Today is the December Solstice. In the Northern hemisphere, it’s the Winter Solstice; the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Even when the sun rises, it won’t get very high in the sky. This is the transition to the winter season; a season of cold and darkness. The season of Yin.
I’m sure you’ve heard the quote that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
It’s a nice sentiment, but, like many approaches to our world, it’s presenting a bilateral choice: curse the darkness or create light.
There’s a third option: embrace the darkness.
Work With the Darkness Instead of Against It
For half of this year I lived in La Jolla, California, where Trilogy Sancturary, a yoga and spiritual community, became a sacred space for me. One of the yoga rooms at Trilogy has no windows. Instead of fighting the natural energy of the space by trying to brighten it up with lighting and bright walls, the owners leaned into the darkness of the room. They named it the “Moon Room,” painted the walls black, and painted a big image of a moon on one wall. A little machine in the corner projected stars on the walls.
In the darkness of the Moon Room, I found many moments of light within my practice.
This is a great example of how we can work with the energy of a space rather than trying to fight it or change it.
I do not like winter. But what you resists, persists.
So instead of fighting the Winter Solstice, I decided to model Trilogy’s approach. Sure, I can light candles instead of cursing the darkness. But why not embrace the darkness instead? After all, this is the Yin season, the season of surrender and allowing.
Another reason to embrace the darkness is to rest the eyes, which are a Yang, or active organ. Our eyes work incredibly hard for us all day, actively scanning our surroundings and taking in so much information. This increases the load on our brains to process everything we see. How often do you think about resting your eye muscles?
Rituals to Embrace the Darkness and Yin Qualities of Winter
Here are some suggestions for rituals and activities that embrace the darkness and allow the eyes — and the mind and body — to rest.
(1) Sound Bath
Also known as a sound meditation or sound healing. You lay on the floor in a comfortable resting pose while someone (or multiple people) play various sound instruments, such as tuning forks, gongs, crystal bowls, and wind chimes. If you can find a live version of this near you, that’s ideal.
If not, you can pull up a YouTube video or a soundtrack on Spotify and get comfortable.
On YouTube, I love the Healing Vibrations channel.
Notice what happens when you turn off your eyes and open your ears and your feeling senses to the sound. The ears are a Yin organ; they receive sound without active engagement on our part. Similarly, you feel the vibration of sound through your skin and your body without having to do anything.
Sound also affects the waters of the body, and water is a Yin element, and the element of winter.
(2) Floatation Therapy
Speaking of water, if you’ve never tried floating, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Gifting yourself a float experience is a wonderful way to practice receiving and surrender, as well as recharge your creativity, hone your focus, and heal your mind and body. It puts your brain in the Theta state, which is between waking and sleeping.
A float tank is a pod filled with about 10 inches of water and about 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt, which reduces muscle soreness and aids skin conditions. The Epsom salt removes the effect of gravity on the body, helping the spine realign and giving the muscles a rest. The water is set to body temperature, so once you settle in, you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins.
Navy seals have been using float tanks for years to help them shorten learning periods for new languages. Athletes use floating for muscle recovery and to aid peak performance. Research also shows that floating can help a range of conditions, including fibromyalgia, PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia.
FloatIon tanks are becoming more popular, but if you don’t have a float tank place near you, try taking a bath with Epsom salts.
(3) Halotherapy (aka Salt Therapy)
I spent most of this year away from New York, living on the Pacific coast of Panama and then in San Diego. Returning to New York has been a tough transition. After 9 months of daily walks along the ocean (and the gorgeous Pacific sunsets), I have noticed how much I miss the ocean and the beach. Not only is the beach a calming environment, but the salty ocean air boosts my spirit and nourishes my body. Back in the city, I noticed that my nails and hair started breaking easily again, after being so healthy for months.
Salt is naturally anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-microbial. It helps with a variety of ailments, including asthma, allergies, anxiety, inflamation, and skin issues. And all you have to do is breathe it in.
I was thrilled to find a new trend popping up in the city’s wellness scene: salt caves or salt rooms. If I can’t get to the beach, at least I can go to a salt cave and breathe the air.
A salt cave, or salt room, is what it sounds like: a room filled with salt. You sit in the room and breathe. That’s it. There’s some research that supports that this works, and of course some say the science behind this is sketchy. But here’s what I know from trying it: sitting in a dark room for 45 minutes and focusing on your breath is not going to hurt you.
(4) Yin Yoga
No list of Yin-quality rituals would be complete without my favorite form of yoga practice: Yin Yoga.
Yin yoga is the practice of surrender and release, letting gravity do the work of softening the held tensions in our body’s connective tissue and emotions. Most poses in a Yin practice are done on the floor. It’s an easy practice to do in a darkened room, which helps the nervous system relax.
(5) Restorative Yoga
Most of our waking hours are spent with our attention focused outward: where we need to go, what we need to do, interactions, accomplishments. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is the fight-or-flight response. Restorative yoga is a practice in which we use props to support the body into positions of comfort and ease. This allows the parasympathetic nervous system — the “rest and digest” response — to take over.
Unlike a Yin practice, restorative yoga isn’t about getting a “stretch” or a “workout.” It’s about feeling supported and held while the body restores.
Yoga Nidra, also known as conscious sleep, is a practice in which you put the body into total relaxation while the mind stays awake. Through a guided meditation, you consciously relax the different parts of the body, keeping the mind awake. In practice, it’s common to drift off during parts of yoga nidra, but the “goal” is to stay awake, and with practice you train your mind to stay awake while the body completely relaxes.
Yoga Nidra creates a state of inner awareness between sleep and wakefulness, and is restorative to the body and mind. I often feel more refreshed after 20 minutes of Yoga Nidra than I do after a full night’s sleep.
If you like to take mid-afternoon naps, try substituting Yoga Nidra and notice if you feel different.
In full transparency, I’m not the best sleeper. I tend to get too little or too much, and almost never emerge from sleep feeling refreshed. So for me, sleep is last on the list. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it, because it’s an obvious activity that embraces the darkness.
Also, while I’ve tried to keep this list to things you can do on your own, you can of course include cuddling and sex in this category. After all, winter is the season of hibernation, and those are the original hibernation activities.