I've always loved Robert Frost's poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening because it speaks so poignantly to the quiet and peace of winter's energy. It tells the story of a man stopping in the woods to just be still, take in the snowy night and listen. It also speaks to promises made and meant to be kept and although he wants to linger, knows that he must journey onward. This time of year, I want to linger, to not rush, and to bask in the permission nature gives us to do less, hunker in more and slow down a little.
I went with a friend out to Groton State Park last Sunday for a hike and was surprised to find about a foot of fresh snow. It was magical! Snow can come down appearing chaotic and dizzying only to settle in gorgeous lumps, drifts and swirling patters, deeply insulating the earth and muffling sounds. From out of chaos and white rhetoric (as Mary Oliver says in her poem, First Snow), comes deep stillness and peace. With Winter's Solstice on the horizon, it's a great time of year to pause and stand in wonder at this deepest, darkest time of the year before the return of the sun's light and the energy of the New Year comes rushing in.
The Holidays can be chaotic and busy, our minds can be chaotic and busy but with practice, all of the rushing and racing has a chance to soften, like swirling snow in a globe that then drifts down and settles on the bottom. As yogi's, we aren't trying to eliminate our thoughts and feelings but to watch in wonder when the storms are brewing, to notice all the flavors of our feelings and emotions, and to also notice when the mind and heart are quiet and calm. Often, for me, time spend in nature supports this process. I enter the lovely, dark deep woods with my mind a jumble of thoughts and then, at some unpredictable moment, everything just stops. The chickadees might come close and sing their shushing sounds, or I notice the way the low afternoon light penetrates a heart-shaped ice chunk in the crook of a branch. It's all there, it's all sacred, and it beckons me to stop and stand in wonder. This Winter Solstice and holiday season, I hope you will too!
Asana Suggestions: Try some inversions including head stand and shoulder stand. I find these poses help to calm the racing mind and are also great boosters for the immune system during cold and flue season. Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) is also a wonderful practice for bringing the right and left brain hemispheres into harmony.
Contemplations & Suggestions to Deepen Your Practice:
* Have you taken a moment today to pause and marvel at the natural beauty of winter around you? Have you looked up from your work to notice: The light on a snowy branch, the wind rustling the trees or all the varied shades of whites, grays, and blues this time of year? What stands out for you?
* What promises have you made to yourself since last winter solstice? Have you kept them? Are there promises that you made that you want to keep to others?
* Take out a journal and reflect on the year that is passing away. What has transpired since last winter solstice? What are some highlights from the year that has passed? Where are you headed?
* Get out in nature: Take a walk, hike or ski through the woods without your cell phone and take some time to bask in the winter wonder. Notice what happens to the mind when you get outdoors.
* Turn out the lights!! Turn off all the lights in the house and enjoy the dark- light candles, sing some songs, or just sit in the stillness. Enjoy being.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost:
(written in Shaftesbury Vermont, June 1922)
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
First Snow by Mary Oliver:
this morning and all day
continued, its white
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning; such
an oracular fever! flowing
past windows, an energy it seemed
would never ebb, never settle
less than lovely! and only now,
deep into night,
it has finally ended.
and the heavens still hold
a million candles, nowhere
the familiar things:
stars, the moon,
the darkness we expect
and nightly turn from. Trees
glitter like castles
of ribbons, the broad fields
smolder with light, a passing
heaped with shining hills;
and though the questions
that have assailed us all day
remain- not a single answer has been found –
walking out now
into the silence and the light
under the trees,
and through the fields,
feels like one.