How to #staylit
How to Light Yourself from the Inside Out
Shorter days doesn’t have to mean they’re all dismal. The winter season presents us with a challenge: to light yourself up from the inside out.
The winter solstice marked the very shortest day of the year and I for one am counting down the days until summer solstice (yes, I worship the sun). As we enter into this dark phase of our annual cycle around the sun ~ Winter Time ~ we also enter into the “holiday season.” This time of year in our culture has a tendency to be socially crazy and meteorologically dark, gloomy, and cold. We are affected. There is even a clinical term for this: Seasonal affective disorder
Given the gloomy feelings around this dark time, it stands to reason that Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa are all holidays in which we light candles and string lights around our homes in an effort to literally bring more light into our lives.
Similarly, our physical yoga practice is a strategy for enlightenment. Practicing daily, particularly during dark phases, helps us sustain the light. We can prepare for what’s coming - shorter days, longer nights, colder temperatures, and all of the physical, mental, and emotional effects of the season.
It’s the time to ignite the light of your heart and stoke your inner fire so that it will miraculously burn throughout the entire winter - or at least most of it (until late February/early March - aka yoga retreat season).
As we enter the dark phase, the miracle that the practice promises is the power to stay lit.
In our practice, we work to build and maintain our tapas, or inner fire. Every single one of us has a light burning inside. Our yoga practice both connects us to the power of this light that burns in our center as well as feeds and sustains this inner fire - physically and psychosomatically. The more we cultivate our connection to this power, the more stamina and endurance we have, especially when faced with challenges.
That luminosity that emanates from the yogi who is dedicated to nourishing their inner light and keeping their fire going is called tejas. Tejas is the result of cultivating tapas. Yoga practice is a ritual fire.
Don’t be afraid of the dark.
When the days are short and it’s dark early, it’s all too easy to cuddle up on the couch with whiskey and mac and cheese. Or perhaps it looks a little more like depressive isolation for you.
Sometimes it’s good for us to lean into our darker (shadow) side, to become close friends with our fear, so that we can keep our demons in check.
Our practice is never an invitation to check out. It’s always an invitation to check in. What is going on with you right now? Seriously - right now. Take a moment. Close your eyes. Breathe. Do a momentary body scan. How are you feeling? And can you identify why? The deeper your self-reflection, the more you emanate light.
Practice mindfulness at a few points throughout the day. Perhaps take a few moments before or at lunch to close your eyes and check in with your five senses. Where are you tense? Where are you spacious? Notice the temperature of your breath as it moves in and out through your nostrils.
Make eating a meditation. The holidays are known as a season of over-eating and diet-breaking. While I wholeheartedly advocate for this indulgence, I also want to encourage people to mindfully enjoy their treats. Again, taking your time to savor each bite of baked mac and cheese or cookie, noticing its color, taste, smell, and texture will only make your experience that much more special.
Restore at home. Supta baddha konasana is a magical antidote to the state of stress that many of us face during the hustle and bustle of holiday season, and even perhaps on a regular basis throughout our daily lives. Like all restorative yoga postures, it dials down the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response which we go into when stressed, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system’s rest and digest response, which supports digestion, relaxes muscles and tension, lowers the heart rate, and promotes better sleep. Here are some pro-tips for enjoying the pose in the comfort of your own home.
- Set yourself up with a mat, two blocks (or pillows), a blanket, and maybe an eye pillow.
- Prop your thighs up with the smooth sides of your two blocks or pillows.
- Cover yourself with a blanket, cover your eyes with an eye pillow or part of the blanket and get cozy! As you close your eyes, turn into darkness. Look for your breath.
- Breathe deeply in this position for 5 - 10 min and then slowly push your props safely out of the way and come to a comfortable seat for another minute of meditation before you continue with your day or make your way to bed for rest!
- Namaste! Bring your hands to your heart center in a prayer gesture. This is called anjali mudra. Namaste is a salute to the light of your heart.
May this splendor guide you in all that you do, as you bring your light into and through the dark days of winter!
Big warm hugs to you and yours.