Every year, at the start of the winter solstice, I feel kind of off, a little fatigued, and a bit unbalanced. I don't know if it has to do with the lack of sunlight or the fact that the cold weather is bringing me down, but what I do know is that I need to use mindful techniques to lift my sprits and get me out of my funk. This year, I decided to partake in a winter solstice yoga sequence at exactly 11:28 a.m. (the official beginning of the solstice) in the hopes of lifting my spirits and flooding my body with feel-good endorphins.
As a yoga teacher, I crafted this flow to allow my heart to open up more easily during a time of increased darkness, to welcome all of the external changes happening in nature, and to gently turn inward, with intention, to adapt both my mind and body to this sacred time of year.
I included a delicate balance of asanas that allow you to surrender and let go, as well as poses that create more heart space, opening the chest and shoulders in gratitude. I also incorporated deep breathing exercises, some rejuvenating essential oils, and a bit of meditation into my sequence.
To say the least, this was just what I needed to slow down, let go of attachments that weren't serving me, and create the space to breathe.
I started off my practice by rubbing a bit of lavender oil on my temples to instill a sense of inner calm and tranquility throughout my whole body. The floral scent began to diffuse in the air surrounding me, prompting me to take fuller inhales and longer exhales.
Then I adjusted myself so that I was in a comfortable, seated position on my mat, and scanned my body from head to toe, observing the areas where I was holding more tension than necessary. I challenged myself to make the mindful decision to relax these muscles with care and kindness.
Closing my eyes and straightening my spine, I prepared to meditate and breathe deeply for five minutes before beginning my physical asana practice. I knew that it was important not to judge any thoughts that came up during my meditation, and instead, to simply observe them as they came and went, holding no attachment to them. I refused to label my thoughts as good or bad; I was merely a witness to them.
When my meditation time was up, I gently opened my eyes and began to warm up my spine with some cat and cow motions. The fluidity and movement felt great against the stiffness of my body, a physical struggle that many of us face with the arrival of the winter solstice and its unforgivingly cold weather.
After a few rounds of cat-cow, I found strength within an empowering plank pose and slowly transitioned into my first downward-facing dog.
I stayed in down dog for several deep breaths, allowing myself to appreciate the stillness and serenity of the present moment. Then, I made my way to the front of the mat and began to flow through Surya Namaskar (sun salutations).
This is usually my favorite part of any yoga practice because it literally feels like a blissful, moving meditation, but if I'm being honest, I still felt kind of out of touch with my body. The winter solstice was truly challenging my very being.
However, after a few rounds of sun salutations, the sunlight began to pour throw my window while I was stretching in cobra pose.
I could sense my mindset beginning to shift in an amazing way. The anxious chatter in my brain came to a halt as the warm rays of sun caressed my skin. I felt a genuine sense of gratitude as I reminded myself that I was in a safe, warm, sheltered, beautiful home in the midst of the dark, chilly solstice.
I moved softly through my remaining asanas, being mindful to be extra gentle with my body and to not push myself to do anything that didn't feel good or that my body wasn't ready for.
Usually, I'm able to bend much more deeply into Anjaneyasana (low lunge), but I realized that my lower back was a bit more restricted today, and so I honored that and took it easy.
As I finished my winter solstice yoga sequence, I realized that I had a new sense of appreciation for my body, and all of the incredible things it's capable of. I no longer felt that air of indifference and disinterest that usually envelops me at the start of the winter solstice.
Melting into Savasana (corpse pose) after my physical practice and relaxing every part of my body, from head to toe, was incredibly restorative and relaxing — definitely my favorite part of this winter flow.
At the end of my practice today, I thought about how crappy I'd felt when I first got on my mat. I practice yoga every single day, but today, I felt genuinely ready and able to accept that I was feeling a bit "blah." I realized I didn't have to let that lethargy dictate how my entire day would turn out.
I'm no longer anxiously awaiting the first sign of the winter sunset to wrap myself in a blanket burrito and go straight to sleep, so that's a win in my book. Instead, I'll be harnessing the positive energy and good vibrations that I cultivated during my solstice flow to appreciate the longest night of the year and welcome the changes arising in the world around me.
Namaste, and happy winter solstice, everyone!