Yesterday morning I looked out my frosty windows at the stark-naked trees and felt the 19-degree air that snuck through the cracks in the window sashes. This morning, I looked out those same windows at rooftops and sidewalks blanketed with snow. It’s hard to believe it’s not even winter yet!
The official first day of winter this year falls on Wednesday, December 21. There will be a moment on this day (5:44am here in the Northern Hemisphere) when the Earth’s axial tilt will be farthest from the sun. That one moment is the Winter Solstice, and it represents a turning point: the juncture where the seasons change and autumn turns into winter.
The winter season that is about to unfold brings with it frigid temperatures and long hours of darkness. Nature stops its outward growth. Without the colorful blossoms of spring, the leafy greenness of summer, and the vibrant foliage of fall, it may look like the earth has shut down and closed up shop. But beneath the barren stillness of the frozen ground, the earth is restoring its internal energy reserves.
Our own bodies reflect this cyclical slowing and turning inward of the natural world. On a purely physical level, the darkness and cold force us to spend time indoors. Snug in our homes, we seek warmth, shelter, and comfort.
On a more subtle level, the winter season is a time for us to restore ourselves energetically. This is the time to pause, to breathe, to draw our attention deep within. It’s a time to let the body be still and replenish itself.
Unfortunately, the winter solstice occurs each year smack dab in the middle of a very busy holiday season. We may find ourselves moving at a frenetic pace: shopping, partying, decorating, socializing, and traveling.
When our hectic schedules fall out of sync with the cycles of the earth, we end up feeling stressed, anxious, and worn out. We become vulnerable to illness and injury.
It’s vital at this time of year to counterbalance the busyness by taking the time to be quiet, calm, and self-reflective. Our yoga practice gives us the space to honor the natural energy of the winter season by practicing poses that ground us and invite introspection and inward reflection.
In my classes this coming week, I’ll offer a practice that acknowledges the turning point of the Winter Solstice. We’ll move slowly and hold strong poses for longer periods to build internal heat and counteract the cold. We’ll practice inversions, turning ourselves upside down to shift our perspective. Finally, we’ll move into some longer held supported forward folds, which invite introspection and reflection.
Even if you can’t make it to class, give yourself some time to slow down…to be quiet…to listen.
Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season!
Christine Malossi is a yoga teacher and writer based in Manhattan.