Winter Practices To Support Your Inward Journey
This is my favorite time of the year. It is not because of the gatherings nor the Christmas lights. It is my favorite time of year because it is a time of drawing inward and a time of quiet. We have lived through some very unusual months and many of us are wondering where solid ground is, whether our lives will change in big or small ways. If I am not careful I will slip into a place of fear with no known recourse. I am a “do-er”, an action oriented person who has been socially engaged to create positive change in our community. At this moment in time I am unsure of what action to take or how to make my voice heard.
And so, I am choosing quiet. In Ayurveda I have been taught to treat a complex presentation with a simple remedy. I have heard that when you don’t know what to do it is best to pause and wait. Inspiration always comes. The truth always makes itself known. I firmly believe that within us is the wisdom of the universe. I am waiting to hear that quiet inner voice that will lead me to do the next best thing.
Until I know, and while I wait, I will choose winter practices to support and ground me. This next month can be fertile ground for renewal of spirit and for clarity of mind and heart. I share with you some suggestions that have nurtured me.
The wee hours of the morning are both mystical and auspicious. For many years I spent considerable time at a Benedictine Monastery. I loved waking very early and stumbling into the chapel with my eyes full of sleep to chant prayers with the Monks. There was no hierarchy. We were all welcomed to gather and lift our voices or to stand and listen while others did. Somehow it felt easier to hear my inner voice during the pre-dawn hours.
Consider rising between 5:00 and 6:00 to savour the silence in your home. This may be all the meditation you need. Pad around your kitchen in your slippers, sip warm water and let the dogs out. If you crave more, sit in prayer or meditation. You may use words or not. The act of being present is enough.
I love when fall is upon us. It is as if someone is saying to me “Stock up on root vegetables, good olive oil and warming spices. Make soup every day.” Do you hear this message as well?
One of my Ayurvedic teachers shared with us that she could not both meditate and cook for her family in the morning and so she chose to crush cardamom, to roast turmeric and to generously add ghee to her pots as each day began. She would chant while she cooked. Food is medicine you know. The fresher your ingredients, the more love you add as you stir and grind and the blessings that you impart all add potency to your creations. As you sip your soup or eat your stew, feel its healing power. I always know when I am out of sorts. I stop wanting to cook. When this happens, the symptom speaks to the remedy.
This is the season of ether and air; in Ayurveda we know this as a time when the Vata dosha is present. Winds are strong, there is dryness in the air, the temperatures have dropped and we feel a sense of constriction and drawing inward. My favorite antidote is to apply oil. Some days this means giving myself a top to bottom self-oil massage with a warming oil (sesame is appropriate for most in these cold months).
Today it meant warming some scalp oil and rubbing it on my head and throughout my hair. I tied up the ends and wrapped a bandana around my bun to keep the heat in. I used an herbalized oil that helps to calm my nervous system and clear my thoughts. I left this on for a few hours and then took a warm shower using an oil based shampoo bar. Can it get any better than this? I think not.
Take a Walk
It is easy to walk when the sun is shining and you feel its warmth on your face and back. Now that the temperatures have dropped it may seem counter-intuitive to bundle up in a warm coat with a scarf and gloves but, trust me, it is well worth it. Take a moment to inhale deeply. There is something wonderful about the crispness of the air right now. Notice the smell of the leaves and the chimney smoke. I am blessed to live close to the ocean. When I make time to walk on the sand in the off-season I am aware that although the waves and the horizon seem timeless, they too change when summer turns to winter.
Befriend Your Body
Yoga has become not only my personal practice but also what I offer to the world. It is a very special type of yoga that is, at its core, a hatha practice. It was developed to help people whose lives have been affected by trauma. It is also what heals me every day. One of the core principals of Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) is that it offers a way for me to be present to my body, its sensations, its movements and its stillness.
Practicing in the manner that I do strengthens pathways in my brain that allow me to know what it feels like to be hungry, to sense anxiety, to need rest and to know how my muscles engage and release. Sometimes my practice looks a lot like I am lying on my back resting. Sometimes I practice in repetitive flows of simple movements and breath. Sometimes I twist and sway and balance and fold. What remains constant is my awareness of my body in each moment.
There is so much to be grateful for. As I type these words I have two dogs curled up beside me assisting my writing process. They feel safe and cared for. I am grateful for them. I have a working computer and fingers with which to type. I have a sense of curiosity and a large imagination. I am loved and I love. I can breathe deeply and I can sing. I am grateful for each of these gifts. Find what you are grateful for and acknowledge it, sit with it, breathe it in.
In the words of Anne Lamott, “Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.”
I wish you silence, the gift of looking inward and the awareness that in darkness there does exist light. May your practices feed you and support you in this coming month.