For many, Nov 6th marked the turning back of clocks to align with the rising sun. On Friday, December 21, 2011, the winter solstice will usher in the shortest day of the year. From then on, the days will grow progressively longer, meaning these darker days will quietly shift to light.
In the cold shadows of winter we naturally turn inwards: the pace of life slows so that we may restore and rest. Winter is an intuitive time to conserve energy and replenish our vitality for the unfolding Spring to come. Winter is Yin in nature – placid, viscous and cold. Like a midnight tide returning to its source, winter is an intuitive time for stillness. Quietude naturally unfolds space for contemplation – and insight. Within this sacred quiet we are invited to the depths of our being, and it is here that we hold the power to transform.
Let’s practice . . .
Gather warmth around you, a sweater or blanket. Feel your feet resting easily on the floor. Gently release your exhale and inhale through the nose, breathing softly into the low belly. Let the exhale be natural and complete. no need for effort. Feel the breath move in and out of the body. Maybe take 5 more of these gentle, slow breaths.
You might be aware of areas of constriction in the body. You might experience a sense of ease, maybe your eyes are tempted to soften and close. Allow whatever shifts are needed to feel comfortable. With your awareness focused on your breath, notice 3 more cycles of inhale and exhale. Allow a few more moments to greet whatever is happening. Whatever thoughts arise may pass through as you continue focusing on the breath.
Allow your attention to ease from the breath to any sensations in the body. As you scan, you might notice tensions or areas that are clinging or holding tight. You might notice spacious areas that feel soft and sweet. You might notice thoughts of the future or the past. Whatever your experience, know that you are deeply loved, deeply connected. Keep breathing. Inhale. Exhale.
Perhaps you notice feelings of unrest – of anxiety or stress, fear or worry – you might also notice a (sudden) reflex to return to whatever you were doing or planning before you began reading this. Helpful to notice. Allow 3 more deep, soft inhales and exhales.
As you sit here breathing, sensations may awaken, you might notice thoughts, memories and associations. Notice how soft the breath feels at the nose, how it feels traveling the nasal passages, how your ribs expand on the inhale. Maybe you notice softer and tighter bands of muscle around your chest and belly. Perhaps you feel a sense of letting go on the exhale. You may feel fully supported, odd, sweet, loose, uncomfortable and/or peaceful. Feel your feet on the floor, the body softening on the inhale, releasing any tension on the exhale . . .
You might notice emotions or thoughts that you’ve kept at bay. This is natural. You might contract or want to move away from uncomfortable feelings. Also natural. Just as our bodies brace against the cold in Winter, we often contract against emotions, particularly those we perceive as negative or those that resonate with fear and anxiety – emotions that commonly arise in winter . . .
As you return your attention to the breath, notice the sensation of your feet supported by the earth, the space of your chest and low abdomen. You might choose to focus on the chest expanding when you inhale, deepening into the low belly, and exhaling from the low belly as the chest softens. Notice what feels good about breathing.
After a few minutes of mindful breathing, you may feel a bit more centered, empowered or available to tend to your needs. Perhaps this exercise was unsettling – at least at first. Consciously checking in through breathing returns us all to what is happening in this present moment. Perhaps the past few minutes were challenging or compelling or both. Maybe some part of you wonders what it might be like to check in through your breath later today, perhaps before you fall asleep, or when you’re feeling a little stressed, or when you’re waiting or commuting or taking a walk . . .
The reprieve of watching breath for 5 to 10 cycles often eclipses whatever thoughts and sensations that were commanding our attention – and what seemed so inherently intense loses it’s import. Connecting to our present experience sinks us more deeply into our center – into the grounded space within our bodies.
As we remain attuned to the breath, on the periphery we might notice sensations, emotions, and beliefs. The energetic charge of thoughts and emotions hold a particular resonance or vibration – they do not represent what is True or what Is. Thoughts and feelings reveal what is present in any given moment and offers us insight into what we can attend to, love, integrate, release, transform. Emotions and thoughts are always changing: arising and passing, arising and passing, much like a belly that gently rises and softens, rises and softens, with each breath.
Remaining present within the body, we connect both with uncomfortable and pleasurable sensations. We notice what we like and don’t like, what we reject and what we cling to. Sometimes, we notice that our associations are arbitrary: what we so often wish for is also what we fear most. Sensations, thoughts and emotions do not hold an inherent nature of likable or unlikable, good or bad. How we respond shows us our associations and habits – all of which are available to change. . .
Softening through breath to find a middle ground, we grow beyond grasping/rejecting to a space that is open to what is and can be. We simply are. Breathing.
For more ideas about how to take care, especially during the winter months, please check health tips for winter