How to Plan a Winter Solstice Personal Yoga Retreat

Winter Solstice

 

“Winter Solstice”

No more hurry

hurry,

time now for firelight

and dreaming,

for church bells

mingling

with the cold, quiet sunlight.

And somewhere

deep

inside of you

a kernel of courage

unfurling –

each day, more light.

– Irene Latham


“If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.” 

A friend once shared this tidbit of wisdom with me, and it still rings true whenever my plans fall apart. I had every intention of focusing on my practice for the month of December but my immune system has been on the ropes from three consecutive colds.

Thankfully I’ve had a chance to regroup, just in time for the Winter Solstice. In some ways it’s better to start a Personal Yoga retreat now because I’ll have fewer distractions over the holidays.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to merge working life seamlessly with your practice. But according to the great Sage Patanjali, the first of 13 Obstacles on the Yogic Path is sickness. There isn’t much we can do until we’re feeling better. So incubation is key, which falls in line with the power and presence of the Winter Solstice.

Winter Solstice Retreat

I like to begin a Personal Yoga retreat with a few simple preparations. These are especially beneficial if you haven’t been feeling well or have low energy from holiday season burnout. I recommend starting with Saucha, the second Niyama (observance) of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.

The Niyamas are foundational practices that relate to our internal world. Saucha means purity or cleanliness of our internal and external worlds. When we engage in Saucha on an external level (such as our bodies), we are also affecting the internal (mind and spirit) parts of our beings.

If my house isn’t clean I have a hard time focusing on anything. So I like to practice Saucha with a thorough and intentional cleaning of my home environment. A few of my Saucha materials include:

  • White Vinegar Spray: Great for counter-tops, bathrooms and floors (dilute 50/50 with water).
  • Baking Soda: Mix with vinegar spray to create a paste for sinks or tubs.
  • Essential Oils: Lavender and Tea Tree are powerful antiseptics. Add a few drops to a sponge or mix with grain alcohol for a DIY air freshener. (For more information, read Freshen Indoor Air Naturally )

I love the way burning candles and diffusing essential oils can lift the feeling of a space. [Fun fact: I recently learned that burning dried sage can reduce airborne bacteria.] Another nice touch is a vase of fresh flowers in clean water.

I like to conclude a meditative house cleaning with a hot shower and a fresh set of clean clothes. These simple steps clear my mind so that I can drop more easily into my practice and refill my “cup.”

I hope these tips spark your imagination with creating your own Winter Solstice Retreat.

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Winter Solstice and the Guru Bead

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Winter Solstice and the Guru Bead

Winter Solstice Guru BeadThe winter solstice marks the shortest and darkest day of the year. After December 21st the daylight increases but for a few days the sun’s high point appears to stand still before changing direction. Within this stillness a powerful change is taking place. The winter solstice is a time for reflecting on the past before beginning the next cycle.

With all of the parties, projects and presents calling our attention we may resist the urge to turn our focus inward. But setting aside time for reflection helps us clarify what we hope to create in the coming year. The winter solstice can be a time for grieving as well as celebrating past memories. It can be a time of gratitude for our accomplishments and identifying the lessons of our mistakes.

If we can be gentle with ourselves we’ll be able to move through this process with ease. A time of reflection is an opportunity to be lovingly honest with ourselves. Opening our hearts to the past can help us release old patterns that may no longer be serving us. The solstice presents us with a valuable opportunity to connect with our inner teacher.

On a personal note, this is my 109th blog post. The number 109 has a special significance. A Japa mala is a string of prayer beads that is used for meditation. The most common malas have 108 beads. 108 is a sacred number in Hinduism and Buddhism. Almost all malas have a large bead at the end called the Guru bead. This extra bead is also called the Mother or Seva bead.

When using a mala a practitioner holds each bead as they recite a prayer or mantra. This practice helps to build tapas, the alchemical or purifying heat of transformation. Once a practitioner reaches the Guru bead they reverse direction.

The Guru bead serves as a reminder of the sacred connection between a teacher and a student. It is considered to be disrespectful to pass over this bead. The Guru bead reflects the awareness that we should bring to every aspect of our lives and the value of contemplating the intention of our meditations.

As I’ve reached the Guru bead of my writing meditations I’ve been going back and updating articles from the past four years. I recently started learning about SEO and have been applying this technology to my website. This time of reflection is helping me prepare for the next evolution of the Mind Body Mandala. You can find the fruits of my labors on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a peaceful New Year!

Emily Seymour Yoga Guru Bead Reflections

 

Basic Goodness – Summer Air

Basic Goodness Summer Air
Gayatri Mantra
Om Bhur Bhuvaha Svaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Di Mahi
Diyo yo Naha Prachodayat
Om

Happy summer solstice! I hope you were able to soak up some of the blessings of this day. I’m in the city this week and decided to honor the sun with an outdoor practice. I went to my favorite spot in Riverside Park that overlooks the water and set up shop. Kicked off my shoes, placed my backpack right next to my mat (one can never be too careful) and closed my eyes to meditate.

The mental knots of the day started to unravel as my senses tuned into the sounds and smells of the park. The sweet fragrance of linden blossoms interwove with the sharp odor of fresh asphalt. I chanted Om in harmony with a passing ambulance siren.

I’ve been practicing inside a lot lately so the change of scenery took a little getting used to. The ground was uneven and I had to stop every so often to blow the occasional ant off my hand or foot. It made me a little twitchy but I remembered that yogis used to practice on the ground with no mats.  And looking at the trees while being upside down is great for shifting perspective.

The very best part was dancing with the wind. There is something so magical about the summer breeze in the city (I swear it has a life all of it’s own). The effect of practicing asana in those warm gusts of air is so transformative – talk about wiping the slate clean.

The effect reminded me of a scene from a movie I just saw – Fearless with Jet Li. At one point Li’s character is learning how to work in the rice paddies in the countryside. Whenever a warm breeze moves through all of the villagers stop what they are doing, stand up and close their eyes. At first Li’s character is too caught up in feeling insecure and competitive and stubbornly keeps working. Later on he realizes the basic goodness of taking those pauses. Basic goodness is a term that was coined by Tibetan spiritual teacher, Chogyam Trungpa:

“Discovering real goodness comes from appreciating very simple experiences. We are not talking about how good it feels to make a million dollars or finally graduate from college or buy a new house, but we are speaking here of the basic goodness of being alive — which does not depend on our accomplishments or fulfilling our desires. We experience glimpses of goodness all the time, but we often fail to acknowledge them. When we see a bright color, we are witnessing our own inherent goodness. When we hear a beautiful sound, we are hearing our own basic goodness. When we step out of the shower, we feel fresh and clean, and when we walk out of a stuffy room, we appreciate the sudden whiff of fresh air. These events take a fraction of a second, but they are real experiences of goodness.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa

How did you celebrate the solstice today? Did you have any opportunities to practice basic goodness? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.