For the longest time I have detested this time of year. The months of Jan through March -even some of April- I’ve traditionally spent a lot of time complaining about the cold and lack of sunlight. I carry the weight of depression on my back many days. It comes and goes throughout my life, but in winter it stays much longer. It becomes a heavy burden that weighs me down and restricts me from doing all the things I normally wish to do. It slows me down. It gets in my way.
I’ve been working on rebuilding my relationship with winter. Resisting the urge to complain about the present, and rush into the future. I’m learning to re-frame my rash judgments. By making a point to be a witness to and to sync to nature's rhythms, I’ve learned that all the pieces belong and serve a purpose. Even the ones that are less fun and frolicky.
The cold. The hard. The dark. The ugly. The deep swampy places of your psyche. The lack of color. It all belongs. There is a purpose for it. It all tends to force your attention in Winter. Our job is to not push it away or stuff it down, but to sit with it, allow it to be there. Ask it what it needs from you.
Before you know it, it will have passed, as winters always do. If only a sliver of a moment, show it the appreciation it’s deserving of. Stay here. Hear its messages.
Midwinter Celebration: Imbolc
Imbolc is a celebration based on Celtic tradition that marks the halfway point between winter solstice (Yule) , and the spring equinox (Ostara). It is generally acknowledged from February 1 until sundown on Feb 2. You can think of it as midwinter, or the beginning of late winter. This is a hopeful time to plant the seeds of our intentions.
The name Imbolc comes from "i mbolg" which means in the belly, belly of the mother and/or sheep's milk. Traditionally this is when the sheep would be pregnant, as well as mother nature herself preparing to bloom. It is a nod to new life, new beginnings, a hopeful time, and a reminder how every aspect of our earliest ancestors' lives and spirituality revolved around cues from nature.
Brigid is the maiden goddess associated with Imbolc. She is the goddess of fire, poetry and healing who brings fertility back to the land, summoning spring. She is known as a creatrix, creating art with the element of earth, and as a protector of children, livestock and sacred wells.
Imbolc coincides with the modern celebration of “groundhog day”. What we now think of as groundhog day has evolved from a much older form of weather divination. It was believed that if the weather was nice on Imbolc, the crone goddess Cailleach who rules the winter, would come out to collect firewood to last her the rest of winter. If the weather was bad, she would stay sleeping, and spring would come sooner!
Balancing with the Element of Earth.
Winter is associated with the element of Earth. The Earth element represents the physical world. From the planet we live on, down to the bones our bodies are built around, and every other physical thing making up the tangible world around us. Earth provides us structure and steadiness, and is essentially all about stability. Having a balanced Earth element is essential to feel calm, safe, grounded and secure.
In early winter I think of the earth in the form of stones; very solid and very dense. In late winter I think of that density lightening and loosening, as in soil and the way we till and manipulate it for planting.
When you feel unanchored, insecure, or restless, bringing your element of earth back into balance will ground you. The best and most simple way of doing this, is by having physical contact with the earth. When I have those moments of falling apart, I always find comfort by laying on the ground. Outside is always better then inside when possible. By a tree is my personal favorite. I like to imagine the roots of the tree creating a basket underneath the ground to cradle me like I’m in a nest. Allow yourself to be held by the earth.
Other ways you can increase your element of earth is by:
sticking to a regular schedule
making commitments (and keeping them)
Using checklists to stay on track.
Go for a walk and collect momentos from nature like rocks, pinecones, sand, shells.
Create a sense of warmth and safety by bundling up and swaddling yourself in comfort.
When you feel too heavy, tired, slow, or stuck in a rut you are likely experiencing an over-abundance of earth element. At those times it is helpful to focus on exercise or any movement that is rigorous enough to work up a sweat. This helps to get things moving in your system, unblocking your energetic channels. These chilly months are the perfect time to give hot yoga a try. It is also helpful to avoid over-eating and to drink a lot of water-around half your body weight is a good goal for daily consumption. Keep your mental state and emotions in balance by surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh.
On the mat:
When it comes to syncing your yoga practice with the season, there are two ways to approach it. Either matching energy with the season or balancing energy with opposites. Our energy levels and moods change from day to day, so you may need to adjust how you practice depending on how your feeling in the moment.
Try using this as a general guideline. If you are feeling too scattered, over-achieving, type A, unable to slow down or: practice more restorative and yin yoga to slow you down and pull you into alignment with the season.
When you feel heavy, slow, depressed, tired, and cold, focus on: invigorating movement, to get the blood pumping ex: sun/earth/moon salutations, activating poses and inversions (head below heart) to encourage more blood flow to the brain, and pranayama such as breath of joy, or kapalabhati aka breath of fire.
And on an average day, in winter when you're feeling pretty well balanced I would recommend a good mix of both. Starting out somewhat active and ending with restorative. In early winter a recommended a 70/30 practice. Now that we are late winter, I'd shift that to a more of a 50/50.
This is a great time to utilize your yoga practice to get the creative juices flowing. Bring warmth and power of the sun into your practice. Shake off seasonal blues by visualizing the sun during your practice. See if you can locate a sense of the sun's warmth and energy in your solar plexus radiating outward. Bring your awareness back to this throughout your practice.
Living with heartfelt intention:
Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word for intention. An intention is a personal vow between you and the universe. It can be something you want to create, a value you want to embody, or a shift you want to initiate.
Having a Sankalpa or inention is different from goals and resolutions. Resolutions tend to unravel quickly because they are generally based on a scarcity mindset that something about you needs to change or improve, and goals are usually based on completing tasks and obtaining material possessions.
Intentions are different because they are made from a place of knowing you are already whole and have all that you need. Setting an intention is similar to planting seeds. Releasing them with faith and stepping out of the way to watch them grow. Unlike goals that feel more forceful and chased after. Intentions are made from the heart, not the head.
Examples of intentions:
Invoking compassion, kindness, gratitude, grace, forgiveness or love.
Being present or mindful.
Once you have your intention in mind, try to simplify it by narrowing it down to one word or one small sentence, to use as a mantra or affirmation.
Get your Hygge on.
There is a popular term in Denmark that I think sums up the art of embracing winter. The word hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) originates from the Norwegian word that means “well-being”. Hygge can be defined in a variety of ways ranging from a feeling or experience of coziness, a soothing atmosphere, feeling “at home” in comfort, enjoying a warm cup of tea by candlelight.
As we hunker down in these last weeks of winter, awaiting the return of spring, invite hygge into your home and workspace. Create an ambiance that induces feelings of being swaddled in a happy nest of comfort and safety. It could be as simple as dimming the lights, enjoying the warm glow of candlelight or a salt lamp, pouring yourself a warm cup of tea or hot cocoa, shuffling in warm fuzzy socks and cuddling under soft blankets. Savor a fresh baked treat. Warm yourself by the fireplace. Find gratitude and self-love in these little things as we await the return of spring.
In late winter the sunlight is expanding, promising us longer days and early signs of spring soon to come.
This time of year correlates to the waxing crescent phase of the lunar cycle, a time of quiet new beginnings, slowly building to a state of fullness at the Summer Solstice. It’s barely noticeable at first but the shift has been initiated. The energy is moving from dark to light, yin to yang, inward focus to outward, contemplation to action.
With each new day things will start to move faster and faster, so savor these last slow days of winter. Even if you want nothing to do with the cold and the snow and you can't wait to skip out the door in your flip flops again, savor and embrace whatever quietude is left while it’s here.