Wonderful Winter pt.2: The Magic of “Hygge”

What do hot cocoa, fuzzy blankets, and a fireplace all have in common?  They are elements that can turn a cold, dark winter into something warm, cozy and glittering with light.  They all have the potential to warm one person or to be shared. These tools fall into the realm of what Norwegians call “hygge”. Most closely translated into English as “cozy”, hygge also involves an element of socializing, sharing this time of year with those near and dear.

Since my first visit to Michigan last February, I’ve heard a lot about miserable winters.  The short days, gray skies and frigid air wears on people. Yet ironically, according to the latest “World Happiness Report” created by the United Nations, the five happiest countries on the planet are all north of chilly Michigan.  Topped by Finland and followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands, these are all places where people have created cultures that embrace both the indoors and outdoors during the long, dark winters.  

The movie Frozen showcases perhaps the ultimate hygge hotspot: saunas.  There’s nothing quite like sweating profusely, wearing nothing but your birthday suit as you engage with friends and family in tight quarters-right?  Admittedly, I do enjoy saunas, but I think part of what makes them such a key part of the hygge culture is the element of socialization. Though the weather is cold and the sun shines far less in winter, sharing your days and nights with those you love can make the season “merry and bright.”

So… some ideas for enjoying the great indoors during winter:20200214_161213

BAKE, EAT and ENJOY warm foods and drinks.  Decorate and eat some cookies with a neighbor.  Sip some tea with a colleague.  Each winter I tend to find one or two new soups to make along with the perrenial favorites I can’t help but return to like miso and pizza soup.  Warm up from playing outside with some coffee, cocoa, or the lovely old tradition of wassail.  Bake muffins or bread and be sure to get your first taste while they are still warm.

PLAY, PONDER and READ something new or an old favorite.  While keeping up with current events via news and blogs is valuable (and I have such cozy memories of watching my grandpa read the newspaper in his leather recliner), there is something unique and wonderful about cozying up with a book.  Play games- do you have a favorite board or card game you can introduce to someone new in your life? Maybe you want to contemplate, discuss or even journal about some deep questions pressing on your mind lately.  We all process things a little differently: some better by ourselves, some better through discussion with another. What helps you?

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LAUGH and LOVE!!!  These final ingredients I can’t emphasize enough.  Open your heart to positivity- whether you need a pick me up, someone else around you does, or you are all just working on self-care to stay positive.  Carve out spaces for laughter; it is great medicine. Take care of yourself and share with others- it will help you find greater joy and reason to respect yourself.

A large part of the nordic cultures that are so happy- they value community and care for others as well as themselves.  So as winter drags and starts to feel long, consider some hygge traditions to bring yourself and others a little more light in a dark season of life.  No need to try to save the whole world today. Just try to make a difference for someone.

Wonderful Winter pt. 1: Exquisite Outdoors

If you’re one of the 10 million Americans or 30% of British who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, you’ll be happy to know that this week Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, so spring is expected early this year.  That is, as long as you trust meteorological predictions from a furry rodent the size of an overweight cat. If, by chance, you are skeptical of weather prediction based on old European folkloric traditions, perhaps some reminders of what can be done to enjoy the second half of winter may prove helpful.  This week let’s focus on ways to enjoy the outdoors since getting outside can be a great mood booster  and help fight the winter blues (a.k.a. Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD-it’s a thing, it’s not just you). 

20200120_093203Step one: bundle up!  If you think it’s too cold to go outside, add a layer or two, keep your head, fingers and feet particularly well insulated and get your heart rate up.  Maybe you like to get into the mountains on the weekends to snowboard, ski or snowshoe. On a more daily basis though, go for a walk or hike near your home.  When was the last time you went ice skating, rollerblading (we don’t all get buried in snow for 3 straight months) or played hockey? You may have a snow thrower, but do you have a shovel you could break out for a little endorphin-raising exercise?

Do you have a knack for building snow forts, snow people (why do we still call them all snowmen in the 21st century?) or instigating a snowball fight?  Do you enjoy looking for icicles, tiny buds starting to grow on the trees, or taking photos of a wintery wonderscape? My 2 year old can’t get enough of eating snow (we’re working on sticking to only the freshly fallen kind).  Plenty of kids love to make snow angels, “fairies” as we call them in our household. And who doesn’t still enjoy a good sledding run?  With ski resorts now offering sledding hills, clearly it is not just for kids.

While living in Denver (where it can range from -5 to 65 degrees Farenheit on any given day in winter), I often felt it was too cold to walk my dog or spend much time with my class of preschoolers outdoors.  As my husband and I contemplated moving to the northern midwest, I was really nervous about potentially having a baby in winter.  How do I keep a baby warm enough there?  How do/can I still get outside and exercise?  Nevermind SAD, I get depressed any time of year if I don’t get regular, frequent exercise and plenty of time outside.  But people do it, so obviously it’s possible. So I began to seek advice.

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 So…as soon as we moved, I went to a local consignment store and bought a few newborn buntings –different weights and insulation levels– just to be safe.  Well, my baby was born in December. After her first week at home, I started testing out all those warm baby clothes. Now I layer up, strap the baby to my chest and together, along with my older daughter and dog, we get outside for a walk or hike almost daily and everyone stays comfortable –minus the occasional breeze or lost boot. The key: warm layers and movement. 

So carve out some time to get outside each day and if you happen to see a little crocus popping up through the frozen ground, let it stand as a happy reminder that spring is just around the corner.  

 

108 Ways to Feel Grateful

 

Fat, frozen snowflakes falling on my tongue, the crisp, cold smell in the night air, snowmen and sleds, these were many of my childhood cues to know: winter is here!  While these signs of the season undoubtedly still excite me, I have come to appreciate the joy of celebrating each season with its commencement of solstice  and equinox.  This past autumn I was introduced to the idea of 108 Sun Salutations to welcome in the season.  I loved the physical challenge and mind-quieting nature of this moving meditation.  So last night, less than a week since my husband and I started moving into our new home (we’re still in the process), I began a new tradition of hosting a 108 Sun Salutation Winter Solstice Soiree.  

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My hope is that we’ll honor each season’s  passing/inception with this yoga tradition of honoring the sacred count of 108, but last night I gained a whole new appreciation for how and why.

How do you count 108?

My first experience with this count was a solo project at home: breath, move and count.  I lost track of how many I had done several times and rather than potentially cut myself short, I always played it safe by doing another 1-2.  I saluted the sun for nearly 3 hours, moving slowly, growing sore, and fumbling to find modifications that didn’t hurt.

Before we began last night, some friends who had gathered to join me were discussing and reading about why we do 108 specifically.  My personal favorite reason for this is that the distance from the sun  to earth is 108 times the sun’s diameter.  Nancy, the math-savvy (an engineer) of the group, had several counting ideas.  “There are 26 letters in the english alphabet,” she pointed out, “so you can count by going through the alphabet 4 times, then just add four.”  She also suggested thinking of something you’re grateful for with each salute.  I decided to combine her two ideas for my practice.   

WOW!  What a vastly improved experience!  

A Little History on the Appeal

japamalaI have japa mala  (that rosary-like strand of beads hindus and yogis often don) hanging over my rearview mirror in my car.  A friend gifted them to me after visiting India just following his yoga teacher training a couple of summers ago.  I love the smell of the sandalwood beads, the idea of having a piece of the other side of the world (physically and culturally) in my mode of transportation, but mostly they hang in front of me as a reminder to feel gratitude.  When I’m anxious about rush hour traffic or whatever event I’m headed to, or I find a grey cloud of negative thoughts looming overhead, I grab the japa mala and think of something I’m grateful for with each bead my index finger and thumb roll over.  Sometimes I get through the whole strand, often just a portion, but regardless,

the exercise sets my intention and thoughts in a positive and calm place.

Last night I took that 108 gratitude count into my sun salutation.  It took a bit longer than just rubbing the beads (maybe 20 minutes with the beads, just over an hour for the salutations), but I found myself smiling, even laughing in my heart at times as I thought of different points that brighten my life.  The first time I ever tried this meditation was exhausting: physically and mentally.  It was really tough to stay focused and get all the way through.  This time, it flowed smoothly and sweetly.  

How I Structured My Gratitude Flow

My first two rounds I simply allowed concepts or ideas beginning with each letter of the alphabet to come: Appreciation, Balance, Compassion, etc.  

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With each breath, I thought of ways I’m grateful for how that word has taken meaning in my life.  Thoughts like: “I’m grateful for the ability to feel appreciation.  To be appreciated and hear and learn that others appreciate me.  I’m grateful people can express appreciation to each other, and for the joy that fills our hearts when we allow the sense of appreciation to permeate through us…..”

My third round became body-focused, from feeling gratitude my dad was able to get a new hip and his surgery went well (for H), to mustaches (for M) and how I love to laugh and enjoy all the whimsical and funny ways they can be shaped.

For the fourth and final round I decided to name people who have impacted my life for good.  Old college friends I haven’t spoken to in years, teachers, family members, dear friends, the wonderful people flowing in the room with me, all were in my heart and hopefully getting little spirit hugs from me as I pondered how they have helped shape my life with their light.

gratefulpiglet Sometimes even thinking of the next idea in time was a little tricky, but something always came.   I felt such a sense of peace, joy, and calm as I honored this universe,  the guiding life force of season all around, and ideas, experiences, and people who edify the world around them.

If ever you feel so inclined for a truly cleansing and uplifting meditation, I invite you, with gratitude, to salute the sun.

Perhaps you will join me in Spring!

Namaste