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Embrace the dark

It’s no surprise that many traditions have celebrations that honour the light at this time of year. They remind us that the light is always there even in these dark winter months. They bring hope, comfort and joy. We are about to enter into our shortest day this weekend, the winter solstice, a time when we can be reassured that light will soon be returning.

I know that many people struggle with the lack of daylight at this time and it is so important to try to get out into natural light as much as we can to get our fix of sunlight. Even if we don’t suffer with full blown Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) it is easy to feel fed up with the lack of sun. We want to curl up and hibernate, our instinct is to comfort eat and sleep, so we often struggle with low energy levels at this time too.

It’s great to honour the light during winter. One of my favourite things to do is to practice my yoga by candle light. I then finish by sitting in front of the candle to meditate, bringing the steadiness of the flame into my heart, allowing to expand and radiate outwards. I’ve talked plenty about this in the past so for a change, in this blog I thought it might be nice to consider some of the positive things about the dark!

On a physical level we need to experience darkness to activate the pineal gland, which then secretes the homone melatonin (known as the ‘hormone of darkness’) as a response to the dark. This hormone has various therapeutic benefits, and probably many more that we are not yet aware of! Melatonin keeps our circadian rhythms healthy and helps us to respond to seasonal signals. It’s an important hormone when it comes to helping us sleep (interesting to consider how many people struggle with insomnia in our 24 hour culture where the lights are on all the time and entertainment is available around the clock – no time to be still and embrace the darkness). Dysfunction of the pineal gland has also been shown to speed up the aging process.

Ayurveda teaches us to work with the seasons. In winter be in bed by 10pm and allow yourself to sleep in a little – our version of hibernation if you like. It’s a time to eat warming and nourishing foods, ditch the salads and cold drinks. Focus on the stillness of the earth. Use this time to rejuvenate and consider what you want come the spring.

Yoga philosophy teaches us that there is a part of our consciousness, connected with our deeper spiritual connection, that will only open in the dark – consider how we often open up to our spiritual selves after what is referred to as ‘the dark night of the soul’. We need the balance of light and dark, and the dark is the perfect time to activate the right, intuitive side of the brain. Alternate nostril breathing is the perfect example of a yoga practice to embrace the light and dark, to bring balance to every aspect of our being.

This weekend we can take a little time to welcome the darkness, safe in the knowledge that the light is coming soon. Ix

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