Ancient practices for a modern world
Imbolc - February 1st
(Candlemas / St. Brigid)
Winter into Spring
Between now and the Summer Solstice in June the light will be expanding. The world is waking up after winter sleep bringing transformation and regeneration. Life is beginning to show again with new shoots and flowers popping through the cold ground. This is a time when the first lambs are born and ewe's milk is available again after the long winter. The year is beginning to stir and wake-up.
Imbolc is a Celtic fire festival and means “in the belly” in Irish. The Celtic goddess of Imbolc is Brigid. A goddess of fertility, creativity and healing. She heralds the coming of spring. We get the name February from her as The Romans called her Februa. The Goddess Brigid became St. Brigid when Britain became Christianised and was tied into the Christian celebration of Candlemas.
Traditionally Imbolc is a time for doing arts and crafts, and celebrating creativity. Passion for creativity starts to arise in us. Nature is at its most creative at this time so we naturally feel inclined be the same. So, write, sew, bake, whatever it is that inspires you. This is when old interests often get sparked or brand-new ones arise.
Creativity is good as it helps us to relax and is a great stress buster.
Yoga for Imbolc
Get creative with your exercise, yoga or meditation by looking to the season and what is around you and bring it into movement and meditation. Your yoga could emulate a seed growing into a flower, a caterpillar changing to a butterfly. Anything to do with change and growth. As this is a time when the weather can be unpredictable between still frosty nights and the promise of warmer days to come soon with the sun emerging in the days, a practice that reflects this is good with some grounding yin or long held poses balanced with gentle flows as though so slowly waking up like the earth.
Time to Sow
Imbolc is a time of new beginnings so a good time to look at what changes may need to take place in your life. Have a little review of where you are at and if anything needs updating or changing to reflect how you feel now. Energies are changing: dark to light; water to fire; yin to yang; inner to outer; and from contemplation to action. It’s often a time when we naturally want to come out of hibernation as we move from the darker half of the year to the lighter half of the year and start going for more walks and being outside.
Use the sun ( when it emerges, as it can often be reluctant in the early months!) when it makes an appearance to fire you up. Solar power yourself into action. Inhale to energise.
Celtic Tree for Imbolc (January/February) – courage, wisdom, protection
When you are out lookout for signs of fresh growth and new life appearing on trees. Take the time to notice the change of season. This is a mindfulness practice, which has numerous benefits to our mental wellbeing.
The Rowan tree for February on the Celtic Tree Calendar has a long, sacred history. Since ancient times people have been planting a Rowan tree beside their home because in Celtic mythology, it’s considered a magical tree and known as the Tree of Life. It symbolizes courage, wisdom and protection and on each berry, there is a star-shaped pentacle, which is a magical and healing symbol.
The Rowan tree features in Norse mythology and legend has it that it saved the life of the god Thor by bending over a fast-flowing river in the Underworld in which he was being swept away. Thor managed to grab the tree and get back to the shore.
Spring (Vernal) Equinox – 20 – 23 March
'Balance & Potential'
The Spring Equinox is when the length of day and night are equal. The word “equinox” comes from the Latin and means “equal night”.
At this time, we have an outward focus, and our face is turned towards the sun. This is a time for pushing, rather than for yielding. Spring is the time when we can feel we have renewed energy, which can help drive us forward with plans and sense of purpose. It is a time for growth, change and new adventures. During the growing season, whatever is planted will grow, so set in place something you wish to grow - creativity, business and / or relationships. Time to nurture ideas and water them!
Spring is also a time of balancing energies from cold to warm, dark to light. We need to prioritise and use this short-lived, fertile, sun energy to grow and make manifest the projects that are closest to our heart.
At the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox the sun rises exactly in the east, travels through the sky for 12 hours and then sets exactly in the west.
Of course, for those of us here in the northern hemisphere it is this equinox that brings us out of our winter.
This is why they can be quite hard on our bodies as it is a major climatic shift, so it is a good time to give a boost to your immune system with natural remedies and cleansing foods.
The colour for spring is green, (even my name means ‘spring green’) so support the health of the liver by eating lots of fresh green vegetables and herbal teas.it was traditional to drink dandelion and burdock cordials at this time as these herbs help to cleanse the blood and are a good tonic for the body after its winter hardships.
Traditions – Eostre /Ostara / Easter
As with all the other key festivals of the year, there are both Pagan and Christian associations with the Spring Equinox.
To Pagans, this is the time of the ancient Saxon goddess, Eostre, who stands for new beginnings and fertility. The legend is that Eostre found a bird, wounded, on the ground late in winter. To save its life, she transformed it into a hare. But the transformation was not a complete one. The bird took the appearance of a hare but retained the ability to lay eggs...the hare would decorate these eggs and leave them as gifts to Eostre.
This is why she is symbolized by eggs (new life) and rabbits/hares (fertility) and why the 'Easter Bunny' brings us coloured eggs at this time of year.
Her name is also the root of the term we give to the female hormone, oestrogen.
The Christian celebration of Easter is derived from this festival. The date for Easter governed by the first Sunday after the Full Moon after the Equinox and hence it changes each year. This was introduced in First Council of Nicaea in 325 but there are also other mentions that Eostre/Ostara was also the first Full Moon after the Equinox but I cannot find any evidence to back that up other than a mention by Bede in his 8th-century work The Reckoning of Time, where he states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the Anglo-saxon name for April), pagan Anglo-Saxons held feasts in Ēostre's honour.. The pagan holiday like many, was kept and adapted in order to help the pagans convert to Christianity but still have the festivals or holidays that they also recognised.
Believe it or not, hot cross buns are another pagan tradition. The Saxons, would bake fresh bread in honour of the goddess Eostre. The fresh buns would be marked with a cross. At the time, the cross represented the four quarters of the moon, four seasons, and wheel of life. It’s pretty easy to see why hot cross buns were adopted to Christian festivities, where the symbol of a cross has a strong connection to the crucifixion of Christ. Other cultures also appear to have buns with crosses on around this time.
Spring is related to the Wood Element and the organs of the Liver and Gall Bladder.
One of the main functions of the liver is that it stores blood and regulates the volume of blood in the body at all times; when more blood is needed, for example during exercise, it sends out blood to the muscles. It makes bile to aid digestion and also helps to detoxify by removing bacteria, break down drugs and anything else in the system that needs removing. In menopause, it also helps remove excess oestrogen as our body no longer needs as much of the hormone at that time.
In TCM (Tradition Chinese Medicine) the liver is believed to govern sight as well, so an important time to do practices to support the liver and help the eyes..
When the energy of the liver is balanced, we will feel energised, focused, clear-headed. However, when imbalances exist, you may feel anger, frustration, irritability and struggle with forward planning. This is often the reason cited for the ‘meno-rage’, brain fog and irritability through peri menopause as the liver is working harder.
As the Vernal Equinox heralds the arrival of spring, it is a time of renewal in both nature and the home, so time for some spring-cleaning!
Spring cleaning always provide a great way of shaking off winter hibernation-mode and stagnant energy and moving us into action mode. It can shift our mood as well as our energy and just help us feel new. It’s great to look at this way reframed from it being just a chore. This is more than just a physical activity, it also helps to remove any old or negative energies accumulated over the dark, heavy winter months preparing the way for the positive growing energy of spring and summer.
Do yoga for a body and brain spring clean. Yoga has a beneficial, purifying and cleansing effect on our system.
It is a time to cleanse the body, thoughts, and home; time to detox and de-clutter. Who doesn’t love a good spring-clean?!
Yoga is Balance & Union
The Spring Equinox is a good time to consider how we go about creating a balanced life.
In your spring yoga practise, focus on foundations, like the roots of the tree, pulling in new energy and creating strength and stability for the body and mind.
Side bends and twists are integral to our spring practise, opening up the energy lines for the Liver and Gallbladder, cleansing and harmonising the bodies organs. Move smoothly from one pose to another, stay soft yet strong.
Mirror the season in your practice.
The magic of leaves unfurling, blossom opening, and the world waking up after its winter sleep is reflected in the flowing sequence of Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog and back again. The exuberance of spring is expressed through poses such as Downward
Facing Dog pose with leg lifts.
We choose the balancing pose Warrior 3 to mirror day and night being perfectly balanced at the equinox. Stabilising poses such as Chair Pose help us stay grounded as the energy of the year revs up.
See Imbolc yoga for a couple more ideas of nature inspired flows.
In our yoga practice we can explore the equinox theme of balance by working with yoga’s balancing poses. We can also reflect on how best to balance our own Sun (Ha) and Moon (Tha) energies, both in our yoga practice and in our life. The word yoga comes from Sanskrit, its root is the verb yuj meaning "to yoke" or "to unite". Yoga is often translated as "union", meaning many things coming together as one, but actually think more of it as many things working in harmony with each other.
Here are some complimentary opposites that yoga unites:
Sun and moon energy, light and dark, hot and cold, yin and yang, water and fire, body and mind, effort and ease, exercise and rest, alertness and relaxation, in and out, up and down, expand and contract
Yoga For The Eyes & Sleep
Try these eye exercises to keep the eye muscles strong:
Splash the eyes with eater It will give them a good cleanse.
Palming the eyes
Get morning daylight into eyes as soon as you wake up to keep your natural circadian rhythms in check for good sleep.
Celtic Trees for Spring
Alder (and sometimes Gorse) are the trees associated with spring – working together, balancing strength.
When spring starts to turn into summer - hawthorn – purity, innocence, opens your heart
Beltane - 1st May
'Fertility & Union'
Creativity, Fertility, Light, Action, Fire, Union, Yang, Sun
Time to Blossom
Beltane - this is a time of year when flowers and blossoms are in full colour and the energies of the land surge with life-force as we tip over from Spring in to Summer.
Also known as May Day, Beltane is the second of the 'Earth' festivals on our Wheel of the Year and is the holiday that celebrates the sacred union of the Goddess and the God.
Between now and the Summer Solstice the Sun will reach the fullness and then at the solstice the light will begin to wane again. So, we want to make the most of this short-lived fertile energy.
Our focus, between now and the Summer Solstice, is on outward achievements and action. We decide which saplings to weed out to make space for our chosen plants to grow. Now is the time to bring your projects and ventures out into the light and watch them flourish.
This is a time to push, rather than to yield. Do whatever it takes to make your heartfelt visions, dreams and desires manifest in the world. Write emails, make phone calls, have conversations, and connect with those people who can help you to get your ideas out into the world. Ride the rising tide of growing season energy and make it happen. Be clear about what you want and go for it! At the same time the challenge of the season continues to be one of remembering to stay in touch with your inner wisdom whilst taking outward action. Your yoga practice can help you to stay grounded and not to get swept away by the fiery, rampant energy of the season.
Myths say that at this time, the young God (sun/son) who was re-born at the Winter Solstice has blossomed into manhood and he and the Goddess become lovers. Through their union and fertility, all life begins again on the earth.
The ancients believed that the Wheel of the Year would not keep turning without their help so, like the other festivals, Beltane has long been celebrated with feasts and rituals. One of these is dancing around the Maypole. The Maypole is said to symbolise the masculine aspect of God, and the colourful ribbons to symbolise the feminine aspect, and the dance is their blissful union.
During these celebrations our ancestors would also act out the human version of this union by spending a night making love in the fields to ensure the fertility of the land. Children conceived at this time were considered especially blessed and were known as Merry-be-Gots.
On Beltane eve they would also build two large fires known as Bel fires to invoke the sun god, Bel, and his blessings and protection. The tribe's herds were driven between these fires to purify them and ensure their fertility before taking them to the summer grazing lands. Young couples might also jump over the Bel fires to declare their intention to handfast (marry) at the summer solstice.
What the early church made of all this one can only imagine but, yes, they too wanted to make their mark on this time of year. The Christian ceremony at the beginning of May is known as Roodmas (Mass of the Cross), rood being a Middle English word for cross. It seems strange that the Church should want to associate this life-giving time of the year with an instrument of crucifixion but, I feel, the deeper meaning of this mass is about Christ's resurrection and that would tie in with the energies of Beltane.
Yoga & Dance for Beltane
We don’t need a maypole to dance!
In Hindu tradition the world is danced into being by gods and goddesses.
In many cultures the arrival of summer, and its ensuing fertility, was celebrated through dance ritual. Yoga and dance combine to make great partners. This is a good time of year to incorporate elements of dance into your yoga practice.
Dance can be a great way of getting your creative juices flowing. I say it when I instruct a Zumba class and even before then when I added in a dance kriya to the beginning of classes to get everyone warm in cold halls, dance can be liberating, mood boosting and help our energy levels so much, if you can just not over think it!
Try using dance as a warm-up for your yoga practice. Put on your favourite dance music and just allow yourself to be danced. Make this
into a dancing meditation by focussing your awareness on the sound of the music, the sensations of your body moving, and the dance of your own breath.
Flowing yoga sequences such as the Sun Salutations are a dance to the sun, combining wave-like movements with breath awareness. the Dancer Pose, is of course the perfect pose to include in your dance like flows.
You & Your Body
Body Shame is common nowadays. And also, as we go down the path of life we can feel bad about our bodies but Beltane offers us a time to celebrate our bodies. How many times have you said I won’t wear that because… I won’t go to a dance/exercise/yoga class because I’m not fit enough or I don’t look like everyone else? The truth is no one else is thinking that except you. Everyone ids there for the same reason, to feel better to make positive changes to how they feel and about how they look.
So rather than obsessing about our outward appearance we can learn to get in touch with how we feel on the inside. This is perfect time to make a promise to yourself to practice yoga or whatever it may be with a little of the letting go attitude.
At Beltane, learn to love YOU. Yoga and meditation can help. How can you celebrate and enjoy your body? Are there any hurts you need to let go of to restore wholeness and good health?
Go outside & notice
So, during the growing season and use all five senses to appreciate this precious moment; enjoy the colours, textures, smells, and sounds of the scene and eat fruit!
Walk barefoot on the grass for grounding and earthing. Let your eyes take in everything.
Celtic Tree for Beltane
Willow: wisdom, adaptability, flexibility in adversity