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December 21 marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s the official start to winter, and the initiation of light returning to the sky as the days lengthen, bringing the promise of spring. Astrologically, the winter solstice also marks the day the sun moves from Sagittarius and into Capricorn.
The solstice is a big deal in both the seasons and astrology. It’s a time to dive deep, celebrate, and refocus your direction for the season to come. As such, this yearly occurrence has inspired celebrations in many cultures around the world (it is even thought to have impacted how we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah).
In yoga, winter solstice practices usually include Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutations) and restorative or hip-opening yoga postures. These postures fall into alignment with the Sagittarius-Capricorn shifts in the zodiac that are the hallmark of this time. Sagittarius rules the hips and thighs and is related to the sacral chakra (also known as svadhisthana). These areas remind us that we are mobile, and that we can create our lives by moving, exploring, and seeking what we most want to find. Capricorn relates to the root chakra (or muladhara), knees, and skeletal system. These areas remind us that we need to create a sense of stability within ourselves, taking time to prioritize work and rest, whichever is necessary in a given moment.
During the solstice, Sagittarius energy has its final hurrah—a moment to celebrate what you’ve created in the previous year, and what you seek to create in the year to come. Capricorn energy then swoops in to focus you on the goals you seek to achieve, as well as opening you to a time of rest and retrospection as you look at how far you’ve come.
Overall, this energy can be overwhelming or energizing, depending on how you approach it. With the proper balance of work and rest—especially this year, as some tricky astrological aspects surround the solstice—you can find a state of stability, restoration, and excitement for the season ahead.
A yoga sequence to celebrate the winter solstice
Turn inward, and use your inner guidance to navigate the postures in this flow. Make sure to adapt them to your needs, so you can enter the solstice with a clear mind and open heart.
Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutation A)
Why Sun Salutations are practiced for the winter solstice: It’s traditional—if not mostly inaccessible— to perform 108 Surya Namaskars on the day of the solstice. This is a way to honor and greet the Sun as it returns to the sky. Of course, 108 Sun Salutes is a lot, so many people opt to perform nine salutes (there are 12 postures in the sequence, and 12 multiplied by 9 is 108). However, for the purposes of this sequence, one Sun Salute will do! Feel free to do more if you feel called to it.
- Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
- Inhale as you raise your hands up to Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute).
- As you exhale, fold forward into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).
- Inhale to extend the spine and lift halfway in Ardha Uttanasana (Standing Half Forward Bend).
- As you exhale, step back to Plank Pose and lower to Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose).
- Inhale to lift your chest and lengthen your arms as you come into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose).
- As you exhale, lift your hips to Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Take a few breaths in your Down Dog.
- Step forward on an exhale to Half Standing Forward Bend. Lengthen your spine as you inhale.
- Exhale to Standing Forward Bend.
- On the next inhale, stand and raise your hands above your head.
- Exhale to bring your hands in front of your heart as you return to Mountain Pose.
Vyaghrasana (Tiger Pose)
Why this pose is practiced for the winter solstice: This is a posture that strengthens the quadriceps and knee area, the two areas ruled by Sagittarius and Capricorn, respectively. This posture offers balance and cross-body motion, which echoes the balance and shifting of the seasons.
How to: Start on your hands and knees. Lift your right leg and bend your knee to bring your foot toward your bottom. Reach toward your right foot with your left hand. Hold the foot, and kick up and back with your leg, engaging and opening through the quadriceps and shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Parivrtta Utthan Pristhasana (Twisted Lizard Pose)
Why this pose is practiced for the winter solstice: This posture balances out the Capricorn- and Sagittarius-ruled areas of the body, while creating some grounding, opening, and strengthening for the season to come.
How to: Start in a knee-down lunge with your right foot forward. Place your left hand on the floor, bend your left knee, and reach your right hand for your left foot so your palm faces the same direction as your face. Stay here, or place your left forearm on the ground. Repeat on the other side.
Why this pose is practiced for the winter solstice: What could be more solstice-themed than fire logs? Also, this posture encourages health in the Capricorn- and Sagittarius- ruled chakras of the body (muladhara and svadhisthana).
How to: Sit with your left knee bent on the floor (as in a cross-legged position). With your right hand, grab the outer edge of your right foot (like a half-Happy Baby Pose, but seated). If it feels comfortable, place your right foot on your left knee. If it still feels comfortable, lower your right knee over your left foot. Stay and breathe. Repeat on the other side. Note: different bodies will require different things. Enter this posture slowly and stop while the sensation is still pleasant. If you feel discomfort, try Sukhasana (Easy Pose), or, for support, slide a folded blanket in the space between your knee and ankle.
Why this pose is practiced for the winter solstice: Shorter days call for longer rest. This posture opens the back of the chakras. Energetically, this is a place of rest and quiet reflection. Allow yourself to be still and receive.
How to: Sit with the legs extended. If your hamstrings are tight, you can bend your knees, slide a rolled blanket underneath your knees, or sit on a cushion or folded blanket As you inhale, lift your arms to the sky, as you exhale, fold forward from your hips any amount that feels good to you, and rest your hands anywhere on your legs or feet. Stay and breathe.
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose)
Why this pose is practiced for the winter solstice: This posture strengthens and stretches the hips, thighs, and lower abdominals where so much physical and emotional tension resides. This pose will help you follow your own light in the darker parts of the season.
How to: Kneel with your knees touching and your feet slightly wider than your hips. Sit back between your ankles on the mat or a block. Lift your chest. Start to walk your hands behind you and slowly recline as little or as much as feels comfortable to you, whether you stay on your hands, move to your forearms, or completely recline. Stay here and breathe.
Why this pose is practiced for the winter solstice: Solstice is a time of rest and integration. Taking this posture for an extended period will allow you to integrate the experiences of the last six months, and allow you to gather your energy for the year ahead.
How to: Lie on your back with a bolster under your knees. Rest for 10 to 20 minutes.