a few lengthwise-folded yoga blankets on top.
- Relax here for 5 to 10 minutes.
- To leave the pose, press your hands into the floor and push your torso to an upright position. Sit in a relaxed upright Upavista Konasana for a few breaths before transitioning to Savasana.
Be Sure to Include Savasana in Your Solstice Yoga Practice
We often give Savasana short shrift. But it’s especially important to let your body relax in a completely neutral position, even after practicing Restorative yoga. The lovely thing I’ve noticed is that my Savasana is often so much deeper after Restorative practice. That’s because my body is already in a physiologically relaxed state, which readies it for deepening into pure awareness.
Practice your Savasana with Yoga Bolsters or simply lie flat. Then settle in and give yourself a good 10 to 20 minutes to soak up the benefits of your winter solstice yoga practice.