Well, it’s 8° outside right now, so I guess winter has officially descended. Now is the time when many of us wonder why we live in Maine, as we wrap ourselves in layered clothing and prepare to do battle with the cold.
But what if it’s this fight against winter that makes it so difficult to endure year after year? What if we just accepted the bitter cold and snow as part of the flow of life in this beautiful state?
In Denmark they have a concept called “hygge,” which means togetherness and comfort. The Scandinavian countries endure far longer and darker winters than we do in the Northeastern United States, and yet they are some of the happiest people on the planet. Why? Because they embrace winter as a time to connect with loved ones, to go in, to eat warm foods and drink hot drinks, to be by the fire and, well, just be.
We as yogis can relate to Danish hygge through Santosha, the second Niyama, or personal observance, described in Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. Santosha is translated as contentment, complete acceptance of life as it is right now. Yes now, when a thick sheet of ice encrusts the foot of snow beneath your feet, and you cough when you take your first breath out of doors. So why would we try to be content when the Yankee in us just wants to complain until spring?
Because with contentment comes calm. Comes freedom. When you let go of wishing things were anything other than the way they are, there is an unburdening in your mind and heart. When you stop wishing for the green grass on the other side of the season and start noticing the color of this one, winter becomes beautiful, and your winter days more joyful. Have you noticed how bright winter light is, particularly reflected off fresh snow or the choppy ocean waves? When you close your eyes to center yourself at the beginning of your next class, imagine this same light in the center of your own chest. Set an intention to be as bright as the winter sun reflected off the frozen ground, then see if your day isn’t just a bit lighter.
Then when you introduce yourself to your neighbor on their mat, and they are still wearing their scarf and wool socks at the beginning of class, warm them up too with hygge, with santosha, with the heat and light of a contented heart. And if that doesn’t work, drink tea. Drink lots of hot tea. A warm belly is sure to lead to a warm heart.
Happy New Year! Stay warm.