Practicing Yoga Through The Winter

‘Yoga pose is mastered by that relaxation of effort,
lessening the tendency for restlessness,
and promoting the feeling of abiding
in the infinite oneness’
(yoga Sutras 2, 47)

Those who suffer austerities..
Mindlessly torturing the body
And therefore me in the body
See their intent as demonic
(Bhagavad Gita 17,6)

Every season has a quality; both metaphorically, to do with the changes in life, but also, literally, as embodied in the yearly cycle. Yoga is not about setting the rules, but learning how to act appropriately to them. For, in the Gunas- laws of nature, the practitioner is already provided with a ready made source of guidance, that is, if we can accept and appreciate that life is all things, not just the highs, or, an endless summer. we find them. In order to flow with life then, and a microcosm of this is signified by the changing seasons, the particular energy of the time and circumstance, must be gradually learnt to be honoured, rather than opposed.

For, we live in duality, whereby achievements are meaningless without trials, and pleasure is appreciated in the absence of struggle. Yoga is developing a humility to acknowledge this situation as it is, rather than assume it can always be corrected for our continued enjoyment. In which case, our task is a balancing one, rather than the attempt at constantly seeking and creating happiness for ourselves.

Instead, then, of simply wanting an endless summer, Yoga method is pointing towards an acceptance, that, in order to live most honestly with life as it is, this cannot and ought not to be the caese. All seasons have their time and specific use. Just as trials and tribulations shape a character. It is so often out of difficulty that growth happens, it should not be wished away. The task is to learn to use it; rather than get swept away by, or, wallow, in it. This is one meaning when Krishna says to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita, ‘yoga is equanmity’ (2,48).

This means that the winter season is a time for nurturing and reflecting, a turning within, to the dark and quiet that resides there. This is necessary in order to balance out the much more extrovert-nature of our summer living. But, it is also imperative to balance this inward-look too, so it is of use, in reflection and grounding, rather than overwhelming us with the force of darkness, or tamas (The Guna of inertia) as winter could be taken if not worked with skillfully. Where, practically speaking, if we ‘embraced’ winter fully, without working towards balancing it, no yoga practice would get done, and we might simply stay in bed.

In Ayurveda, an individual is conceived as three-energies; Ojas, Tejas and Prana. Tejas is our outward expression of energy, but, this is sustained by the inward production of this energy store in Ojas. Prana, what we call ‘health’, is to do with whether we are able to build up as much energy as we give out. Yoga is then envisaged to be the striking of a balance between action and stability. Circumstances, inner and outer, need to be accepted and worked, so as we neither burn ourselves out in summer, nor sink into lethargy and dullness in winter.

There is then, an attempt at balance in our relation to the situation; which means taking steps to limit the degree of the energy, just as, it is not advisable to simply try and push through winter with the energy of summer. Both approaches need to be applied simultaneously. For winter has its opportunities, equally as much, as does summer. Yet, naturally, excitement and outer-focused energy are easier for the mind to grasp and get caught up in then the quieter, introverted-look. Quiet and reflection don’t naturally appeal, even though they are imperative for a sustainable and fulfilling life where activity is governed by a sense of meaning and, thereby, skill.

Practically speaking then, a winter practice should probably be informed by a slower quality; more time for working on technique and inquiring into the small and subtler actions in this. Which will stand us in good stead for summer, to reap the rewards and results of our careful and thoughtful effort in winter. It’s therefore, useful to take advantage of a dip in energy, so as to more easily drop into this concentrated and inward looking phase. Then it may be finally seen to be equally as valuable as the warmer and lighter months of energy and external-action.

This said, there are measures that can be taken in order to not get sucked too far into the still and silent energy of winter. Firstly, make sure to get enough air. Sleep with the window open, even if you need to add extra layers to your sleeping arrangement. Make sure to get out into nature and move, its not so bad when you’re active and out in it. But, primarily, reflect on changes of diet; warming spices and heavier foods will nurture and replenish the mind and body over this time, and take time for restorative self-care such as massage, baths, reading helpful books and, maybe, other therapies such as councelling, acupuncture and homeopathy.

Nothing needs to be pushed away or rejected, everything has its time, reason, and place if it can only be recognized and worked with in its most effective aspect.

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