Winter Solstice Rituals That Help You Celebrate Your Own Light

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Throughout history, cultures across the world have honored the winter solstice on December 21, which marks the longest night of the year. From this date forward, the days begin to lengthen as the Earth’s oblong orbit once again draws us closer to the Sun. Winter solstice rituals and celebrations tend to create space for us to quietly witness all that is shown to us in the dark and prepare us for the imminent return of the light.

The light has long been represented by fire and the Sun. The Ayurvedic and yogic representation of the transformative fire within each individual is found in the word “agni,” which appears in Tantric and Vedic traditions. The simultaneously destructive and creative fire of agni is said to help us overcome patterns that no longer serve us and ignite our energy and passion for new beginnings.

During the cold and dark of winter, it can be easy for agni to become depleted and for our bodies, minds, and spirits to feel sluggish and heavy. The following winter solstice rituals are designed to honor the darkness inherent in winter while also reigniting your inner light.

4 Simple Winter Solstice Rituals

(Photo: Said Fauzul | Getty)

1. Trataka (Candle Gazing Meditation)

An ancient meditation technique, Trataka takes its name from the Sanskrit “traṭak,” which means “to look” or “to gaze.” In this practice, you focus on a single point, although unlike most meditation, it is practiced with your eyes open while gazing at the flame of a single burning candle.

The practice is believed to stimulate agni, and although a candle gazing meditation can be done any time of year, during the winter solstice it can be practiced with the intention to summon our inner light.

How to: Sit with the flame at eye level. Soften your gaze as you look directly into the flame of the candle. Try to avoid blinking for as long as possible. Your eyes may start to tear, which is understood in Ayurveda to be cleansing and releasing of stagnant energy. When you absolutely must close your eyes, imagine the candle flame dancing at your third eye (center of your forehead). When the image of the flame begins to fade, reopen your eyes and focus again on the flame itself.
Trataka can be practiced for any length of time. Start with just a couple minutes.

2. Journaling

During winter, nature lies dormant in preparation for the return of the Sun. In Ayurveda, it is understood that we, too, retreat into this quiet energy. During this time of darkness and relative inactivity, we can sit with our emotions, reflect on the past year, and release the things that no longer serve us.

Journaling about your experience and intentions can be helpful in processing and releasing attachments to thoughts and emotions that no longer serve you. The concept of viaragya, which is often translated from Sanskrit as “detachment,” is similar to the more commonly talked about principle of aparigraha or non-attachment. It is believed that transformation can only happen once we have allowed ourselves to let go of our attachments to all things, good and bad, in order to clear space for what lies ahead.

How to: As you sit down to write, list the things in your life you’re ready to release dependence on and explore what you’d like to cultivate in the coming year. Consider these prompts:

  • What identities are you attached to that you’re ready to release?
  • List any painful situations you’ve experienced at the hands of others this year. Explore if you’re ready to forgive.
  • In what ways have you knowingly or unknowingly caused harm to others this year? What would you like to say to them?
  • What new experiences or types of relationships would you like to experience in the coming year?

To invite the energy of fire and transformation, you might consider burning these entries outdoors in a ceremonial release of the old.

3. Breathwork

Pranayama, or breathwork, cultivates prana, or life force energy, and can stimulate agni. A pranayama technique that can gently ignite your agni is Ujayii. This practice is warming to the body yet soothing to the nervous system. During winter, when our body and minds tend to feel sluggish, it can help stimulate your energy without overtaxing or overagitating you.

How to: Start by coming to a comfortable seated position.

1. Sitting tall, inhale through your nose and allow your lungs and belly to expand. You may want to place one hand on your abdomen to bring awareness to your digestive fire within.

2. As you exhale through your nose, contract your abdominal muscles by slowly pulling your belly inward toward the spine. As you do this, soften the back of the throat, as if you are fogging up a mirror with your mouth closed. You may hear a gentle sound like waves crashing on the shore, but try not to clench your throat or force the air out too much. Allow your exhalation to be long and slow.

3. Continue for five to 10 rounds and be sure your body remains relaxed and comfortable. The warmed air from within is believed to cultivate steady, sustainable energy.

4. Yoga

Reconnecting with your body as the seasons shift from one to the next is another way of equilibrating the energies within. The teachings of Ayurveda instruct us on how to balance an excess of the ruling elements during any season. In winter, these manifest as the wet heaviness of water and earth, represented by the dosha known as kapha. It’s a time to engage in activities that ignite or stoke your inner fire but without overtaxing yourself.

How to: Pay attention to how your yoga practice influences you. You may find that intense practices that move you exceptionally quickly can overstimulate the air element in your body and mind during winter and leave you feeling depleted or anxious.

Restorative yoga practices are often recommended as winter solstice rituals because they allow us to slow down and honor the less intense pace of the season. However, a slower, grounding yoga practice that gently moves and warms the body can calm and reset your nervous system even as you gently stimulate your inner fire without causing you to overexert yourself.

A yin yoga practice can also soothe as well as stoke our bodies. These long-held stretches that are held in stillness help quiet the nervous system yet also ask us to tolerate a comfortable amount of discomfort. We typically find our body temperature cooling and our energy dropping in yin postures, so practice it in a heated studio or incorporate more intense postures—such as Dragon, Saddle, Shoelace, Square, and Sleeping Swan—to subtly increase heat in your body.

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About Our Contributor
Denver Clark, ERYT-500, C-IAYT, LMT, is the program director for the Yoga Therapy school at Heartwood Yoga Institute in Bradenton, Florida. She’s been teaching and training teachers for over 15 years. She is an anatomy and physiology teacher and licensed massage therapist and specializes in yoga therapy for anxiety, depression and body image, all of which she has personal experience with. Denver lives in Florida with her Husband and two amazing daughters and she strives to incorporate mindful awareness into her family life as well as self-acceptance when she isn’t perfect, which she has found to be the most difficult yoga practice yet.


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