Finding Stillness in Winter

From the start of Winter I wanted to set an intention of slowing down, move with awareness, make space to reflect on the past season and set intentions for the coming months as we move into Spring. I even started Winter with a 3-day Vipassana (meditation) and cutting back work that wasn’t aligning. I felt this was enough, however, it was not until I got a cold and was house ridden that I really realized the meaning of slowing down. I ate broths, read books and moved slowly in everything I did. I came to the realization that on a primal level this is how we use to live during Winter.

Nature is instinctively telling us to slow down. Just take a look around! It looks as though there is not much happening, especially considering you see leaves falling in Autumn and flowers blooming in Spring. However, this is a potent time of year. I say this because under the ground there are seeds incubating just waiting to be birthed in Spring.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Winter is the peak of yin time.  A time the water element of the Kidney and Bladder systems govern and willpower and determination are needed, so that we may look within ourselves and look at our deepest fears. This is needed to have a greater understanding of our true self on a deeper level and reflect on the interactions we have in the outer world.

I teach yoga classes that adjust to the season. For example, in Summer the yoga class I lead is more yang in nature, strong, dynamic and at a higher tempo. In Autumn there’s more breath work (pranayama) and upper body strengthening, as this is where the Lungs and Large Intestine meridians are located. There is emphasis on letting go (Large Intestines) role in what is stale and stagnant in our lives before moving into Winter and finding stillness, awareness and possibly more insight. I incorporate the Taoist 5-element system into my daily practice because I feel connected to the energies that are reflecting in nature at the time.  I am a strong believer in the way that we work on the mat is similarly the way we work off the mat. Moving through postures with complete present moment awareness will allow us to become more fluid and open to whatever life throws at us.  Finding stillness through movement allows our postures in our yoga practice to unfold. Combining the yoga practice along with the union of breath creates a practice that is much more restorative through revitalizing the body and mind. This creates a healthy Water element within us and balances the emotions of fear and confidence, which are the emotions linked to the Kidneys and Bladder in TCM. Fear can stop us from living a fulfilled life and fear can help us to be vigilant and safe when danger is near. Fear is the root behind all the other emotions such as the anger in aggressiveness the sadness in loss and the overthinking in making things happen. Showing the importance of a harmonious Water element within.

The meridians of the Kidneys and Bladder course closest to the midline of the body. Thus, by incorporating a practice that has more forward and backbends during winter will only help a harmonious flow of qi through the meridians. The Kidney system also governs the lower back and so I like to include some lower back strengthening and opening exercises, whether through yoga asana or qi gong exercises during winter. This is turn strengthens all of the Kidney system roles and responsibilities in TCM such as controlling the adrenal cortex, medulla and hormones that help regulate metabolism, immunity and sexual vitality.

I recently co-hosted a yoga retreat and led a class that was at half the pace as I regularly teach. There was no music so that the breath can be clearly heard. It was one of the hardest classes I’ve taught and even in my own practice, moving at a slower rate with emphasis on present moment awareness has been a challenge. Always looking towards what the next pose is, I sometimes forget the potency in moving through and towards the pose. And just what is the final pose anyway? I have faced some fears by incorporating yoga poses I’ve been afraid of trying and used my willpower and determination to begin my early morning practice again as the energies at this time of year are on my side. I feel it is paying off as I am feeling more connected to everything I have been doing in my day- to- day activities.

So now’s a great time of year to connect with the energies of Winter though looking within and moving as much as possible with present moment awareness whether on or off the yoga mat.  You may find more stillness in all you do and just like that seed incubating, set those intentions for the coming months so that they too can be birthed like petals of a flower in Spring.

By Trent Banyan B.H.Sc Acupuncture & Yoga Teacher