You may not know this, but when I’m not teaching yoga I am often to be found out and about saving fluffy little critters (and some not so fluffy) as part of my other role as an ecologist. So, summer is always super busy for me – I’m dashing around in my wellies, chasing dormice by day and bats by night (amongst other things), and trying to seamlessly morph into a ‘zen’ yoga teacher in between. It can get pretty crazy…!
So, at this time of year I breathe a sigh of relief. Most of the creatures I work with are now safely settling into their winter hibernation mode, which means I can too. True, for the last few years I’ve actually followed the migratory birds out of the country to find sunnier climes, but this time I’m staying put, at least for a while, and I’m really looking forward to it.
‘Looking forward to winter – are you mad?’ I hear you cry!
But, yes, strangely I am. Having been slavishly following the sun and the outdoorsy, energetic life that comes with it over the last few years, I realised I’ve come to miss the quieter, introspective energy that winter brings. Winter is a time of going inside, in more ways than one. It’s a time for hunkering down, staying put, taking stock. We revel in homely comforts – making soup, getting cosy by the fire, sharing a roast dinner with family or friends. But, also, as the natural world quietens down and stills itself, I think some primal part of us does too – we are but mammals, after all…
The winter season, with its long evenings spent inside, is the ideal time to take some time out for introspection and looking inward. I’ve provided some ideas below about how you could perhaps embrace this natural tendency to quieten the mind and go within at this time of year.
- In your yoga practice, try including lots of, literally, navel-gazing postures, as these tend to be great for engendering a sense of introspection. For example the plough (halasana) is wonderfully introspective, as is the seated forward fold with legs outstretched (paschimottanasana) or a standing forward fold (uttanasana). Basically, any kind of posture where you fold into yourself rather than expanding outwards will help you quieten the mind and find inner stillness, particularly if you really tune into your breath.
- Try introducing a regular ‘sit’ into your daily life, which could be as little as five minutes each day. Find somewhere quiet and undisturbed (it works well to designate a special place in your home for this if possible) and sit in a comfortable position (on a cushion or chair is fine, and you can lean against a wall if your back needs support). Close your eyes and just observe your breathing and/or your thoughts. Eventually, you may be able to sit for longer, turning it into more of a concentration/meditation exercise. You can set a timer, and maybe increase the time by five minutes each week.
- As well as a daily sit, regularly ‘check-in’ with yourself. Maybe every time you boil the kettle, or perhaps when you wake up first thing and just before you go to sleep, or when you arrive at your desk in the morning – it doesn’t really matter, but the more times the merrier! Each time, just ask yourself the simple question: ‘How am I, right now?’ and see what arises. It can even help to have a notepad with you so you can record your response. It might just be one word but, over time, by regularly checking-in, you can come to know yourself better, see patterns and identify areas of your life that might need attention.
- Try having a silent day and see how you feel – this could mean keeping the radio and TV off for the day, not listening to music in the car and avoiding conversations where possible (remember that a large percentage of communication is through body language, so it’s amazing how you can happily cohabit without speech for a while – and in fact this is a very interesting exercise to do with your partner/family!). When we allow silence into our lives it’s amazing what clarity and calmness this can bring – it can take some getting used to though!
- Try and get outside and surround yourself with nature every day if possible, even if just for a few minutes – a walk in the park at lunch is always a good bet, as is using the weekend for a longer walk/run/bike ride. For me, above all things, this helps me to find an inner quietness and peace – I like to imagine all the fluffy and not so fluffy little critters happily snuffling and dreaming away in their chosen hibernation holes, hidden from sight yet still very much alive… 🙂