THE BLOG
01/09/2015 04:17 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Yoga-tta Acclimate to Be Bendy

YBeBendy tackles the question: Is it safe to practice yoga after exposure to extreme cold?

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When I began research on this topic, I was struck silent by all the beautiful pictures of yoga poses in the snow. The stillness and serenity of the cold day seemed to envelop the room as a peered through the laptop screen at these beautiful and brave frozen yogis. My scientist brain asked, "Is this safe for the body?" And the physiologist brain answered, "Don't know. Let's figure it out!" What I found was not only interesting to yogis, but can also help the runners, hikers, and cyclers out there as well.

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Yoga practice can be used to help your body acclimate from extreme temperatures. Even the most gentle yoga practice can build heat in the body safely and effectively while cultivating an awareness of the body's proprioceptive senses. However, if you aspire to be one of these frozen tundra yogis, be prepared to develop a sense of awareness and mindfulness unique to practicing yoga while having been exposed to extreme cold weather conditions. Yoga will definitely warm up the body and keep the joints and muscles supple, but care must be executed to avoid any injuries. (1-3,6) What shocked me most about this research and discovery was the overwhelming amount of folks that love yoga and shared their playful photos with me.

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When To Begin Your Yoga Practice:
I know you are "stoked" to begin a yoga practice after dusting off the snow from your boots, so snuggle on into your favorite hoodie, done your leg warmers, and grab a mat. When transitioning from extreme cold conditions outside to warmer temperatures indoors, it is best to use modified and gentle movements to ignite the body's inner fire first in preparation for the stretching of muscles, tendons, and ligaments during your yoga practice. (3) Mindfulness during yoga practice in extreme conditions will help prevent hamstring tears, muscle strains, and lower back injuries.

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Here Are Some Tips to Try:
  • Test the waters; start to move dynamically, and modify yoga poses for the body's stiffness and to avoid injury.
  • Hinge from hips, bend at the knees, protect the spine, and keep core muscles of abdomen engaged
  • Avoid static stretching or holding poses for more than 3 breaths in the beginning as this may injure or tear the tendons and muscle spindle fibers if the body's components are not warm enough to complete the stretch safely.
  • Practice proper alignment at all cost to avoid undue strain on your colder muscles, joints and ligaments

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Stay Warm in Your Center:
My interest was peaked when I learned about the importance of cultivating internal heat both physically and mindfully in the body. Another idea to employ during the body's acclimation from extreme temperatures is to address the body's core muscles and structures first to warm up and build heat within the body. Extreme cold weather conditions cause the body to decrease circulation in arms and legs as it attempts to retain heat in its core organs, muscles, and structures and regulate the core temperature. (3,6) Translation: less blood is flowing to the arms, legs and all their surrounding muscles joints. This reduces the performance capacity of skeletal muscle and increases soreness and inflammation during and after practice. (6) So, what is a yogi to do?

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Start at the Core With a Simple Warm Up Series. See this LINK if you have no idea what to do. (4-5) Core exercises can help increase circulation muscles and the fascia coating around the muscle in these "neglected" areas. Moving too soon can increase risk of injury to tendons connecting muscle to bone and those that wrap around joints. (3) Once you feel acclimated to the room, begin to move the appendages in tandem with the body's core in efforts to protect the back, hips, and shoulders. The body can begin to transition to full yoga practice, and mindfulness of your body will tell you when you are ready.

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Use It or Lose It: The Benefits of Cold Exposure
The body acclimates to both heat and cold very quickly, but can lose that acclimation quickly as well. If you are a yogi living in the frozen tundra, you have a unique advantage. The "Pre-cooling Strategy" is a physiological term used to describe using increased cold exposure in the hopes of reducing the body's temperature before exercise. Yogis in cold climates can utilize this to gain strength, increase stamina, and stay warm. (2) Continuous cold exposure prior to and directly after workouts can lead to increasing the margin for metabolic heat production in the body. Frozen Yogis can work harder, practice longer, and increase the intensity of their practice before feeling the effects of natural muscle fatigue. (2) Your body warms more quickly with continuous practice, so keep it up to insure joints are lubricated, and muscles are supple without fear of too much injury. (3)

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Is It Safe to Go Running, Hiking, or Cycling in the Extreme Cold After Deep Stretching and Intense Yoga Practice?
The Pre-cooling Strategy helps yogis who also enjoy outdoor running and cycling in extreme temperatures for recreation and exercise. Both the yogi's practice and performance are naturally enhanced and fatigue kept at bay if they choose to practice Yoga and keep up with their other activities during the winter months. (2) Full yoga practice can be utilized as resistance training and increase neuromuscular development including motor unit recruitment. (1,2)

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What About Pairing Yoga with Competitive Running or Cycling During the Colder Months?
Yes, and No. The research is conflicting here. If you are a Yogi and compete in a sport, this might be something that is individualist to you. Yoga stimulates your autonomic nervous system and can relax your muscle fibers and their reaction time, slowing your run time. (See Yoga-tta Be Mind Bendy) However, there is evidence to support that yoga practice is beneficial for the development of slow twitch muscle fibers (the ones you need for long distance running not sprinting) because it stimulates muscle development while toning the smaller tendons and ligaments around our joints. (1,3) So, it is really up to you, but stay warm and flexible before you run.

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General Recommendation:
  • Acclimate to room temperature before any yoga practice
  • Start with 15 minutes of core warm up and stretching while lying on your back to avoid joint loading and over-stretching while body is cold
  • Modify your yoga practice, start slowly, and do not go as deeply at first
  • Keep stretching dynamically and not statically. Do not hold poses very long
  • Supplement with proper nutrition to combat any electrolytes lost by the body to regulate temperature. Our bodies burn calories to keep our core warm.
  • Have fun, and take lots of pictures!

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Sources:
1. The Impact of Resistance Training on Distance Running Performance

2. Methods, advantages, and limitations of body cooling for exercise performance.

3. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: A review of comparison studies.

4. Vanderbilt University

5. Vanderbilt University Core Exercises

6. Cold-water immersion and other forms of cryotherapy: physiological changes potentially affecting recovery from high-intensity exercise

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Photo contributions from:
Shawn M. With great snow face plant and bow pulling pose Sporting a Tardis hat
Tamara R. lovely Dancer in the snow
Wendy M in Reverse Warrior ‪
Sheri W. Headstand in the snow
Amy P. Side crow
Melanie S. Head Stand Prep in Ottawa, CA
Jill S Standing Hand to Foot Pose
Giuliana M Wild Thing!
Vinay S. Forearm balance at Annapoorna base camp in himalayan ranges at around 14000 feet above sea level ‬
Dianna K. In Tree Point Pelee National Park, Lake Erie shore, Ontario Canada
Jules M. In Forearm balance at Dream Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park
Sammy Yoga in standing separate leg stretch forward Fold
April J. In Warrior 3
Jamie B. In handstand with a little help from a tree at Telluride
Melissa S. Dancer on a snowboard
Carol L. Buried in the snowbank in head stand
Jamie R In Triangle near a stream
Vanessa F. 3 Legged Dog with Snowboard
Tia SN and Alexandra L. in Lapland Finland
Jamie and Justin M. Our married couple on skates
Lucia J. For the many amazing photos
Deb C. For the group snow bank photo
Jim K. For the lovely lady tree in the stream
Ashley T. of Yoga Loft Tampa
Amelia L in Half Moon Balance pose