In the northern hemisphere, it's that time of year where the daylight hours are brief and the turn of the year is apparent. The word solstice comes from the Latin phrasing “Sol Sistere” which translates to “Sun stands still”.
The winter solstice most notably brings the shortest days of the year. While the thought of limited daylight brings dread for many, we actually need darkness to stay in good health. Darkness helps cue sleep and a host of other beneficial hormones that help us regulate our sleep patterns—and sleep is one of the keys to wellness. In fact, the lack of darkness is attributed by a number of researchers to be at least one cause of the rise in depression and obesity in many industrialized nations.
Despite this, our society traditionally counters the darkness with holiday traditions of gatherings, lights and overall busy-ness.
Of course, this year isn't like other years.
Instead of a bustling, joyous holiday season—there is a feeling of heaviness and solitude for many around this globe. The social distancing in response to the 2020 pandemic forces us to intimately sit with the darkness, silence and sleepiness of this season. This is a hard year, there's no debating that. However, a slight shift in perspective helps us see the opportunity hiding in this year of forced isolation.
1. Slow down, but move for the season
Compared to the summer months, the world comes to apparent stillness. While our bodies may ask for less movement (this is, in fact, the season of Netflix binges for many), it's important to continue moving our bodies with the season.
The Mayo Clinic reports that excess sitting is now linked with 35 diseases and conditions, including obesity, hypertension, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease and depression.
Winter hikes are one of the best ways to move with the season. Not only do you get the health benefits of staying outside with nature, but spending time outside also gives your body a chance to take in natural light and align with the light cycles of the season.
Practice Yin Yoga
Winter is the season of yin. Yin is passive, cool and dark energy. Yin yoga targets your deep connective tissues, like your fascia, ligaments, joints, and bones. It’s slower and more meditative, giving you space to turn inward and tune into both your mind and the physical sensations of your body. Because you hold poses for a longer period of time than you would in other traditional types of yoga, yin yoga helps you stretch and lengthen those rarely-used tissues while also teaching you how to breathe through discomfort and sit with your thoughts.
2. Embrace Your Sense of 'Home'
Christmas decorations are the joy for many, but you should know that they also come with a purpose:
Use Lights With Intention
This is a darker season, but light still has a wonderful role to play. Choose candlelights and softer bulbs to feel into the gentle flicker of the season.
Embrace the Therapeutic Power of Plants
3. Support Your Community
Baked goods, homemade wreaths and bath products are a wonderful, cost effective way to let people you know that you care about them. In the age of social distancing, porch drop offs are a great way to safely show those in your life that you are thinking of them.
Reach Out to Those Around You
Traditional Christmas cards do this job perfectly—it's a way to remind others that you keep them in mind, even when things get busy. Although, simple 'I'm thinking of you' texts or notes will do the job just fine.
4. Reflect Intentionally
Work with your dreams
In many native cultures, dreaming is a way to connect with spirit (ancestors, deity, etc) and hear messages and to travel in a different world, a world that is just as real as our own.
A dream journal is a great way to connect in with your dreams. Regardless whether you ascribe spiritual meaning to your dreams, it is commonly accepted that we create our own dream language with symbols unique to us. Keeping a journal can help you identify themes and better understand your deeper self.
Vision the year to come
This year brought unexpected realities for many of us, but also presented many of us with the gift of time. Spend time thinking about the reality you want to create for 2021 and beyond.
5. Lean Into What's Here
Don't resist the winter
The anxiety that rises in many during the winter months is likely the result of resisting what's here. We yearn for the warmth and energy of summer and the anxiety of being without leaves us in a depressed state during this season.
However, there is a lot here. While it looks different than the easygoing, playful summer months—there is still a lot to embrace.
Don't resist the current state of the world
The unknown of this year brought isolation and lifestyle changes for many of us. There is a lot to work with here, and maybe part of the work is embracing the unknown and appreciating the world around us.