With the turning back of the clock in these last weeks of October, much of the northern hemisphere takes a step into darkness. The evenings start earlier and the days feel shrunken and abbreviated, inviting us to turn inward, to reflect on the year past, to gather our energies in preparation for the winter ahead.
While daylight savings time is a 20th century invention, there is much tradition around embracing the darkness at this time of year that marks the shortest days moving toward winter solstice. Ancient harvest festivals like Samhain – which have likely morphed into today's more flamboyant Halloween celebrations – acknowledged the shrinking of the sun's power at this time, offering gratitude for the harvest from the seasons past and humbling towards the coming winter.
We love staying in tune with these natural rhythms, connected to the ebb and flow of mama nature's embraces, and taking a hint from tradition to modify our own rituals and practice accordingly. Here, we've gathered some ideas on how to consciously embrace the darkening of the days and use the sanctuary of longer nights to deepen introspection – on and off the mat.
Make your own light
As the days darken, choose to kindle small lights of your own. Light candles – even at breakfast! Candles bring a flicker of warmth, a tiny reminder of the brightness of the sun into your home. If you have a fireplace, use it! The element fire is just the thing to stave off the winter dread. Try meditating on a candle flame – the yogic practice of Trāṭaka involves fixing the gaze on a single point – often a candle flame – without blinking. This is said to enhance focus and quiet the mind, while also functioning as a kriya (cleansing practice) as the eyes begin to water.
Get warm from the inside out
Adjust your Yoga practice to the cold and dark by incorporating warming and stimulating elements to stave of the lethargy of the kapha dosha, which can become dominant during the slower and more sluggish winter months. Try starting or ending your practice with khapalabhati breath to cleanse and stimulate. Incorporate more standing poses like virabhadrasanas or utkatasana into your flows to build up tapas (cleansing heat). And get cozy in savasana: wear wooly socks, a sweater and cover up with a blanket – keep the fire inside and carry it with you from the mat into your day.
This is the time for spice! Adjusting your diet to the cold months is a yogic practice that can bring much joy. Incorporate warming curries, spicy chais, grounding root vegetables and lots of ginger into your daily eats. This both literally warms you up from the inside and also boosts the immune system to stave off seasonal colds. Most ayurvedic cook books will have lots of great recipe ideas to inspire your time at the warm hearth.
Most importantly, keep the heart fire burning. Love more. Hugs create warmth. So do shared cups of tea and long conversations. Winter is also a perfect time to go on retreat - it offers the most fertile ground for transformative processes as we are already intune with going inward.
Embracing the comforting, cozy darkness and using its gifts to stoke the inner flame will bring so much fruit when we emerge on the other end, refreshed, rested and restored in time for Spring!