For those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere, the December Solstice earmarks the longest night and shortest day of the year, also known as the first day of winter. Meanwhile, our friends in the Southern Hemisphere experience the opposite. An easy astronomical explanation: The December Solstice marks the day when the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun.
The December Solstice occurred on Monday, December 21, 2020. From that point on, the days get longer, and the nights shorter — a seasonal shift that’s nearly palpable as we inch our way toward spring.
Not surprisingly, cultures and religions across the globe celebrate a holiday on or around the solstice — whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or pagan festivals — to help ring in the return of longer days.
For example, the United Kingdom’s most famous solstice celebration takes place at Stonehenge. On the winter solstice, visitors traditionally enter the stone circle for a sunrise ceremony run by local pagan and druid groups. I should note the reason I’m calling out this ceremony specifically is because after a recent DNA test I’ve discovered I’m 40% English, Welsh and northwestern European.
While I’d love to travel to England and experience this ancient cultural event in-person one day, I don’t have too much FOMO knowing the in-person celebrations have been canceled this year. A virtual, guided winter solstice yoga flow and meditation from home was key to celebrating the changing of seasons this year.
After RSVPing to a Facebook Live event, I received a Zoom link and joined a small group of women, all located across the Charlotte area. Our guide framed the online class as a blend of pranayama (breathwork), yoga and meditation, all of which incorporate the practice of Ayurveda.
According to WebMD, Ayurveda “is one of the world’s oldest holistic … healing systems. It was developed more than 3,000 years ago in India. It’s based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Its main goal is to promote good health, not fight disease…In the United States, it’s considered a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).”
With the guidance of our teacher, we initiated our winter solstice flow with a few gentle rounds of Sama Vritti Pranayama, or equal ratio breath. This is a slow and intentional breathwork practice, leaving the practitioner feeling calm and balanced.
During our practice we learned this type of breathing mimics the fluid movement of the seasons, allowing us to slow down and appreciate the pause as we transition from one breath to the next, just as we flow from one season to the next. Sama Vritti is soothing because it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, therefore reducing stress and anxiety — an accessible remedy for anyone experiencing pandemic fatigue underscored by holiday stress.
Moving into the physical portion of our practice, we took a moment to quietly set an intention for ourselves — something we would like to cultivate during the rest of our (virtual) time together, but also something that can be applied to the coming winter season (much like a new year’s resolution).
I view intentions as a compass guiding us toward our highest potential — something I like to remind yoga practitioners of when I teach a class. It’s easy to get lost amongst the drama of everyday life, so taking a quick glance at our “compass” to realign with our path of intention is comforting.
Rounding out our winter solstice practice was a guided meditation — a relaxing mindfulness practice to inspire a sense of rest and renewal while providing space to divorce ourselves from negative habits, thought patterns and emotions that may not serve our best, future self. Note: This is a great place to pull out our “compass” and revisit our intention.
Lastly, we were given the option for reflective journaling. I’ll be honest with you — this is a concept that sounds cheesy, even as a writer. However, several studies have shown journaling can help improve mental, physical and emotional health. I’ve also read that journaling can help with time management and efficiency — a few things I can certainly use more of in the new year.
Well, what do you know?
I’ve just identified “daily reflective journaling” as a strong candidate for a new year’s resolution — a realization I would not have come to had it not been for sitting down to write this article.
If reflective journaling is a practice you’re committing to as a clean-slate practice, I’ve shared five journaling prompts fit for a new year, a new moon or new season; each is a powerful time to write, reflect and release.
- What was my biggest personal achievement?
- What was my most challenging lesson?
- How can I integrate this lesson into my life?
- What habits are no longer serving me?
- What am I ready to let go of?
Happy writing, you just might come across a helpful resolution.
Read past Seeker columns here.