Written by SYJ teacher Charlotte Rose Pecquex
By day and dharma, I am a high school English teacher. Despite the many struggles of teaching during this strange year, I was recently given the opportunity to teach remotely on a snow day, something that I have never had the ability to do before.
I watched my students tired eyes try to stay engaged on their computer screens while piles of fresh snow stood waiting for them outside their windows. I decided to offer them the best gift I could: the opportunity to go outside instead of staying on Zoom, and to write about the beauty of the way that snow coats the world.
I asked them quite simply to go and enjoy their snow day and to notice the wisdom of winter as they do.
When I unwrapped their poems later that day, their words brought tears to my eyes. I admired the hope in their voices and the inherent beauty underlying each and every word.
I thought my students were the ones receiving a gift, but truly, it was me. I was given the gift of witnessing the magic of a snow day from a teenager’s eyes.
Only now do I realize how seldom I have allowed myself to feel the pure joy of the beginning of winter, the joy of a snow day.
6 practices to help you embrace your inner fire this winter
Just a quick thought exercise: Take a moment and ask yourself how many times you have heard, or even felt in yourself, a resentment of the shorter, darker days, the cold, or the bare trees.
Think of the sighs we’ve all said of “I can’t believe it’s dark this early…,” the physical resistance that we feel in our bodies as we zip up to face the wind chill, or even the way we minimize the magic of the snow with our impending snow-shoveling-doom.
At SYJ we speak often about the practice of gratitude — key word being “practice.” Yet I find that we so easily lose sight of joy in the simplest things, like shoveling snow or staying inside with our loved ones.
How can we be grateful enough to step away from our winter dread and step into the Wisdom of Winter?
For me, this means that we embrace our inner fire through the coldest months of the year.
I find myself turning to several key practices that help me embrace my inner fire through even the coldest months.
I like to think of these as gifts in disguise. The key is that we must find ourselves enjoying the act of unwrapping them as much as we love what’s inside. This perspective shift alone is the Wisdom of Winter in action.
Use the shorter, dark days as an opportunity to slow down and turn to your well of wisdom within
For a society that likes to move fast, that relies on the pressure of others and outside influences to keep us inspired, that prides itself on productivity, this is a huge shift and it is often very challenging.
We embrace our inner fire and find our inner warmth when we choose not to resist the pull of winter.
Try to work with the daylight hours rather than against them. This may mean adjusting your shopping, cooking, cleaning, or working schedule a bit. As yes, this means it’s OK to change into pajamas by 5 p.m. sometimes (no judgement here).
I encourage you to be flexible and allow yourself extra quiet, slow, and gentle time in the evenings after the sun goes down as much as possible. Trust me, I know that our work schedules may not give us too much room for this, or that inspiration comes in waves, but there are certainly some habits that we can all adjust to fit the winter hours.
Soothe your soul
Use the time that you carve out in your evenings to do things that bring you comfort and warmth. For me, this means plenty of warm baths, soft sheets, herbal tea, cozy sweaters, and good books by the fireplace.
Find what soothes you and create a ritual out of it. These acts allow us to tend to our bodies and minds in ways that simultaneously inspire us and allow us to slow down. It often opens up the gateway to our creative nature.
Every once in a while, one of my students will tell me, “but Miss Pecquex, I’m just not creative.” The truth is that every human being on this planet is creative. If you don’t feel that way, it just means that either: 1. you’ve been taught to stifle your creativity in order to conform to expectations of you or 2. you haven’t found your creative outlet yet.
Encourage yourself to be more creative as you slow down and embrace the winter season. No excuses: you too are a magical, beautiful, creative being by nature.
When my body slows down with the cold, dark evenings, I find myself writing, reading, and making jewelry. Find what works for you and stoke it.
When in doubt, sit with it
Winter is a season for hibernation, for reflection. Don’t believe me? Just observe the ways that the birds and animals, insects and trees respond to the change of seasons.
We were never made to resist this natural tendency to slow down.
We embrace our inner warmth when we give ourselves permission to sit more and act less. Wisdom comes from our ability to sit with our discomfort, to see all angles of it, to bear witness and understand that it, too, is only temporary.
Give yourself permission to do less work and spend more time nourishing your soul with soothing acts of self-care and creativity.
Bundle up and get outside
I don’t care if you need to go out and buy a pair of used snowshoes, or if you wear eleven layers under your jacket, strive to get outside at least once a day.
Someone once told me, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Trust me, if you are layered and covered from the cold, it can actually still be enjoyable to be outside.
Ever notice how we stop saying “what a beautiful day” when winter rolls around? Let’s reclaim that. It can be nice out and still be cold.
It’s amazing how a few extra layers will help us stoke that inner warmth.
One of the hidden gifts of this pandemic has been how many more people I see outside in weather that we would have previously deemed unworthy; unwrap that gift.
Adjust your movement practice
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: my winter yoga practice looks a lot different than it does the other three seasons.
I warm up slowly, I take my time on my mat, my exhales are more intentional, and I crave the heated floors at SYJ as I practice virtually from my room. (Sometimes, I even plug in a small space heater and pretend that it’s the same.)
Most of the time, my winter yoga practice is as simple as ujjayi pranayama in a child’s pose for 10 minutes. Other times, when my fingers and toes are cold, and my body craves warmth, I spend the extra time stoking that beautiful inner flame through a fiery asana practice.
As a yoga instructor, I am giving you permission to get on your mat even if it doesn’t look Instagram-worthy, even if what you need is to breath in stillness for a while.
At SYJ, our yoga is what happens both on and off the mat; it transcends the asana or the physical practice. The Virtual Studio is a perfect place to take what you need, from short snippets of alignment wisdom, to meditation that stirs your soul, to the heat-building full-length classes that your body craves.
Start by listening to what your body needs as you show up for your movement practice. We are here to support you.
Nurture your body
I am not here to give you any fancy nutrition advice, I will simply say: listen to your body.
Intuitive eating is one of the most liberating practices to ever meet the winter season. Bake those cookies if you want to. Spend all day cooking your grandmother’s recipe. Eat warming foods. Simmer that homemade bone broth.
There is nothing cozier than the soulful food that winter has to offer us. Our ancestors ate warmer, heavier foods throughout the winter months for a reason; trust their winter wisdom.
If you shame yourself all winter long about what you eat, you will find yourself at war with temptation. Balance and herbal tea are my motto.
Nurture yourself and don’t be shameful about it. Your body knows what it needs, and listening to it means we embrace our inner fire.
Let’s learn to love winter again
During our snow day writing activity, I asked my students to title their poems something that captures the wisdom of winter. Their titles held within them more power than I can easily sum up, like “The Warmth Within Winter,”“Stop, Take a Breath,” “Snow Makes a Clean Slate,”“In Stillness We Find the Most Movement of Thought,”“Be Grateful for What is Given,”“There is Beauty and Joy Everywhere,” and “Cold Times Draw Us Together.”
These brilliant teenagers see something about winter that we adults too often neglect. They see the magic. They give themselves the opportunity to feel the joy.
Let’s learn from them what it feels like to love winter again and to listen to its wisdom to embrace the warmth we hold inside, even when it’s cold out behind our doors.
Since our SYJ kula is spread near and far with the pandemic and we cannot all squeeze into the studio anymore to practice, I would love to hear your musings of the wisdom that winter has to offer. Comment below or reach out to me via email. I miss seeing all your faces on the mat.