There is no day I anticipate and welcome as much as Winter Solstice. Like many of my fellow Pacific Northwesterners, I am a diagnosed Vitamin D deficient. I crave light with the trembling desperation of a junkie. Every morning from the Winter Solstice through the end of February, I note the sunrise and sunset, confirming the day is a minute longer than the day before. Then two minutes. Until one day, though it is still Winter, I’m running in 6:00 a.m.dawn.

Winter Solstice is the true beginning of my new year, a day without the entanglements of religion, gifts, resolutions, overeating or travel. It is a day for reflection and remembrance, for letting go and looking forward.

This year I felt a particular need to mark the turning of the season. The last day of 2012 and the early months of 2013 were filled with darkness; at the time it was hard to imagine a way forward. Yet, by the time we reached the Spring Equinox, we’d transformed our lives. Like sunflowers following their heliotrope instincts, we’d turned our faces to the light. I wanted to acknowledge that transformation as this year of turmoil, transition and finally, peace, drew to a close.

I’ve practiced yoga for many years, but with the exception of some weepy Savansanas (Corpse Pose, a lying-down meditation) after a particularly intense practice, I’ve avoided its mystical elements. Not out of skepticism or indifference, but from an acknowledgment that there is only so much a busy brain and body can focus on. My practice has been physically and mentally transformative and I’ve benefitted emotionally from the residual grace of active meditation.

This Winter Solstice offered me the opportunity to take part in a unique celebration that was also a fundraiser for a local center for victims of domestic violence. The event was a group ceremony of 108 Sun Salutations. A Sun Salutation is a series of 8 or 12 poses performed in a flowing sequence, following the natural rhythm of yogic breathing—deep inhalations and exhalations. The number 108 is sacred in many Eastern religions, which you can explore here and here, but I most enjoy knowing there are 108 stitches on a baseball and that Stonehenge is 108 feet in diameter. And now I enjoy knowing I can move though 108 Sun Salutations non-stop and not hobble, wince or otherwise regret it the next day.

We were instructed at the beginning of the three hour practice to set an intention for our evening. My intention was to allow gratitude to carry me through the physical challenge. Gratitude for a strong, healthy body. Gratitude for opportunities to do the things I love, in a place of beauty and community. Gratitude for the love which surrounds me. Gratitude that even in a time of darkness, my husband and I had each other and we had the strength and the resources to change our lives. The women who seek help from places such as Dove House are in crisis; they have few, if any, resources left. I offered this practice in gratitude for an organization that supports, shelters and empowers women and children escaping domestic violence.

Completing 108 Sun Salutations was humbling, exhausting and soul-stirring. I left my body behind and focused on one breath after another to make it to the end. The collective spirit of our community brought light and breath to women and children in need. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have given and received so much in return.

Wishing all a gracious embrace of the darkness and a glorious return to the light.

“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”

—Wendell Berry

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Sunrise over Admiralty Bay ©Julie Christine Johnson 2013