A Winter Solstice Practice

Today is the winter solstice. There are many reasons I like to acknowledge and honor this day – it’s the longest night of the year, and in Oklahoma we will experience only 10 hours of daylight (approximate) between sunrise and sunset. My husband loves astronomy and the nerd in me tries to keep up with his seemingly endless brain for science. We’ve spent entire nights outside looking through telescopes and discussing the position of planets and the formation of nebulas. It’s fascinating and liberating to sit under the sky and realize that we are a tiny blip in the history and span of the universe. The winter solstice is the day when the North Pole is most tilted away from the sun. In the Northern Hemisphere, astronomers and scientists use the winter solstice as the start of the winter season. As the seasons progress the sun changes its position in the sky from north to south. Today the sun is in its furthest southern, or lowest position. It will remain there for couple of days, seemingly at a standstill. Around the 25th it will start back on its northerly progression.

The introvert in me loves the idea of this day being one for introspection. Dark, still, and quiet are words I equate with the winter solstice. This is a day to turn inward and retreat to an internal world that mirrors the external. I have a propensity toward somberness. Even on the brightest of days there are shadows. Sadness isn’t necessarily something I celebrate, but I do relish this day as one that honors darkness. Last year I attended a special winter solstice yoga class that was taught by a dear friend. She shared, "Winter's Cloak", a poem by Joyce Rupp that perfectly captures the way I feel about this time of year:

This year I do not want 

the dark to leave me. 

I need its wrap 

of silent stillness, 

its cloak 

of long lasting embrace. 

Too much light 

has pulled me away 

from the chamber 

of gestation. 

 

Let the dawns 

come late, 

let the sunsets 

arrive early, 

let the evenings 

extend themselves 

while I lean into 

the abyss of my being. 

 

Let me lie in the cave 

of my soul, 

for too much light 

blinds me, 

steals the source 

of revelation. 

 

Let me seek solace 

in the empty places 

of winter’s passage, 

those vast dark nights 

that never fail to shelter me.

If the sun is energy-inducing, the moon calls for rest. In terms of Yin and Yang, today is the most Yin of all 365 days on the calendar. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter correlates to the Water element – an element tied to reflection, introspection, wisdom, and endurance. Water is the root of life. Our own existence is finite and during the winter months we should honor our bodies by creating opportunities for rest and stillness. This is a season of long nights and short days; one of hibernation and frozen landscapes; a pause in the cycle.

Below is a Yin sequence that targets the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians. This organ pair holds, filters, and disburses our own water sources. Note: The Urinary Bladder lines run through the center of the back of each leg and buttock, then branch into two lines running up each side of the spine. The Kidney lines begins at the sole of each foot and travel along the inner channel of the legs into the groin, join at the sacrum, and dive deep into the body, traveling along the line of the spine. These poses specifically target the long invisible channels that run like streams through our bodies. Practice this sequence on an empty stomach and use plenty of props (blankets, blocks, and pillows or a bolster) so that the body can deeply rest in the postures.

  1. Supta Baddha Konasana. Lie on your back and bring soles of the feet together. Place a folded blanket or block under each knee for support. Rest hands on low belly and breathe into the hands. Insert a tiny pause at the end of each exhale. In the pause, allow the body and brain to be completely at rest. Stay here for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Cat/Cow. Move in time with the breath (slow and deep) through 5-8 rounds.
  3. Caterpillar Pose (Seated Fold). Sit on a folded blanket with the legs extended, feet hip-width apart. Tip the pelvis slightly forward and fold gently from the hips. Notice your body's natural edge. Don't push past it, but soften into it. Gently round the spine and allow the chin to fall inward. Stay here for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Upavishta Konasana (Seated Wide Leg Fold). Follow the same steps above, this time with the legs in a V. This pose targets the inner hamstrings and Kidney meridian. Stay here for 3-5 minutes.
  5. Happy Baby Pose. Lie down on your back and float both feet to the ceiling. Bend the knees and let them widen around the ribs. Keep the soles of the feet pointing up to the ceiling. Rather than pulling the legs down, allow them first to get heavy and notice the head of each femur in the hip sockets. There’s a tendency to go too deep here. If you choose to hold the legs or the feet, try to stay within 60%-70% of your natural range of motion. Gently rock side to side. If the hip joints become uncomfortable here try bringing the feet toward each other, keeping the knees wide. Allow the rocking to become more subtle and then pause in stillness. Rock for 1-2 minutes. Stay still within the pose for 2-3 minutes. Release gently and place the feet as wide as your mat. Let the inner knees fall inward. 
  6. Supine Twist. Lie on your back with knees bent, soles of the feet on the floor. Gently rock the knees right to left in time with the breath. Inhale to the right; exhale to the left. After a minute of two allow the knees to gently fall to one side. Support the legs with a folded blanket or pillow. Rest the hands on the low belly and breathe into the hands. Stay for 3-5 minutes then repeat second side.
  7. Savasana. The ultimate restorative pose, a 5-10 minute Savasana can leave you feeling whole. Lie on your back with your feet as wide as your mat. Place a bolster or rolled blanket beneath the knees. Scan your body to let go where you might still be holding. Allow every fiber to soften. Enjoy - Namaste.
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