Today marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day when the sun reaches its southernmost point, relative to the earth’s orbit, in the dome of the sky. We’ve been moving toward this moment since the Summer Solstice in June, when, after hitting peak sunlight, we’ve incrementally lost daylight, bringing us to today’s darkness. Starting tomorrow we’ll reverse course and add length to our days, eventually bringing us back to June’s longest day of the year. Then we begin the cycle again. Check your timezone to see exactly when the sun reaches it nadir today.
A celebration and acknowledgment of life cycles, the Winter Solstice is a fitting time to meditate, journal and practice mindfulness. Many Native American wisdom traditions use the Medicine Wheel as part of their spiritual practice to stay connected to the cycles of the natural world. The circle represents the passage of the sun and the seasons; the shift from night to day; and the cycle of birth, life and death.
The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions
Wheels vary from tribe to tribe, but many share similar attributes. The East is the direction of beginnings—the symbol of birth, illumination of the spirit and the season of spring. The South is where warmth and growth abide; in our life cycle, this is the direction where the Self comes into being. The West is seen as a direction of endings and is a space of introspection and growing old. The North represents winter’s tests and purification. It is here that wisdom is attained as the cycle of one life ends before it begin again in the east.
How To Use It In Your Practice
If you choose to set aside a few moments today to observe this stage in the earth’s orbit and in your own life cycle, play with working in these cardinal points. Orient yourself to the compass and sit facing in the direction that most resonates with where you are or where you’d like to be. A meditation using the Four Directions could be as simple as setting an intention for each one:
- To the East: Something you’d like to begin.
- To the South: Something you’d like to grow.
- The the West: Something you’d like to release.
- To the North: A phase you’d like to complete
For an asana practice, move in a wheel:
- Salute the sun while facing east.
- Move into standing postures facing south.
- Navel-gaze in headstand or Viparita Karani to the west.
- Take shavasana to the north.
As with all Self check-in and meditation practices, listening to your intuition and following your instinct is key. There is no wrong way to pray, tune-in or connect to the cosmos.
The study of the Medicine Wheel is deep and sacred; an in-depth look would require more space or knowledge than we have here. If you’re inspired to learn more, draw the four directions into your practice more regularly and see where that takes you. If you’d like to learn more about recent protests in the Native American community over the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is a great resource for getting involved.