Nature has cleared space. The trees are bare, and the colors have lost their hue as if the saturation has been turned down. We are now looking at the skeleton of nature, awaiting a fresh blanket of snow to come tuck us all in.
It is a time of darkness. This stop on the wheel of the year, offers us rest and renewal. It’s a good time to investigate your inner world, reflect on the past year and dream up what our next year may bring.
Let yourself sink into the darkness but don’t let it extinguish your light. We all have an inner light that we choose to feed or smother depending on our habits, thoughts and activities. When those winter blues sneak up, consider what ways can you fill yourself and your days with more light.
Read on for inspiration to guide you through early winter.
EARLY WINTER AND THE MOON:
If this winter was a phase of the moon it would be a new moon. New moons are a time to reflect on the prior cycle and prepare for the planting of new intentions. It’s the beginning before the beginning. A quiet time to let the noise of the world fall away and curl into a mental state of cocoon.
Take time to acknowledge and sync into the next new moon this season. Pay it special care. Look at what sign the moon falls in and let that energy guide your focus and intentions until the next lunar cycle.
If you don’t jive with Christmas, or you're just looking for even more to celebrate, maybe shift your focus to the winter solstice, often thought of as the official first day of winter. The winter solstice falls on Dec 21 and It originates from a time when our ancestors lived their lives around the seasonal fluctuations of sunlight. It was believed that on the night of the solstice, the sun is reborn bringing the promise of light to come to fill our darker days. Coincidence that this pre-christian tradition of the solstice, the birth of the sun, aligns with the holiday of Christmas, the birth of the christian god's son? I think not.
The winter solstice is our longest night of the year, and represents a turning point, with each day forward gaining more and more sunlight. The shifting away from our darkest point and leaning into the return of the light doesn't bring noticeable change for quite some time, but there is movement coming. Just like any changes in life, the shifts aren't always apparent in the beginning stages, but winter calls for patience. Give it time. Let the promise of increasing sunlight fill you with hope.
More on winter solstice, including 10 ideas to celebrate in this post
If you find Christmas to be a struggle, read this post
ON THE MAT:
The physical practice of yoga is a tool used to help banish winter blues, boost your mood, support your health, and energize you. Here’s my recommendation for yoga in winter:
Try a 70/30 practice. 70% gentle, slow and restorative. 30% vinyasa, power, heat, and flow.
I like to start my winter classes with a long warm up, taking time to thaw ourselves out, then shifting into gear, using vinyasa to energize and the system with mood boosting endorphins. Follow that with deep, soothing yin and restorative postures that allow you to melt open and deepen. Moon Salutations, the female counterpart to the masculine and better-known sun salutations, are also great at this time, since this is the feminine half of the year. More about moon salutations in this post: Your new Favorite Yoga Sequence
Utilizing a shorter but powerful burst of energy and spending a larger portion of the practice to sink in and go deeper, we manage our reserves and prevent burnout.
End your practice with an even longer than usual savasana to assist you in releasing. Savasana gives us the chance to embody a symbolic death and renewal at the end of each yoga class. This is a deeply restorative pose for your entire system.
AYURVEDA FOR WINTER IMMUNITY
Whenever the seasons change we are more susceptible to coming down with some kind of bug, and the worst season of all for sicknesses is winter. Ironic that this is also the time we are encouraged out of our houses for shopping and holiday gatherings . The more we ignore the inner wisdom and natural rhythm of nature, the more likely we are to cave under stress, allowing imbalances to build internally.
In Ayurveda there is a sanskrit term ojas that roughly translates to: immunity, vitality, and life force. One way we build the strength of our ojas is slowing down and becoming more present. The other way is through your digestion. According to Ayurveda, strong immunity is all about good digestion. You can look at it as, whatever disrupts with your digestion, also disrupts with your immunity.
An Ayurvedic diet in winter recommends foods that are easy to digest, warm, lightly cooked, less oily and less spicy. Warm tea, especially Ginger tea is great for healthy digestion, and calming stomach upset. Add a little honey and lemon and the smallest pinch of sea salt to incorporate the tree flavors it's suggested to enhance during winter: sweet, salty and sour.
ISHVARA PRANIDHANA: SURRENDER.
The yogic path is loaded with “directions” that help you find your way. During the winter season one of the directions that stands out for me is Ishvara Pranidhana. This is one the Niyamas (positive habits to follow as a yogi), and means surrender to a higher power. Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, we all must have an understanding in a force greater than ourselves, to keep us humble, and out of an egoic mind-state.
Your higher power is personal to you. Hone in on what resonates the most with your heart. Light. Spaciousness. A symbol. A cause. The universe. Having faith in something, can keep you anchored and give you strength to get through the emotional depths of the dark half of the year.
If the concepts of faith and higher power feel like a stretch, just focus on the word surrender. Start catching yourself in moments where you're doing the opposite of surrendering--- fighting the flow. Notice when you defend or resist or continually prove your point of view. Then start to replace the idea of being in control, with the reminder sometimes there is a bigger plan unfolding, one that we are not behind the wheel of. Allow yourself to be moved accordingly rather then jamming up the process with your resistance.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE:
It’s been helpful to me to change the way I look at growth. Instead of viewing it as a ladder or a staircase to climb up, envision a spiral staircase you climb down.
Healing and growth isn't a straight line, it is a curved and winding path. Growth is not always climbing to new heights leaving behind all previous experiences, it can also mean descending deeper into beliefs and re-visiting lessons from a different vantage point. There is almost always more work to be done. Every time I think an issue has been resolved, it shows back up in a new situation, urging me to continue doing the work. Every time I come back around the spiral, I pick up on it faster, and can see it's that old familiar story once again, and I can choose to come at the situation from a place of knowing, and let it help me make new decisions, to change the pattern.
By choosing to re-envision what growth should look like, you can show yourself more compassion when you revisit the same issues, rather than beating yourself up or feeling like you are taking steps backwards. Expect to see those problems re-emerge, don’t think of yourself as a failure, rather celebrate the growth you’ve made since the last time you were in that spot, and the ability you had to identify it
The wheel of the year is also symbolized as a spiral. Turn to look back at the dark half of the year. The months of autumn and winter are a journey spiraling inward, and then in spring and summer we spiral back out into the light.
WINTER SELF CARE:
Draw inward and re-discover your inner light. What keeps you going, what sparks your fire, what do you need to fuel your flickering flame?
Make a list of all the things you love to do. What brings you peace and happiness? What lights your fire? Fills your heart space? Start simple and small. Take one thing from that list and focus on clearing time to do that.
This season is a time of hope, and of bringing the light. For dreaming and envisioning the life you wish for into being. Sometimes life feels like a hamster wheel. Take time to pause and reflect before stepping over the threshold to the new year. If you are setting goals for yourself in the new years, approach them from a place of how you want to FEEL. You don't always have to be DOING things to experience growth.