The Spring Equinox is a solar festival celebrated when the length of day and night are equal. It is the ignition key for the year, and from here the energy of the year really revs up. This year, as we approach the Spring Equinox, and begin to emerge from a global pandemic, I have found using the seasonal meditation questions more poignant and more relevant than ever.
As the days get longer and warmer, between now and the Summer Solstice, normally, my focus would be on pushing projects out into the world, to make the most of this short-lived period of fertile energy, During the growing season, whatever we unite our energy with will expand and grow, so, I would be asking question such as:
I found working with the Spring Equinox meditation questions this year has helped me to get in touch with just how daunted and at the same time how hopeful I feel about this work of rebuilding better over the months ahead. Here are some meditation questions that will help you to stay calm, grounded, and guided by your inner wisdom, as you face the challenges of the coming season:
To find out ways of working with the meditation questions see the blog post: How to Use the Seasonal Meditation Questions.
See also: Spring Equinox Yoga Practice
Spring Equinox Page
Spring Equinox Celtic Connection Page
This year, when so many people have faced such dark and anxious circumstances, it is more important than ever to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the return of the light. The Winter Solstice, on December 21st in the Northern Hemisphere, marks the shortest day of the year. We have arrived at the point in the year when the darkness has expanded to its fullness and must now bow down to the sun. It is a time of hope and a time to dream the life you wish for into being.
The sun, reborn at the Winter Solstice, is like a new moon: the first few days of the moon’s waxing cycle the new moon is not yet visible in the sky; in the same way, at the winter solstice, it is not immediately evident that the light has returned. Winter stretches out before us, the sun is low in the sky and casts long shadows, and summer still seems a far-off dream. However, although it is not apparent to us yet, the earth’s energy has shifted from darkness to light, moon to sun, yin to yang, water to fire, inner to outer, and from contemplation to action.
Below are some Winter Solstice meditation questions (from chapter eight of the Yoga Through the Year book) to help you to prepare for the dawning of the light at the solstice:
More than ever we all need hope to dispel the darkness and gloom that has been so prevalent during this pandemic year. We are reminded at the Winter Solstice that the light will return, spring will come, green shoots will appear, and life will blossom again. So, over the coming weeks create a space in your life, a cradle, ready for the Sun to be reborn at the Winter Solstice. What is being reborn in you at this time?
How to Use the Seasonal Meditation Questions
Finding Wisdom in the Darkness
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
Space scientist, Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock, says that "Seeing the moon always soothes my nerves and helps me feel a little better". This month there will be a full moon and blue moon on Halloween. It's called a blue moon because it's the second of two full moons to occur in a calendar month. October 31st is also Samhain which is the festival that marks the end and beginning of the Celtic year.
Usually, at this time we have candlelit pumpkin lanterns and children dressed up in spooky outfits trick-or-treating door to door. Although, with the pandemic, probably not this year. The world is scary enough without adding anything extra!
Halloween is a traditionally time for honouring the dead. This can be done through a simple ritual, such as lighting a candle for a meaningful person in your life who has passed on. This might be an ancestor, such as a dearly loved grandparent, or it could be someone who has inspired you and whom you feel a spiritual connection to, such as a writer, poet, painter, singer, political agitator, or yogini. In yoga the root chakra (muladhara) is associated with ancestral connections and a sense of tribal belonging.
Below are some seasonal meditation questions focussing on the theme of honouring our ancestors:
Autumn is turning to winter now and the leaves are falling from the trees; the days are getting shorter and cold frosty mornings whisper that winter is on the way. One way to bring light into the darkness of winter and to escape our terrestrial troubles is to regularly take time to look up at the night sky. Dr Aderin-Pocock says, "All cultures throughout time have looked up at the night sky and they've found it a comfort." So, to soothe your soul and lift your spirits during this troubled time, remember this Halloween to look out for the blue moon, and I hope you find it a comfort.
How to Use the Seasonal meditation Questions
Stopping, Calming, Resting, Healing
Planting Seeds of Hope
Autumn to Winter Page
Find more inspiring ways of connecting with the stars in my forthcoming book, Yoga by the Stars: Practices and Meditations Inspired by the Zodiac
Today, walking by the river, showers of autumn leaves were falling from the trees and being carried along by the stream. The sun was shining through the trees and I had that I love autumn feeling. However, like many people at the moment I also feel a sense of apprehension at the thought of facing the winter ahead during a pandemic. Here in the UK the Covid restrictions we are living under change from week to week, and there is the impending threat of another lockdown hanging over us. Over the past couple of days, I've found comfort, amidst the gloom of world news, from reading through the Autumn Turns to Winter chapter in the Yoga Through the Year book, and working with the autumn to winter meditation questions.
Although the autumn-to-winter period is not a good time for action, it’s a great time for incubating ideas and making plans for next year. Yes, of course there is uncertainty about what the future will hold, but it's still good to dream and envisage how you would like things to be- after all magic happens!
Below are some meditation questions to help you visualise your plans and priorities for next year (Work, home, holidays, relationships, adventures, etc.):
When you answer these questions allow yourself to be bold and dream up a wonderful future. At the same time be aware of any worries and concerns that arise. Embrace both your fears and hopes and dreams with kindness and compassion.
How to Use the Meditation Questions
Stopping, Calming, Resting, Healing
The Autumn to Winter page of this website
And the Samhain page
Here, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are entering the darkest phase of the year, until the sun is reborn at the winter solstice in December. The dark half of the year gives us an opportunity to pause, rest, and rejuvenate. Just as the oak tree stays alive over winter by stripping itself of leaves and using almost no energy, we too can look for opportunities during this autumn-to-winter period to enter a place of stillness and simply be utterly present in the moment.
This year, during a global pandemic, as autumn turns to winter, it is more important than ever to stop, calm our system, to rest, and take the time out to heal. Below are some seasonal meditation questions which will allow you to consider how to create some healing space during the coming season.
The Autumn to Winter chapter in the Yoga Through the Year book has a yoga practice aimed at bringing light into the darkness and brightening up the dark days of autumn and winter. Sun imagery is used to lift the mood and shake off seasonal blues. The practice honours the autumn-to-winter urge to hibernate by including poses that draw the awareness inward, such as Standing Twist, forward bends, and Child’s Pose. To avoid the autumn-to-winter slump we include backbends to open the chest. Our yoga practice offers us many ways of lifting our spirits and lightening up the dark days of autumn and winter.
How to Use the Meditation Questions
Autumn to Winter Page
Plant Seeds of Hope
The tree in autumn provides the inspiration for the Yoga Through the Year book's Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice. We can imitate the wisdom of the tree by conserving energy over the coming autumn and winter months and letting go of unnecessary baggage. This process of letting go enables us to create a sense of physical and mental spaciousness in our lives. Letting go is about prioritising what’s important to us and clearing a space, both physical and psychic, to nurture and nourish the things that do matter to us.
There is wisdom to be found in the fading beauty of autumn. In spring the newly formed leaf contains within itself the blueprint that prompts it to fall from the tree in autumn. The tree knows that to survive the dark, cold winter months it must conserve energy. Over winter, the fallen leaves rot, forming compost that in turn nourishes the tree. And when spring comes around, new buds unfurl into fresh green leaves.
As the trees let go of their leaves, what do you wish to let go of this autumn? The global pandemic has thrown all our lives into confusion and uncertainty. As autumn arrives, many of us wish to let go of the fear, disappointment, and loss, that has been our companion during these unprecedented times. Our mindfulness practice reminds us that the first step of letting go, is to allow ourselves to fully experience the emotions that we are wishing to let go of. Along the lines of: what we resist persists. If we can allow ourselves to simply feel what we are feeling, then we can process those emotions, connect with their inherent wisdom, and begin the process of healing. However, if we bypass this stage of feeling what we are feeling, then letting go becomes pushing away, which in turn traps us in a cycle of persistent, unwanted thoughts and emotions.
Feeling what you feel is warrior work! Your yoga and mindfulness practice can support you along the way. The Surrounding a Difficulty With Love Meditation, page 126-127. in the Yoga Through the Year book, will help you to develop the skills to tolerate and embrace difficult emotions more easily. This in turn will help you to build up courage and emotional resilience. You could also check out the audio mindfulness exercises on The Mindful Way Through Anxiety website.
As we approach the autumn equinox there is a shift of emphasis from sun to moon, light to dark, action to contemplation, growth to dormancy, fruitfulness to composting, building up to letting go, and movement to stillness. Now is a good time to pause after the frenetic activity of the growing season and consider how best to recuperate, regenerate, and replenish your energy this autumn.
Below are some meditation questions to assist you with the process of letting go this autumn.
Autumn Meditation Questions on Letting Go
In preparation for winter the trees are letting go of their leaves.
The tree in autumn provides the inspiration for the Autumn Equinox chapter's Yoga Practice, from the Yoga Through the Year book. We can imitate the wisdom of the tree by conserving energy over the coming autumn and winter months and letting go of unnecessary baggage. This process of letting go enables us to create a sense of physical and mental spaciousness in our lives. Letting go is about prioritising what’s important to us and clearing a space, both physical and psychic, to nurture and nourish the things that do matter to us.
Today, I used the Autumn Equinox yoga practice, from the book, as my early morning yoga practice. It felt the perfect way to connect with the change of the season from summer to autumn.
You begin the practice Standing Like a Tree, and picture a tree in all its autumn splendour. Then, later in the practice you evoke the image of the tree again as you hold Tree Pose (Vrksasana). Today, rather than picturing the beauty of autumn leaves, I pictured a tree in fruit. I've recently been walking in the Peak District, so my mind easily filled with images of wild apple and damson trees, and red-berried hawthorns; before I finally settled on the image of a rowan tree, with its rich orange berries, which grows nearer to home, in my back garden.
As autumn arrives and the year winds down, nature takes steps to conserve energy and let go of that which is unnecessary; this yoga practice will enable you to begin that same process of conserving energy and sensory withdrawal (pratyahara). This is reflected in the practice with vinyasas such as Child's Pose (Balasana) flowing into Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), which generates that sense of moving from the sunny openness of summer, to the more inward, contemplative focus of the autumn and winter months ahead.
In the practice we also use the Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), to help us imitate nature's autumn work of letting go. As you hold the forward bend you ask yourself the meditation question: In autumn, as the trees let go of their leaves, what do I wish to let go of?
Today, in preparation for the Seated Forward Bend, I moved dynamically a few times, from Staff Pose (Dandasana) with arms raised into the Seated Forward Bend. As I did so I found myself instinctively using some meditation phrases from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
Breathing in I smile,
breathing out I let go.
I then shortened the phrase to
Exhale: Letting go
Towards the end of the practice, we return to the fruitfulness of the season, repeating the affirmation, I welcome abundance into my life, as we rest in Supine Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana).
Then we conclude the practice in Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana), contemplating upon the meditation question: What do I wish to incubate over the winter, ready to send up green shoots next spring?
Below is an aide memoire for the Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice, full instructions for the practice can be found in the Yoga Through the Year book.
Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice
Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice Overview
1. Standing Like a Tree. Picture a tree in all its autumn splendour.
2. Bend and Straighten Warm-Up. Exhale: bend both knees and lower arms. Inhale: return to starting position. Repeat × 8.
3. Tree Pose. Picture a tree in autumn. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
4. Cat Pose to Cow Pose. Repeat × 8.
5. Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog Pose. Inhale: move from Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog pose; stay one breath. Exhale: sit back into Child’s Pose; stay one breath. Repeat × 6.
6. Seated Forward Bend. Ask: In autumn, as the trees let go of their leaves, what do I wish to let go of?
7. Supine Tree Pose. Stay for a few breaths, picturing a tree in autumn. Repeat on other side.
8. Full-Body Stretch into Curl-Up. Inhale: lengthen tall along the floor. Exhale: curl up. Inhale: return to stretch. Repeat × 4.
9. Supine Butterfly Pose. Affirmation: I welcome abundance into my life.
10. Full-Body Stretch. Lengthen tall along the floor.
11. Knees-to-Chest Pose. Ask: What do I wish to incubate over the winter, ready to send up green shoots next spring?
The Autumn Equinox chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book is packed full of ideas for yoga in autumn, including yoga practices, visualisations, tree wisdom, and meditations.
The Autumn Art of Letting Go
The Placing Thoughts on a Leaf Visualisation
Autumn Equinox Page
This is the time of first harvest. Whether we are gardeners or not, we all have a harvest, and now is a good time to consider what you are harvesting. You can use seasonal meditation questions to help you look back over the past year and consider where you have been putting your energy and whether this has been fruitful or not. Below are some meditation questions around the theme of recognising and celebrating your own personal harvest:
This year, under such trying circumstances, it's more important than ever to acknowledge your achievements and not to play them down. During lock-down maybe you've acquired new technological skills, managed to juggle work and child care, or cared for a vulnerable person. Your harvest may (or may not) be the fruition of a project that is dear to your heart. Or perhaps it's the blossoming of a relationship that you've been nurturing. It might be the peacefulness that you have felt since you have established a regular home yoga practice. Or perhaps it is literally vegetables and fruit that you’ve grown in your garden. Give yourself credit for whatever you've managed to achieve, however small. Be generous and be kind to yourself. Tough times require tender care- so give yourself a hug and say well done!
The reaping of the harvest is associated with the theme of sacrifice. The grain harvest, in its passage from sheaf of corn to loaf of bread, is threshed, sifted, grounded, kneaded, and then assigned to the “sacred fire.” In many traditions there are variations on the story of the God of Fire and Light being sacrificed to Mother Harvest. This is a good time to consider what needs to be sacrificed to ensure the success of your harvest. Sometimes to say yes to your passion, you must say no to something else that is less important to you.
Understandably many of us feel fear and anxiety around the future and how the virus will impact upon our lives. We can offset some of that by taking some time to envision the future we want to create. Now is a good time to consider how we can make the new "normal" better than before. At this harvest time let us gather up seeds of hope for the future and build a better world. With this in mind, here are some meditation questions that will help you to consider what you wish to preserve from your harvest, and which seeds you wish to store over the autumn and winter, ready for planting out next spring. The autumn and winter aren’t the best time for action, but they are the perfect time to dream and make plans about what you wish to make manifest during next year’s growing season.
The seasonal meditation questions are a key component of the Seasonal Yoga approach. They help you to learn how to align your own energy with the prevalent energy of the season.The above meditation questions come from chapter 5 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
See also: First Harvest Yoga Practice
Bow to the Earth Sequence
Summer to Autumn Page
The seasonal meditation questions are a key component of the Seasonal Yoga approach. We use them every six weeks or so to correspond with the solstices, equinoxes, and seasonal transition points. The questions are a series of open inquiries that will help you do the following:
Here's an example of some Summer Solstice meditation questions:
My favourite way of working with the meditation questions is to combine them with a walking meditation. So, to do this I set my timer for 10 minutes, and then I walk and meditate upon the questions. I walk back and forth across the downstairs floor of my house, gently turning the meditation questions over in my mind. Then when my timer goes off, I make myself a cup of tea, and I sit down and write for 10-20 minutes, jotting down any insights I've gained from meditating upon the questions.
You can also work with the meditation questions when you are outside on a walk, during a sitting meditation, or whilst holding a yoga pose. For those of you who are short of time, there are a few quick and easy ways of working with the questions. Simply read the meditation questions through before you go to bed and trust that your subconscious and universal conscious will come up with answers to the questions. You might also integrate one of the questions into an activity that you are doing anyway, such as walking to your car, walking along a corridor at work, exercising at the gym, jogging, showering, and so on.
The seasonal meditation questions are an accessible way to begin your Seasonal Yoga journey. And if you commit to devoting some time to working with them every six weeks or so, your life will be enriched for it. Once you are in the habit of using them regularly, your life flows better, you’re well positioned to take advantage of opportunities that come your way, and you’ll find ways to make your dreams come true!
Full details of how to work with the Seasonal Meditation Questions can be found in the Yoga Through the Year book pages 13-19.
See also: Seasonal Meditation Questions Summer, Recognise Your Losses and Celebrate Your Achievements
The seasonal meditation questions are my favourite part of the seasonal yoga approach that I've developed in the Yoga Through the Year book. They are specific to the season you are in and will help you to align your own energy, plans, and dreams, to the ebb and flow of the energy of the season you are in. I find working with them always brings something out into the light that had been previously hidden, and in doing so I am helped to overcome obstacles and move forward with my life.
In the next few blog posts I'll look at specific topics covered by the Summer Solstice meditation questions, and we can explore the challenges and opportunities that are present when working with them during these unprecedented times. I'll also share with you different ways of working with the questions depending on how much time you have available to you.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are a few days away from the Summer Solstice, and now is a good time to start working with the Summer Solstice meditation question ( a full set of questions can be found in the Yoga Through the Year book, pages 73-75). The questions will give you the space to reflect on the journey you have taken across the light half of the year, since the Winter Solstice; and the direction you want to take over the coming months as we enter the darker half of the year.
What a year 2020 has been so far! Usually summer is a very yang, outward going time. It's a time for pushing your ideas out into the world and the emphasis is on outward action and achievement, rather than contemplation and simply being. It's usually a time for getting together with friends, outside community events, travel to beautiful places. However, this year it's all different, many of us are quarantined, physically distancing ourselves from other people, each in our own little bubble. With this in mind I was wondering how it would be to work with the meditation questions at this challenging time? Would they still be relevant when the whole world has been turned upside down by the virus? Yesterday morning I put aside some time to work with the Summer Solstice meditation questions, and I'm so glad I did! I can report back to you that even during the pandemic the questions are still relevant, and working with them will help you to review your year so far, to arrive firmly in the present, and to look forward to where you want to get to over the coming months.
In my next few posts I'll give you more guidance on working with the Summer Solstice meditation questions.
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.