The other morning, while driving my daughter to school on slick roads (three days after a storm!), I found myself irritated over traffic lights that had been shut down so a convoy of snowplows could grind through a busy intersection, bringing an already slow commute to a crawl. My chest tightened, my mind raced. I was already late for the drop off, which would make me late for my morning appointments, and late for my lunch date, and well, you know.
Winter here thrusts itself into human activity and demands that we slow down. Layers of clothes have to be struggled with, cars warmed up, and with snowbanks piled high, we have to drive slowly. It’s the season of exhale. The life force contracts into the bottom of its eternal rhythm. In frozen earth, stillness and possibility lie in wait for spring. Modern schedules don’t recognize this fact. The relentless and harsh pace of modern life is a perpetual and anxious inhale. It takes us out of sync with the primal forces. For millennia, humans in northern latitudes had no choice; winter was a time to lay low by the coals, sing songs, make love and plan to sack a village in the spring.
Winter may not be a gentle season, but it invites a gentle response. When you consciously exhale and slow down your body, you move more gracefully. Your mind quiets, and a forgotten capacity to notice and drink in subtle wonders begins to stir. In that attention, gentleness often arrives, inviting you to snuggle up to the internal poetry of tender appreciation. The to-do list can take a vacation.
It may not be possible to tell the bank you’re taking the winter off on mortgage payments to play in the snow and rest up. However, it is possible to re-set, by attending to an intimate cycle that never leaves you. Your breath is a portal into the ancient tides of nature and the stillness of the season.
I often teach the Winter Breath to my clients (aka ‘gentle breath’) while they receive Rolfing sessions. It helps them tune into their bodies and modulate the intensity of deep structural work. In the same way, the Winter Breath can help you harmonize with the deeper movements of life. And right now, it can soften the edges of human-created demands.
Winter Breath starts with an exhale through your relaxed lips. You simply let it go. At the bottom of the exhale, receive the invitation to drop into deep internal space and feeling. Wait in stillness. Attend to your body. Relax. Here, old patterns of tension fall away and the deep seeds of possibility and contentment can stir. When the inhale starts to emerge, gently coax it in, equally through nose and slightly pursed lips into your solar plexus (the space between your breastbone and navel and the seat of your inner fire). The moment you feel any grasping or tension to take more in (notice neck, shoulders, chest, eyes), let it go into exhale. Repeat. After a few cycles, let go of the technique. Gently let your breath take its own path.
As the snow plows scraped by, I remembered my breath, which had gotten lost in the fog of frustration. Exhale. I suddenly realized the radio station was playing Harry Belafonte. My daughter, who had been listening intently, asked me about an unusual sound in the song (it was a muted trombone). My chest relaxed, my mind softened and I didn’t care so much that I was late. I had found myself a little deeper in the breath of winter.