February is the month when the days grow longer and it’s still bright outside when we come home in the afternoon after a day at work. It makes for a nice change from the dim January afternoons when we find ourselves going to work in darkness and return home in darkness. Those are the days when many of us struggle a bit.
One of the cures during this difficult period is not only rest and hanging in there. In order to get through this month, some form of activity is essential for our wellbeing. It can be as simple as a half hour walk in the morning, at lunch, after work, or just before going to bed.
For others, it’s the time for motivation, to do something to really improve one’s wellbeing and fitness.
For me and a rapidly growing number of people, the answer is yoga. The most popular form of yoga in Iceland seems to be Hot Yoga. In my yoga studio, there is an abundance of seasoned yogis doing poses that require flexibility and strength. New yogis, too, do their very best stretching , because in yoga all efforts are good efforts.
Other forms of yoga growing in popularity are the wonderful Ashtanga and Kundalini, not to mention pregnancy and Mommy-and-Me yoga classes. It’s quite extraordinary how the practice of yoga has established itself in this northernmost part of Europe.
Perhaps it is the cold climate and the warmth that makes it so appealing; also, the departure from our day-to-day stress for an hour or 90 minutes even.
But it’s not just yoga that gets Icelanders going. For some reason, more extreme exercise such as Boot Camp and Crossfit are incredibly popular among Icelanders. Maybe it’s the team effort, the mutual suffering that brings people together and makes it a bit of a bonding experience. For some trainers, the appeal to let the participants work out in the very fresh and cool winter air is simply too tempting to resist when conditions permit.
For some reason, there is a competitive streak in Icelanders, a kind of drive that seems to give birth to an almost limitless ambition to get better in a competitive way. The joy of exercising is not enough.
Let’s take running and cycling for example. In recent years, cycling has become a popular amateur sport. The most avid cyclers purchase the latest gear, including a racer, a mountain bike and whatever type of bicycle I am forgetting. That does not include the specially designed clothing for bicycling.
Once the gear is purchased and the cycling bug has taken control of your life, it’s competition time. Training for the Wow Cyclothon and other cycling events that I cannot name is the winter workout.
Running has been popular for many years now, and it’s not uncommon to see runners run on the ice with crampon attached to their running shoes. Running in the cold is quite refreshing but when the streets are icy, caution must be taken. Nonetheless, for runners like myself, training in the cold helps to build up stamina.
Maybe it’s living at the edge of the inhabitable world that makes us want to push ourselves to the limit; maybe that’s the only way to get through the hardest of times in winter.
For whatever reason, it’s essential to keep busy to get through the darkest of months. Yoga helps me feel strong and warms me up on the coldest of days.
Iceland is a beautiful country, and winter is the best time of year to be alive. It’s the time of year, when the mountains are blue and white and the air so crisp that you feel it on your skin.
But all the same, the cold settles in the bones until spring finally arrives (with all its extremes), and until then, we need to keep going, however we go about it, and however competitive we are about it.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]