Loop-holey wisdom for a winter's solstice

Sandra Mitchell Life // Loop-Holey Wisdom for a Winter's Solstice // West Michigan

It’s been established that I’m a sun worshiper, which means I always welcome the winter solstice.

I spend most every fall aggrieved that yet another summer is gone. I wake in the winter mornings glum about the cold, dark days that lay in wait. My happy light is overused this time of year. I go into dreaming/manifesting/planning mode for a vacation in a tropical locale by October 1.

But with the solstice’s arrival, and as a sometimes yogi, I appreciate the tradition and symbolism of practicing 108 sun salutations on this day. Because, yes, here comes the sun.


Why 108 sun salutations? Here’s some background:

  • 108 is a sacred number that turns up in many spiritual disciplines

  • Mala beads and rosaries alike have 108 beads, which are used to count meditation or prayer

  • The number appears in ancient and sacred texts; for example, there are 108 Upanishads as well as 108 Tantras

  • In numerology, 108 equals 9, and that symbolizes universal love, eternity, and awakening

  • In Ayurveda, there are 108 sacred points in the body

  • Astronomy tells us the distance between sun and earth is approximately 108 times the sun’s diameter

  • If you want to know more, go here.

But getting back to yoga, the solstice is a time for reflection, and the darkness is an invitation to be still and to go inside. One thing about the solstice is that it offers comfort and faith that the light of spring will find us once again. Practicing 108 sun salutations can be an empowering experience, leaving you and your yoga practice changed. The offering of 108 sun salutes can detoxify you on all levels. It's a sacred and symbolic gesture to mark the end of winter's darkness and the arrival of a new year as well as much-longed for light (if you're like me).

Loop holes

But, let’s be real. I’ve never actually completed all 108 sun salutations on the solstice, or on any other day for that matter. Why? For one thing, it’s hard (wah!). It seems my body wasn’t built for endurance, though I’m confident with enough water consumption and resting poses in between every couple of salutes I could limp through.

Even with that wavering bit of confidence, I’ve never actually taken the time to see if I can complete 108 salutes. And that’s because I always think I’m too busy. Or that’s an excuse – because really, what almost-50-year-old wants to prove she can’t do something so demanding? All of it is fear-based and stupid, I know. But this year, I swear, I was ready to commit to all 108 salutes. I was making the time for this sacred offering, once and for all.

It’s reported to take 90-120 minutes to complete the 108 salutes. Usually, when I do practice the solstice salutes, I choose to practice 36 of them. Because here’s the loop hole: 108 is divisible by 3, and that too is symbolic. (I urge you to read the opening of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love for an excellent explanation of all of this.)

So, anyway, loop hole = 36 Suyra Namaskar A’s. But, on this day of the 2018 winter solstice, I have another issue besides scarcity of stamina and time.

Yesterday I had some minor sinus surgery. Being up and around makes my nose bleed. No matter how mindfully I might move myself through this vinyasa practice, there would be blood loss. So, I allowed myself another loop hole.

Rather than salutations, I headed inside. I sat myself in the Big Chair, piled on puppies and blankets, and wrote for 108+ minutes. Another of the reasons I love the winter solstice is because it is also a time for intention setting – one of my favorite things. As a coach, clients and I use intention setting in every single session. And, in most cases, when I work with a new coaching client, whether we are working on writing or life coaching, we take time to set intentions, or define vision. How do we know where we’re going or what we are working toward if we don’t have a North Star to guide us?

More significant numbers

On November 19, I was 50 days out from turning 50 years old. So, I challenged myself to do something meaningful with the 50 days leading up to the 50 years. I settled on 50 days, no excuses, to write and to practice yoga. Hello, stamina!

With Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, as my guide, I decided on Morning Pages, a practice in which every morning you stream-of-consciousness write at least 3 pages long-hand. The idea is that you throw-up all your worries and stresses, no matter how repetitive or boring. You do this because these are the things that creatively block you. You get them out on the page so you can move on and use your head and heart for more creative work. This is a profound practice. It matters not what your life looks like, you will creatively problem solve all the BS that stands between you and the things that are important to you. I am in love with Morning Pages, and I may never stop with this practice.

As for the yoga, my goal is to practice 30 minutes each day, but also give myself the grace to know that some days it will be 10 minutes and some days I will have sinus surgery. I loathe admitting that age and hormones are taking their toll, because I still like to think I’m 32. But The Midlife Unraveling, as Brene Brown calls it, is here and I find myself in equal measure falling apart and living more fully. We all know yoga is a mind-body-spirit practice - and so I persevere.

I began practicing yoga more than 20 years ago, when my son was a toddler and I was plagued with insomnia. For a time, I was wholeheartedly committed to the practice, taking a couple of classes a week, keeping a robust home practice, and seeking out weekly community meditation sessions.

But then I shut down all that spirituality and goodness for a long time as I dealt with divorce, single parenting, an increased work week, and a bounty of anger. It was a terrible idea, letting yoga go for so long. The body has a way of stiffening, slackening, and sickening with life and age. In hindsight, I now know yoga is a gift that I should have allowed myself to keep receiving. But I was, at first, too damn mad about the divorce, and too dedicated to working and parenting and making it on my own, and then too in love with my new guy who would become my husband, to give myself the practice of yoga on any consistent basis.

Winter solstice widsom

So here I sit in the Big Chair, with the puppies and a bloody nose and my loop holes. I didn’t practice 108 sun salutations, or even 36. But all that writing and intention-setting offered me time to see where I’m not living so fully. It helped me sort out where the imbalances are and what I want and need more of. I hit 9 areas of the life wheel in my writing on this winter solstice morning: career, finances, love, friends and family, home and surroundings, contributions, health and well-being, play, and spirituality.

I believe it’s Tony Robbins who says that we overestimate what we can do in a day, but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. I take a lot of time for myself these days, what with all the Morning Pages and yoga and travel planning. I’m going to need the entire year because my intention setting was lofty. And I’m excited about it. I welcome this approach to living intentionally - and to understanding and overcoming what gets in the way of my best life.

We have to begin with ourselves - this is where we must work from. Don’t give up that which fills us up. Thinking we don’t have time for these life-giving practices and worship is straight-up foolishness, and it's wasteful. It’s taken my weakened body, my writing millions of words for other people and organizations, and my so-called busyness to come to terms with the fact that I’m halfway - or more! - done with this life, and there’s still so much more I want to do. So, my friends, join me. Let’s lift one other up and find ways to live intentionally and meaningfully.

As I get ready to go look at the moon, for whatever it’s worth to you, I offer you the above loop-holey, bloody-nose, non-sun-salutation, 108-plus-minute Morning Pages, winter-solstice wisdom. And I totally hope you’ll meet me this time next year with your yoga mat in hand and tell me the highs and lows of your intentionally lived year.

Peace and light to you in the new year.