Light in the Dark

My body lay perfectly still in savasana (also known as corpse pose). Like a comforting afghan, the weight shrouded my body completely, from my core outwards to my extremities. I could sense pressure even at the tips of my fingers, but my breath was comfortable, balanced. I wasn’t afraid, yet from the start of our first pose my curiosity had been ignited, so I still held the slightest tension in my chest and an odd awareness that I wasn’t used to having during this part of my yoga practice.

This was exactly what was meant to happen, though I wasn’t yet aware of it. I was diving into the curious through the stillness, and I welcomed the wonder it stirred within my questioning soul.

Full Moon Solstice 2018 | photo credit Becky Swank

Beginning

It was the longest night of 2018—Winter Solstice—and adjacent to a full moon, which, according to our guides for the night, was particularly auspicious. The room was warm, both in temperature and adornment. Autumn colors of fiery orange, burnt ochre, buttery yellow, and regal purple embellished the walls and windows; twinkling lights framed the doorway. Fifteen men and women began settling down onto yoga mats alongside blankets and water bottles as the two guides introduced themselves.

The first, Karen, described what we would be doing during her session: entering the stillness. Together we would be exploring the shadows—the other side of light, the inside out—in order to reveal what the dark had to offer and to prepare our personal welcomes for the returning light.

She led us to stand, form a ring of clasped hands, and close our eyes. Strong and fluid, a song slid into my ears like tiny ripples. It flowed in and out of the spaces between us, encircling our hearts and lifting our spirits as we followed the lead and joined in as a whole. The lyrics conveyed healing and unity, and I felt myself slipping into a calmer state, warmly thinking of the people in the room, though most of them were strangers to me.

As it ended, a reflective silence spread palpably over all of us. Karen waited until the fidgeting subsided and we were comfortable on our mats once more. Then, she led us in a guided meditation that filled my body with peace and gratitude.

Katrina’s session was a more physical representation of meditation and was a powerful reminder that breath is so much more than inhale-exhale-repeat. Breathing is full of dynamic energy, she explained, a vigorous reminder that we are alive.

Katrina is an incredible yoga teacher who specializes in pranic breathing and other energy flow techniques. I was a little foggy-headed from the stillness of Karen’s session, but soon, the guided energetic breathing brought me back into focus and into an intriguing and hypnotic headspace.

Initially, we breathed deeply in patterns, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our space together. Then we were standing up and “holding” energy between our open palms, moving it around our bodies and filling the room. At first I was simply enjoying the movement, taking note of how my body felt with each bend and sway. Then something interesting happened. The trance-like state took over completely, and with each movement, I began to feel an increasingly voracious desire to interact with this energy. I could feel it now, seeing striations in a shape taking form. I had never experienced anything like this before, though I have most certainly felt the rejuvenating power of chi and pranic breathing.

When savasana started, I had that covetous itch that always begs for the perfect last pose. I get that tickle of fear that says, Don’t get too comfy on this mat, little girl. Before you know it, the lights will turn on and you will lose all of this and be back in the real world.

But that didn’t happen. It was the longest, most fulfilling savasana of my life. I was able to fully surrender, and that’s when I felt the weight begin to stretch over me, when my breathing had slowed and was calm; when I released all expectation.

End

Later that evening, I asked Katrina about the physical sensation I had felt during savasana. She looked at me, surprised, and asked me to explain further. I described it and said that it was different from my past experiences, such as crying or having rushes of emotion during corpse pose. In fact, I’ve experienced this many times and have felt it cathartic and comforting (after I researched it and found that I was not a complete weirdo for having these outbursts…in fact it is quite common after a powerful yoga class). But this was new. Katrina then told me that this was a phenomenon that sometimes happened to those who are truly able to drop into their yoga. It is the “weight” of the session waiting to be fully absorbed; it’s the ultimate act of conscious surrender; is it true yoga nidra:

“In yoga nidra, the first experience to be awakened is the feeling of heaviness. Physical heaviness is a whole body sensation which accompanies deep musculo-skeletal relaxation. For deep seated tensions and contractions within the network of postural muscles, the instructions “your body feels so heavy that it is sinking into the floor” acts as a command from the brain, encouraging them to ‘let go’ and release their residual burden. Only then is the total weight of the body surrendered completely into the earth, producing the distinct experience that the body is actually merging with the surface on which it is lying.” –Yoga Magazine

And so I found myself having the most transformative night of yoga in my life under a full moon on the darkest day following a few dark months (Being laid off, having both parents in the hospital, experiencing the growing pains of several relationships, etc.). I took the deepest of breaths in and exhaled my immense gratitude for this night.



The Yin and Yang – Solstice Shedding and Goal Setting

Understand that the journey is as important as the destination. Enjoy every moment, and live life fully. This is zen.
Solstice and the New Year are turning points of each year. It is a time to shed the unwanted items in our lives, whether those are bad habits or material addictions. It is also traditionally a time to let new light in; some people set exercise goals or promise to create more structured sleep or work habits. My brain knows that I can start fresh any time I want, but there is something about the collective energy of the world’s people looking at life with new eyes, pumping up the positivity, that it makes me want to join in!
I have been searching the internet and asking my friends for their own personal holiday rituals. The following warm and fuzzy ritual was created by Tess Whitehurst, west coast author of two books on Feng Shui (edited for brevity).
Thinking back on 2011…
1.  List 5 personal victories – big or small – that you experienced.  (Examples:  I got physically stronger, I recycled more, I created more art…)

2.  List 5 precious, priceless gifts that you received from others or from the Universe.  (Examples: my trip to Hawaii, spending time with my partner, an afternoon vision of sunlight dancing on the lake…)
3.  List 5 challenges that you faced and the valuable lessons you learned from them.  (Example:  I faced the death of my beloved pet/I learned how to appreciate the present moment and love my still-living family and companions deeply, to get in touch with my emotions, and how to be strong in a crisis.)  The purpose of this one is to notice the blessings hidden within seeming challenges so that we can release our fears about the future and be fully open to all the ways that the universe showers blessings upon us.
4. Set a timer for 2 minutes, and during that time brainstorm as many things as possible that you are grateful for in your life.  It doesn’t matter how small or how large.  (Examples:  the amount of money I do have, the roof over my head, my cozy slippers, the food in my cupboard, my friends, my family, my opportunities, my talents, laughter, books, poetry, the sun, the moon, the Star Wars trilogy…)
Now, put on some relaxing music, light a candle and perhaps some incense, and sit comfortably with your spine straight.  Place your right hand over your heart and your left hand over it.  Close your eyes, and conjure up all the gratitude you possibly can.  Marvel at your good fortune, and at the good fortune you experienced in 2010.  Relax into this feeling.
When this feels complete, remove your hands from your heart and open them up to the sky, arms angling out, palms facing up.  With your eyes still closed, slightly tilt your head up so that your face is gently angled toward the sky.  This is a gesture of welcoming in even greater blessings for the year ahead.  Visualize very bright golden/white/rainbow light streaming down from above.  Receive it gratefully and with an open heart.  Let it swirl around you and surround you.
If you are interested in a different kind of exercise to lead you into self-examination, here is one I swiped from a Taoist blog written by Pedram Shojai (edited for brevity), who gives an up-front and somewhat sardonic offering of reflections and resolution queries.
1- Have you closed out your 2011 projects? What things do you not want to carry into 2012? What do you need to finish, schedule in, or simply drop in order to maintain your sanity? How important is it? WHY are you doing it and does it serve you/your family?
2- Have you spent time telling the people you care for that you love them? It doesn’t take long…do it now.
3- Have you slowed down and caught up on your sleep? If not, to bed early.
4- Do you know what you want the next year to look like? If not, read this page on GONGS- http://taoistpath.com/resources/gong/
5- Have you meditated on where you are in life and sifted through the noise to ask the important question of’ “Who am I?” If not, you’re wasting your time being told who to be by the media…snap out of it.
6- Have you taken on some life/health enhancing practices that you will do the next year? Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, hiking…just get out there and start living life like you mean it.
7- Did you spent enough time in nature this year? What are your plans to integrate more contact with nature for 2012? Our lack of contact with nature is directly connected to our willingness to look away while others destroy it.
8- Have you closed out energies that no longer serve you? Toxic “friends”, happy hour instead of the gym, the unspoken feud you are having with your spouse…whatever it is that is taking up your mental bandwidth and drawing down your energy…isn’t NOW a good time to drop that crap and get on with living a fully empowered life? You sure ain’t getting any younger and it’s funny how those things don’t “go away” on their own. Make 2012 about moving through those issues and coming whole.
These practices help us reflect on the year—relishing in the joys of the last 365 days, facing what has continued to give us pain all year long—as well as aid us in looking forward to changing what doesn’t work. It’s not the easiest task, but I really do feel there is strength in numbers, which is why I encourage you to embrace the solstice and New Year with intention, knowing your brothers and sisters are with you, in the flesh, or in spirit. In that spirit, I’m going to share some of my own short responses from the Taoist checklist.
1- Have you closed out your 2011 projects?
For the most part, yes. Most of my projects are continuing into the New Year, but here are some examples: I have accomplished my goal of becoming a true writer by starting my blog and being published in a magazine. As for my running, I have kept up my training, and blown past my goal of running a 10k by the end of the year (6.2 miles). I have several other (more personal) goals that I will continue to work on in the New Year.
2- Have you spent time telling the people you care for that you love them?
Absolutely. It is one of the most important things to me.
3- Have you slowed down and caught up on your sleep?
I struggle with this daily. It is hard to give up a lively social escapade, but more often than not, my body forces me to slow down, whether I like it or not.
4- Do you know what you want the next year to look like?
I know I want light, love, and laughter!
5- Have you meditated on where you are in life and sifted through the noise to ask the important question of’ “Who am I?”
I have not done this enough this past year. It is a work in progress. The refining of Who I Am is definitely a goal for next year.
6- Have you taken on some life/health enhancing practices that you will do the next year?
I will continue and improve on my current regimen. As of today I am pretty satisfied with my physical exercise, but my life-enhancing exercises could use some work.
7- Did you spent enough time in nature this year?
YES! I plan on doing the same next year. J
8- Have you closed out energies that no longer serve you?
This is my biggest challenge in life. I have trouble letting things go. This is my main goal in 2012.
What we do with our resolutions after we make them is up to us as individuals. I challenge you to keep your resolutions for 2012. I promise I will support you, and try to check in once in a while to make sure you are following through! Make them good ones that really mean something to you and to the earth. In the words of my friend Chrissy, “Let’s do this!”
I am grateful for YOU and your energy, which always makes me smile and gives me even more reasons to write this blog. Thank you for embracing my words.