Early february is a time of transition in many faiths and countries. We are halfway between the winter and spring equinox when Spring is on it’s way and the first crocuses start to appear (unless you live in the cold North like me, in which case you’re buried under a few feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures!). Historically, this shift indicated the start of the agricultural season, when seeds were planted and we could start to move towards the light. This shift was marked by ritualistic behaviors, pertaining to transition including the lighting of candles to welcome the sun, the cleaning of tools, spring cleaning the home (most of us are familiar with this one!) and the cleansing of our bodies, minds and spirits.
In the Celtic traditions February 2nd is a fire festival marking the first sign of spring and the rebirth of the sun. This day is called Imbolc & is a time of recognizing and celebrating the goddess Brigid, who is associated with birth & fertility. In the Christian faith this time is celebrated as Candlemas, when Mary presented her son, Jesus at Temple and she was purified. In Judaism Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of a “new year” for trees, when the earliest blooming trees emerge from the winter sleep and start their fruit-bearing cycle. Here in Northeast of America we have Groundhog day, when Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog, sees his shadow or not and that determines whether we have 6 more weeks of winter (he saw his shadow this year – 2015).
In the Eastern tradition of Ayurveda, these mid-season environmental shifts are considered to generate an internal shift, within our bodies and minds. We open ourselves up to the natural shifts in our environment, which can make us more vulnerable and unsettled. These shifts are when we are most likely to get sick – our natural immune defenses are weakened by the shifts and changes in the external world. The upside to this is that this is a time when we can cleanse and redirect the negative energies and toxins in our bodies, minds and spirits.
So, what can we do in this time of transition? We can create a safe container for transition, following these simple safe-care practices. Pick one or two that resonate with you and dial into your self-care:
- Create an altar with a white flower, or a vase of snow, light a red or orange candle to represent the fire and use the essential oils cinnamon, frankincense or rosemary.
- Chose one spring cleaning project to tackle: the fridge, the spice rack, the closet or the filing cabinet. Put it in your calendar: 10 mins every morning for a week. Or 1 hr tonight, for example.
- Cleanse your body: Restorative Yoga, Dry-brushing, Self-Massage/Abhyanga (or massage your children and your lover), a long scented bath & add more bitter food to your diet.
- Lay in some nourishing supported poses, like a wide legged forward fold, with your forehead on a chair or on a bolster. Lay back over a bolster, which you prop up with a block so it’s on a triangular shaped incline, soles of the feet together in bound angle, with a cushion or block under each knee, relax with your palms face up on the floor.
- Heat a small enclosed space – e.g. bathroom. Take a shower brush and vigorously attend to your whole body – including the soles of your feet. You can do this with your children and lover too.
- Rub warm oil into your body & your children’s bodies and sit on an old towel for 10-20 mins, if you have the time, and then lie down in a warm bath with some tea.
- Increase bitter foods into your diet for these next few wintry weeks – they are detoxifying, antibiotic & antiseptic and stimulate the appetite, e.g. dark green leafy veg: spinach, kale, and eggplant, grapefruit, bitter melon, olives, turmeric, fenugreek, and dandelion root, coffee & tea (caffeine n small amounts – and perhaps not at all if you are Vata-dominant).
- Cleanse the body-mind connection: practice some Pranayama. Close your eyes, lie on your back over a bolster, or staggered blankets, with support for your head, palms face up, legs open and relaxed.
- Bring your mind to your inhale, seeing if you can sense the pressure of the abdominal organs on the pelvic floor. Go deep inside & notice this for 5-10 breaths.
- Bring your focus to your belly button and as you exhale, notice the abdominal organs recede away from the navel. Do this for 5-10 breaths.
- Bring your attention to your chest. Watch the expansive nature of the breath – how the ribcage swells outside, like bellows when you inhale and draw back together when you exhale. Observe for 5-10 breaths. Then do 5-10 even breaths – matching the length of the inhale to the exhale. Let it all go. Here’s one of my quick Pranayama videos.
- Cleanse your mind & spirit: Meditate & Journal
- Set a timer for 10 mins on your phone. Sit quietly on a cushion or with feet on the floor, under the knees in a chair. Spine is in its normal curves. Relax your palms face down on your lap. Drop your gaze and bring your mind into your body. Notice the way the belly moves with the breath. As thoughts arise, label them thinking and let them go, coming back to the breath – the inhale and exhale. When the timer beeps, slowly close your eyes and thank yourself for giving time to this practice and offer this practice for the benefit of all beings. I do this when I am covered in oil (I try to habit-stack if I can!). Here are my meditation podcasts. If you’d like a longer and more directed practice, which involves practices of dissolving unpleasant emotion check this out.
- Set the timer for 4 minutes every day to journal with intention. Using a sentence stem, such as “I’m becoming a person who…” write a stream of consciousness and then allow yourself to review it and choose an action related to this which you can easily enact that day.
Remember that it’s okay to practice self-care. In conversation with a supportive friend and colleague we realized that so many of the nourishing self-care practices that are essential for women were perhaps abandoned during the fight for equal rights, because they were seen as oppressive. Ladies & gents, let’s reclaim our bodies and minds and stand up for our needs to be quiet, still and loving towards our bodies, minds and spirits.
Copyright Tamsin Astor, PhD. YogaBrained LLC, All Rights Reserved 2015.