The 21st of December, the Winter Solstice has been a time of celebration for humans since the prehistoric era. Esmeralda shares her favourite winter solstice rituals and ways to honour this time of year.
In the fast pace of our modern world, we can lose touch with the rhythms of nature, which can leave us feeling disconnected and like we don’t belong. I’ve been exploring the land-based spiritual traditions of different pagan lineages over the past few years in an effort to remember my place in the web of life, and to exist more harmoniously within it. The 21st of December, the Winter Solstice, is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, with just under 8 hours between sunrise and sunset here in the UK. It has been a time of celebration for humans since the prehistoric era. Christmas, Saturnalia, Yuletide : all of these traditions take place around the Winter Solstice.
The Winter Solstice in Yogic Traditions
Some yoga lineages suggest practising 108 sun salutations at the turn of the seasons (for Solstices and Equinoxes) and that can be a beautiful way to mark the occasion (if your shoulders can handle all those chaturangas…) In this article, I’ll be considering the meaning of the Winter Solstice and how we might go about creating our own rituals and traditions to celebrate it.
The Importance of Rest
As a culture, we tend to prize ourselves most for our doing, achieving and pursuing, but there is so much value in our rest, relaxation and integration as well. Kat, our founder, has talked a lot about the importance of nervous system regulation, and the deeper effects of long-term stress.
The winter solstice offers us an opportunity to pause (Solstice literally means “sun stands still”) and reflect. We can take our inspiration from the rest of the natural world, which is also in a state of rest and stillness, in preparation for the return of the sun. If you have the opportunity to, it’s a great day to spend in quiet rest – perhaps with some yoga nidra, or a gentle restorative class. Let’s reclaim our right to rest, and remember that we have intrinsic value that goes much deeper than our productivity.
A Message of Hope & Connection
Darkness is, according to many early human creation myths, the precursor to all of creation, including light. Think about the spaces where life gestates – eggs, wombs, under the soil – all dark spaces where a spark of life appears, as if from nowhere. The long dark night can be a space of great potential – the liminal space from which anything could happen.
The Winter Solstice marks the longest night, but also, the moment just before the return of longer days – the return of the sun. It’s a quieter, more imperceptible change than the arrival of Spring, and a reminder to have faith – even in the depths of darkness and cold, that the sun will return.
A reminder to have faith – even in the depths of darkness and cold, that the sun will returnEsmeralda Vere
Lots of us are struggling: financially, mentally and emotionally at the moment. If that’s your case, you might consider working elements of hope and nervous system regulation into your winter solstice ceremony.
Our ancestors in Europe would gather together in their turf houses to sing songs, light fires, and tell stories to get one another through the long nights. You might choose to share your winter solstice ritual with a friend, so that you can remind one another of the value of human connection during trying times.
A Mindful Moment
As you know, here at Movement for Modern Life, we’re always encouraging you to live a more mindful life, and to consider how you might contribute to a better world. I believe that creating a Winter Solstice Ritual can be a beautiful way to do just that – you can use this time to reflect on the year you’ve just lived through, and begin to set positive intentions for the one that’s to come.
So, we have rest, reflection, intention and connection as our guide-words. Let’s see how we might weave those into a Winter Solstice Ritual. Below are my ideas, feel free to adapt them to better suit you and your life! I recommend setting aside at least an hour – either in the morning or in the evening.
A Winter Solstice Yoga Ritual
Start by setting the Scene
One way to give your nervous system a rest, and embrace the depths of this dark night is to spend it by candlelight. Once the sun sets, light your home with candles (electric candles or fairylights make a nice substitute!) We know this might not be practical for everyone, but even a few minutes without bright electric light can do wonders (particularly in the hour just before bed) to soothe and ground your system.
You may need:
- A yoga mat, and any other props you like for your practice.
- Make sure you have plenty of water
- A notebook and pen or your phone / computer
- Good speakers to play some gentle music
- Some tissues just in case.
- Have cushions and blankets and warm layers available so you’re nice and cosy.
- If you like incense or essential oil balms – feel free to bring them in too!
- The space should feel sacred and special. Make sure anyone you live with knows that you are not to be disturbed.
The classes I link to below are all just suggestions, feel free to pick others that you prefer!
1. Soothing Breathwork
Begin with some soothing breathwork, to arrive in your body, in the space
2. Connect with yourself
Connect with yourself using the Hawaiian Ho’oponopono Prayer. Just say to yourself first and then to others, by calling them into your heart. Repeat it as many times as is helpful.
Please forgive me
I love you
Set a timer for each question, and just let the words flow out of your pen:
- What am I grateful for right now? Who am I grateful for right now? (Go wild with this one! List everything! Gratitude is a beautiful energy to start any ritual from. Acknowledge all your tiny blessings, as well as your big ones. Feel the energy of gratitude in your body as your pen flows.)
- What am I leaving behind? What am I ready to release?
- What would I like to do / achieve this coming year? What am I calling in?
4. Gentle movement
Warm your body up slowly with gentle movement
Crank up the music and shake your body, imagine shaking off everything you’re releasing. Shake your limbs, shake your torso, shake your hands and feet. Allow the energy to move through your body.
Choose some of your favourite dance tunes, and move your body in whatever way feels best to you – strut, groove, let loose. Focus on what FEELS good. Imagine you’re dancing in all your intentions and goals for the new year, grooving around with them in the room with you. You might choose to do some sun salutations here, as a nod to the yogic tradition. (There’s no need to do the full 108, though)
7. Slow stretches
Take some long slow stretches close to the ground to cool down
8. Rest and process
Take some time in Savasana, or even cosy up for a Yoga Nidra
Take a moment to offer yourself some gratitude for this ritual.
You can take the paper with the things you’re releasing outside and burn or bury it, if you like.
Remember to drink lots of water!
If you have all day free, you might choose to pack a bag and take a solstice wander.
I have friends who do this from sunrise to sunset – they choose a route and follow it. As you walk, you can quietly reflect on the year, and maybe share out loud if you feel to. Look around you, and notice the land, the plants, the animal life at this time of year. invite the land to guide your footsteps, pausing where you feel called to pause. Notice your breath.
Grief & Praise
In many traditions, the deep winter is a time to remember those who have come before us. With less external distractions, the quieter voices of our grief can arise. If that’s your case, you might want to seek out a grief circle, in which to come into deeper relationship with this deep human experience in a held way. Grief isn’t typically something we’re good at honouring in our culture, but it’s made much easier with community support – Grief tending spaces in UK
However you honour the Solstice this year, I wish you a peaceful, gentle day, and a beautiful 2023.
Written by Esmeralda Vere – MFML Social Media Maven, Esmeralda is a Yoga and Movement teacher with a passion for story telling and building community through connection. She also loves to discover more about land-based spiritual traditions and share this knowledge through workshops, retreats and writing.
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