Heat Up Your Practice
Awkward Chair Squats
Winter can be a long and cold time of year. The days are short and chilly and unfortunately, most of us are trapped inside for the short precious hours of daylight by a job or school. It’s not very easy in the winter months to get out there and feel the sun on your face without simultaneously feeling wind chill. More so even if you’re like me, and would rather sweat it out on a hot beach than ride down the side of a mountain on thin pieces of fiber glass, meaning, winter’s not my ideal time of year, so I tend to curl up in blankets with books. I generally enjoy cuddling with my pup, but it can feel antisocial. I wouldn’t say that I get terribly depressed in winter, but seasonal affective disorder can be a very real thing, which is why it’s important to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You see, onwards from December 21st, the winter solstice, the daylight begins to increase bit by bit until magically we find ourselves in spring.
Winter solstice itself is the shortest day of the year and the beginning of the winter season. The sun sets early leaving a dark evening to explore your inner self. This is something that can be done solo or with a group. I myself am very fortunate to be a member of an active yoga community in which a wonderful winter solstice event was planned and well attended. It was guided by myself and two other yoga teachers and I’d like to lay out the event as inspiration for your next winter solstice and as a reminder of the warmth to come.
After introductions, participants were asked to think of a goal or intention that they’d like to focus on and dedicate their vinyasa yoga practice to. Once they had one in mind, we all sat together in a circle and lit candles one by one to signify our intention. There was a symbolic meaning to lighting the candles in the circle; it represented the growing daylight of the coming months. In a more personal setting, intentions could have been affirmed out loud, but we kept ours silent.
Following the intentions, a heating vinyasa flow was practiced in the gentle glow of the candles. Many vinyasas were cued, but optional, to warm up as much as desired. Throughout the course of the physical practice, reminders to bring focus back to the intention were given, primarily in quieting forward folds which are very personal and often allow us to go within ourselves. Once inner heat was throughly ignited and stoked to battle the frigid air outside, there was a therapeutic partner practice to get even deeper into the muscle tissues. As mentioned before, I’m not one for outdoor winter sports, so my yoga is close to the only physical activity that I perform in winter. For this reason, a more perspiring yoga practice like vinyasa or power yoga is a good answer to my winter blues (and all those Christmas cookies!)
But alas, yoga is much more than physical and the event carried on into the mental realm. Working the body with the breath quiets the mind, so right after a yoga practice is an ideal time to meditate or simply focus thoughts. In the case of our humble event, a guided candle meditation was practiced. To top everything off there was a journal exercise. Currently (and for quite a long while,) I have fallen out of my journaling habit, but I plan to rekindle it in the coming new year. The journaling exercise of our winter solstice event involved considering the future and writing a short positive affirmation about yourself. I took a lot away from the journaling and will use the affirmation as a tool to bring me back to my target whenever I find myself straying. And that was the conclusion of our event, it was a magnificently warming, community gathering.
Solstice and equinox events can seem far off and even pagan to some, I know I used to roll my eyes in the past, but really when you think about it, they are simply calendar days that mark the changing skies and seasons. Winter solstice is the shortest day and summer solstice is the longest; the equinoxes are about equal in length of day and night. It is not easy to pay attention to the changing seasons with so many seemingly pressing matters pestering our minds, which is why making the time to plan an event or find one to attend is a good way to bring nature back into view. And if you’re still not sold on the idea, then a similar event could be planned for New Years Eve, a time when we transition into a new calendar year and look forward to the future.