return to sister winter

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as those of us living in the northern hemisphere approach the winter solstice, we might notice the cyclical changes of the seasons echoing within our own bodies and lives. the sun sets over the ocean here by 4:30 pm. the stars pulse with color, bright worlds of light in the night’s cold air. I listen to my body’s signals– slow down, eat what grows underground, add warming spices, sleep in, sleep long, slow down even more, sleep. and I know I’m not alone, because the nights feel quieter out on the streets, and my restorative yoga classes have been filling up. I know people around me are craving the warmth of the hearth, the soft glow of home, the rest we’ve all earned that shelters us from the cold and the dark after months of heat, action and movement.

while each season carries in its essence many lessons for us to work into our daily lives, winter’s guidance seems clear: retreat. go where it’s warm: underneath the surface. gather strength through constructive rest for the work of spring which lies ahead. restore what has been diminished within yourself by returning to the essence of pure being which lies at the core of your experience– give yourself permission to let go of everything inessential to you, so that what is indestructible within you can become visible, can be honored, can be fortified against the elements.

whenever I want to establish these teachings of winter in my own presence, I’ll take a long meditation in goddess pose. I always include this asana in my restorative sequence, with plenty of props for support. supta baddha konasana is sanskrit for reclined bound angle pose, but we usually refer to it as goddess pose probably because of the powerful hip opening action and the sweetness of the hands on the belly.

to come into the pose, start in any comfortable seated position with your sit bones rooting down and your spine long and tall. place a bolster (if you don’t have one, use two rolled up blankets, as pictured above) on your mat behind you, with the long sides parallel to the sides of the mat. scoot back until the short end of the bolster just touches your sacrum. bring the soles of your feet to touch in front of you, then place blankets or blocks under both knees to support you as you allow your hips to relax open. stay here for a few deep breaths, then as you feel ready, slowly plant your palms at your sides and begin walking them back along the bolster as you release your entire spine onto it one vertebra at a time. rest the back of your head on the bolster– support it with an extra blanket if you like. bring your shoulders together onto your back so your collarbones can widen, creating space at your heart center. bring your hands to rest on your belly, your thighs, or at your sides with your palms open to the sky.

slowly surrender into the shape of the pose and allow all tension to melt out of your shoulders. if you notice any tightness in your hips, send your breath there to make space. simply allow your body to receive your breath, creating space as you inhale, softening into that spaciousness as you exhale. feel your bones become heavy as your muscles soften around them. allow gravity to do all the work in the pose. relax all the muscles in your face and feel your eyes sink back into their sockets. continue to ride the waves of your breath as they lull you into a state of deep calm and bliss.

know that this is a place you can always come home to– a house which always exists at your core. the night may be long, but inside the fire’s lit, the stove is packed with sweet wood, and the heart welcomes you back with its great warmth as it draws you in from the cold.

you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

–mary oliver

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