Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are only a few weeks away from the Winter Solstice, on December 21st. Following the solstice the days will gradually begin to lengthen. However, we still have a few more dark, cold months of winter ahead. If you are looking for a way to bring warmth, light, and hope into the dark days of winter, then a good way to do this is to begin to work with the Winter Solstice meditation questions (chapter eight in The Yoga Through the Year book). Over the next couple of weeks I'll be sharing some of the meditation questions from the book with you, and making suggestions about how best to work with them.
The darker half of the year, between the Summer and Winter Solstice, is not a good time for action, but it is a wonderful time to be incubating ideas, ready to send up green shoots when the sun returns and a new cycle of light begins, at the Winter Solstice. The meditation questions below reflect the contemplative nature of this time:
When you look back over the year, it is worth acknowledging that for everyone 2020 has been quite a year! During these turbulent, unprecedented times it is especially important to give yourself kindness and compassion. So, when you are considering what you have been incubating during the darker half of the year, do it with kindness and understanding, acknowledging your feelings about any losses or disappointments, and celebrating your successes, however small.
What have you learnt and what wisdom will you be taking into the new solar cycle? The restrictions imposed by the virus have taught many of us about patience, resilience, adaptability, and creativity as we experiment with new ways of doing things. If you are not sure about what you've learnt during this time, then take a few quiet minutes and trust your inner wisdom to come up with some answers.
What will your spiritual focus be for the year ahead? Your spiritual focus for the coming year can be quite simple, such as remembering to tune into the natural flow of your breath; or remembering to mindfully savour the small joys of life; or to be kind to yourself and others. Whatever you choose, it can serve as a simple way of continually steering you in the direction of whatever is spiritually meaningful for you.
I will be posting more guidance on using the Winter Solstice Meditation Questions over the next few weeks leading up to the solstice.
See: How to Use the Seasonal Meditation Questions
If you are reading this in the Southern Hemisphere then see:
Summer Solstice page and Celtic Connections Summer Solstice page
Touch is incredibly important to our sense of wellbeing, and since the pandemic, due to social distancing, many of us are suffering from touch hunger. So, what can we do about touch hunger? What solutions are there to this problem, that will see us through until we reach a time when it's safe to touch and hug our friends and loved ones again? Research has shown that exercise is a good buffer for touch deprivation. So, a session of yoga, a brisk walk, a bike ride, are all great ways of giving yourself a hug.
Professor Merle Fairhurst has shown in her research that imagining touch can increase your sense of wellbeing. She has devised an exercise, to help people to reconnect with touch, by imagining a one to two-minute hug. She gets people to imagine the last hug they had, and then tells them to go ahead and wrap themselves up in long one or two minute hug, and she has found that by giving yourself that self-hug you’re releasing the same chemical compounds that are going to relieve stress.
I love the idea that by giving yourself a hug, or by picturing hugging a loved one, that you can relieve stress. So, I've adapted this idea and created the Give Yourself a Hug Visualisation, which you will find below. It only takes a few minutes to do, so it's an easy way to introduce some happy hormones into your day. This visualisation is relaxing, it's a lovely way of sending love to loved ones, and of giving compassion to yourself.
The Give Yourself a Hug Visualisation
Find yourself a comfortable position, either standing, seated, or lying.
Notice where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Relax your shoulders down away from your ears, close your eyes, and soften your face with a half-smile.
Become aware of the natural flow of your breath. Breathe in, and then gently blow the air out through your pursed lips. Go back to your normal breathing.
Now, in your mind's eye picture someone whom you would like to hug, and have been unable to hug for a while. Visualise having a big, warm hug with them. Then, keeping this image of hugging in your mind, wrap yourself up in a self-hug. Maintain this self-embrace for between one and two minutes.
When you are ready, release the hug. Notice how you are feeling now, both physically and emotionally. Once again, return to observing the natural flow of your breath. If you are short of time finish here.
If you have more time you can repeat the Loving Kindness phrases for yourself and the person you've been imagining hugging. Begin by repeating the phrases for yourself, and then repeat them for your loved one (just substitute their name in the phrases).
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
When you have finished repeating the phrases, return to observing the natural flow of your breath. Notice where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Then, give yourself another hug, and, when you are ready, carry on with your day, taking these warm, loving feelings into whatever activity you do next today.
I'm lucky that I've got my husband to hug, but at the same time I yearn for a hug with my daughter. She lives 150 miles away and due to the pandemic restrictions I've not been able to see her for a few months. I've found the hugging visualisation really helps me to feel close and connected to her, even if physical distance keeps us apart at present. If like me you sometimes find yourself welling up with tears when you do this visualisation, that is a signal to acknowledge how tough life can be at present, and to give yourself an extra big helping of love and self-compassion. During these difficult days this visualisation is a great way to boost your wellbeing.
Jilly Shipway, sharing seasonal yoga ideas and inspiration with you through the year...
Please feel free to share ideas and resources that you find in my blog, but please do acknowledge me and my website as their source. Thanks!
Disclaimer: if you have any concerns about your health or suitability to do yoga, please consult a medical professional before attempting any of the yoga routines in this blog.