December 21st was the Winter Solstice which honors the darkest day of the year and nature transitioning into a new season. Many cultures honor this day as a sacred time to reflect on the past year and to set intentions for the New Year. Yoga traditions often celebrate by practicing 108 sun salutations to connect with the light of the sun. I no longer practice that many; yet my time on the mat helps me reflect on this deeper connection within and all around me.

Solstice literally means “sun stands still.” It beckons us to cultivate stillness. Even in a vigorous yoga practice we aim to train our minds to be totally focused on how our breath flows with our movements. To immerse ourselves completely in our bodies, minds and hearts as we practice. Then as we slow the practice down, we come to the ultimate end pose known as savasana to rest. To lie still in order to allow our bodies to slow down and the energy of the practice to be embodied.

Cultivating a practice of stillness matters. Meditation is another tool yoga offers to bring us to this point. Often, I hear students say “I can’t slow my mind down; it’s too hard to sit quietly, etc.” Yet, this practice is needed NOW more than ever. The nature of the mind is busyness. Your thoughts can overwhelm and rule your life in a negative way if you give power to them unnecessarily. When you take the time to sit in meditation you can bring yourself to a point of stillness.

As you set your intentions for a New Year consider adding a daily practice of meditation to your list. In order to follow through set a time of day that you can consistently show up for yourself with this practice. I get up in the morning and go right up to my meditation chair to sit for 10-20 minutes or longer. I start with light ujaii breathing and sit upright in an aligned position for my spine. Often, I add prayer at the beginning of my meditation. Then I just sit still. When my mind wanders (as it will) I just bring my awareness back to my breath and add a mantra (a two-syllable phrase such as sat nam) which helps my mind focus. At the end I often take time to write in a journal any insights or what I am grateful for as I begin my day. It centers me for what the day brings.

One of the best teachers I have found is Sally Kempton. She offers many books on this topic with great suggestions on how to get started. There are apps for this yet I prefer the stillness and quiet. Explore what works best for you.

May you and your family have a blessed New Year.

Janie Gunn