How to Honor the Winter Solstice and Find Inner Stillness
In winter, the earth sleeps in stillness. As the sun slips into the most southern point, there is a momentary pause, a suspension between the solar inhalation and exhalation. There is a clear turning point in all cycles, an opportunity to embrace the ephemeral state between fullness and emptiness.
Solstice is this time—the time to honor all that we have cultivated in this past year, integrate the lessons learned, recalibrate, and look to where space can be created in our lives in the year ahead.
Yet, this time of year can also feel like a mad dash to the finish line as time itself begins to feel more condensed. From Labor Day to New Year’s Eve, there’s a quickening pace and pressure to achieve those final goals, tie up loose ends at work, get kids back to school, and shop for the holidays.
From hosting, traveling, and general overdoing, there’s a tendency to feel more overwhelmed than rested come the winter solstice.
In autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, vata dosha begins to accumulate and eventually becomes aggravated, leading to all the classic signs and symptoms of a vata imbalance (e.g., racing mind, anxiousness, disrupted sleep, gas and bloating, and overall dryness).
When we’ve talked too much, traveled too much, feel overstimulated by the frenzy of the holidays, or simply frazzled by life’s constant sensory input, an inner retreat is a necessary friend on our path to balanced well-being.
The mind needs solitude in order to digest life’s experiences. Solstice can be a powerful time to pause and create an intentional timeout for yourself. A time to take solace in the quietude of the season, turning inward to deeply rest, reflect, and recharge.
A Simple Solstice Retreat
As you plan your retreat, let me first give a disclaimer. For me, stillness is not necessarily comfortable or even enjoyable in the beginning. It’s important to note that while a retreat sounds luxurious, it can stir up some feelings of discomfort. And that’s perfectly okay.
You might find yourself wanting to reach for your phone, feeling phantom scrolling pains or a sense that you’re not accomplishing enough. Those feelings might not fade right away, and that’s also perfectly okay.
We tend to have this romanticized picture in our minds of what meditating or being on retreat should look and feel like. But what is rarely pictured is the internal struggle we face of needing to feel productive while also desiring to feel that stillness within.
Like anything, it’s a practice. You don’t start lifting weights with a 50-pound dumbbell. You start with 5-pound weights and build strength over time.
The goal is to create spaciousness to simply BE. After all, isn’t that who we are? Human beings—not human doings.
Below is an outline for a daylong silent solstice retreat at home. However, this is a very personal practice and can be adjusted to meet your needs. If you have kids, this may be an early morning of silence to yourself, or an afternoon, if you have a sitter.
Whatever the time slot, the intention is to create spaciousness to be with yourself, free of distractions. Set your away message responders and tell your friends and family of your plans for your inward journey. Take care of your most pressing to-dos in preparation for this time and leave the rest to wait.
The Solstice Ritual
Rise before the sun. Wake up between 5 and 7 a.m. These predawn hours, known as Brahmamuhurta, are prized in Ayurveda as the “ambrosial hours,” where nature supports a sense of inner quietude and where meditation comes most easily. If you have kids, this is also a crucial time to get a moment to yourself before your family wakes.
Cleanse your senses. Tend to your senses by following your Ayurvedic daily routine. Do this in silence and with an inward focus. It’s easy to quickly become overstimulated moving around the house. Keep your focus on your morning body care before meditation.
Sit for meditation and reflection. Light a candle or a ghee lamp to invoke the light on the darkest day of the year. Offer some flowers and fresh fruit on your altar to bring color and life to the space. Close your eyes and spend 5–30 minutes in meditation.
If you have a meditation practice, stick to what you know. If you feel uncertain what to do, try using an audio recording or even a meditation app, like Insight Timer. If you do use your phone, be sure to keep your screen dimmed and your phone on airplane mode.
Practice sacred movement. Try 5–10 rounds of Surya Namaskar. Surya in Sanskrit means sun, and namaskar is a salutation, greeting, or offering. The sun salutation is the most ubiquitous set of postures shared in yoga classes as it’s a powerful way to sync breath, movement, and mind in a steady, flowing sequence.
Your body becomes a prayer to the source that feeds all life on earth. This is a beautiful way not only to move energy in the body and ignite fire in the belly to increase digestion, but a way to connect with the fire element and offer gratitude to the sun.
Spend time in silence. Avoid talking, texting, emailing, or any kind of communication with the outer world. Skip the TV and other sensory distractions. Bundle up and take a walk in nature. Sip a mug of Turmeric Milk or Joyful Heart Tea.
Draw, paint, or make art. Lounge around and deeply rest. Do what nourishes you and what you wouldn’t normally allow yourself to do in a busy time. It may be uncomfortable at first, but stick with it and see what emerges from the space you create.
Keep a journal. During your retreat, write down any feelings and thoughts as they arise. Where do you feel resistance to the experience? What is needed to feel more ease? To dive more deeply, explore the following prompts to reflect on the year:
- What were my biggest personal achievements or celebrations of the year?
- What were some of the challenging lessons I faced?
- What have I learned and how have I integrated these lessons into my life?
- What habits are no longer serving me? What am I ready to let go of?
- What can I do to care for myself this winter?
As you give yourself permission to rest and return to center, you may find your energy naturally growing and a deeper sense of harmony with the season. Remember, winter is a time to rest and hibernate, to turn inward and savor stillness. Taking time out to honor this natural energy will help you to carry a sattvic state with you through the holidays and into the start of the new year.