While the Spring Equinox may be just around the corner, if the recent drop in temperature is any indication, winter has not yet had its final say. And so, this presents us with a few more opportunities for a go-around with the season that brings us such delightful things as decadent hot chocolates, steaming mugs of chai tea and heart-warming soul food. Another welcome aspect of winter is that feeling of zen. And while the word “zen” may have its origins in Buddhist culture, it’s certainly one that just about every creed has adopted in its non-stop quest for peace on that ever-elusive path to enlightenment.
Often enough though, when people think about zen, they associate it with the practices of yoga and meditation where mind aligns with body, body aligns with soul, and soul communes with spirit. When you add winter to that equation, where a gentle snowfall brings with it a sense of calm, and a feeling of almost floating right along with the drifting snowflakes, you have an almost perfect balance of what winter zen should look and feel like.
If there’s one thing that Winnipeg isn’t lacking, it’s opportunities to embrace that spirit of zen through the age-old ritual of yoga, especially during the winter months. From the sweat-inducing variety to the latest winter-inspired outdoor trend, this city has been making yogis and yoginis of many. But what exactly is it about the practice of yoga that appeals to the masses, and just whereabouts in the city have people been flocking to when they’re desirous of getting in touch with their inner selves?
They say that variety is the spice of life and if variety is what you seek, then yoga certainly offers quite a few styles of practice. Whether you’re as flexible as gymnast or as stiff as a board; at an intermediate level, or have reached the peak of practice; whether you just want to relax, or you’re seeking a challenge, there is a style of yoga and a practice tailored to meet your expectations. One great option for variety in the city which has also received rave reviews from yogis is Yoga Public. This central location in downtown Winnipeg offers classes in Ashtanga, Yin hot yoga, Hatha, and Vinyasa. Yoga Public also offers opportunities for classes in restorative and meditational yoga, and if you’re daring, there’s also suspension training and an Iyengar-inspired yoga wall for practitioners seeking that oft-times evasive mind-body equilibrium. Another point of interest at this centre is its incorporation of an environmentally conscious design and its minimalist, modern layout that, undoubtedly, lend to its appeal.
Yoga on ice has been slowly but steadily gaining traction among Winnipeggers. The Icelandic adaptation of this 5,000-year-old practice is exactly what you’d expect it to be: the polar opposite of hot yoga. Thus far, FortWhyte Alive has been the only place taking the discipline out of the indoor studio setting and on to the open ice. This year’s Fire and Ice Festival saw well over 100 participants brave the wintry chill for an opportunity to experience this new glacial trend. And while it may seem daunting at first, the icy experience has proven to be an exhilarating one for those who have tried it, as with every pose, the deep breathing practice gradually puts one’s body in tune with the mind and forges an even deeper connection with spirit. Yoga on ice also seems to come with the added benefits of better blood circulation and mental clarity. FortWhyte Alive also offers Cabin Yoga, a unique experience that combines nature and meditation.
Betwixt and between
If you’re not quite sold on yoga, and you’re starting to feel like winter zen might only be a lofty illusion, then perhaps a day at the spa might make a believer of you yet. Thermëa may be within city limits, but when you get inside the walls of this Nordik-inspired retreat, you’d hardly notice it. And if you’re new to the spa experience, particularly the Nordik spa experience, you can take baby steps and work your way up to your level of comfort with each visit. From the essential-oil-infused ice balls of an Aufguss ritual in the Finlandia sauna, to the ice-cold pools, to the eucalyptus- and orange-scented scrubs in the showers, there’s no detail left unchecked. What’s more, the quiet that goes hand in hand with a day at this hot-to-cold-to-hot-again spa will certainly give you enough time for reflection and usher you even closer to your ultimate goal of winter zen.
The yoga appeal
If you’ve never practiced yoga and to this day you still see little need to, you may have a change of heart after speaking with a few die-hard practitioners. I asked one yogini for some insight into her reasons for choosing this discipline and this was what she had to say: “When I lay down on my yoga mat and take my first savasana, I transcend to a different place; a place where the only things that exist are my mat, my body, and my breathing. The only thing I think about is focusing my breathing to the parts of my body that need it most, whether it’s to ease an ache, to allow for more stability, or to go deeper into a pose. At the end of my practice, I always feel emotionally and mentally lighter, and it’s a good way to relieve stress.”
If that doesn’t get you into the winter zen space and stir your desire to explore the wonders of yoga even a little, then there’s hardly anything else that will.