Halloween Yoga to Lighten Up Dark Days
Exploring Halloween, Yoga, and the Cycle of Life - By Jilly Shipway
Reading time: 4 minutes
Hanging out in graveyards and sitting meditating upon a corpse, is probably not, I’d guess, how you’ll be spending Halloween. Macabre as it may seem, the Buddha encouraged his monks and nuns to go to the charnel ground to receive a lesson in impermanence by contemplating the body of someone who had recently died. The charnel ground is the place where the dead are cremated; in Buddhism it’s considered to be a sacred space where the conditions are right for transforming fear into awakening. Of course, although it’s unlikely that you would go to such extremes in your own meditation practice, the gentle discipline of our yoga practice is to learn to turn toward unpleasant emotions, rather than push them away.
Although it’s natural to be afraid of the dark, our spiritual practice trains us to turn and face our fear in order that its hold over us might be diminished. We can expend a lot of energy avoiding facing our fears. Consequently, the more we push our fears down, the greater power they exert over us. What we resist persists. Our yoga and mindfulness practice can help us to embrace and engage with our fears, moving through them and out into the light again.
The Celtic festival of Samhain (Halloween) or the Feast of the dead, is presided over by the heavenly constellation of Scorpio. The plants that Scorpio is associated with are those that sting or have thorns (such as brambles, nettles, and thistles) or the pungent and spicy ones (such as garlic and ginger). Scorpio is associated with endings and new beginnings. In the Northern Hemisphere its dates coincide with the transition from autumn to winter, and this may be where its association with death and decline arises from.
Yoga can bring a glimmer of light into the darkest of autumn days. Many of us feel a shadow pass over our mood with autumn’s shorter, cooler days and longer nights. The dark is expanding and will continue to do so, here in the Northern Hemisphere, until the Winter Solstice in December. Our challenge over the autumn winter months is to embrace the darkness and at the same time to light a candle in the darkness. Our Seasonal Yoga practice offers us a gentle way of working with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth by observing nature’s annual cycle of composting, decay, and rebirth. We too are part of nature, and we can observe our own reactions to the natural process of aging, in ourselves and others, and the patterns of clinging or avoidance that this brings up in us.
Whereas it’s easy to love autumn’s beautiful red, yellow, orange, and crimson leaves, it’s harder to enthuse over piles of sodden old brown leaves that are dying back. However, although the composting phase of the year is not pretty, it is an essential part of the circle of life. The Buddha reminds us that a lotus cannot flower if its roots are resting upon marble. In order to flower the lotus needs to be rooted in mud. There is a partnership between the beauty of the lotus flower and the mud; they go together hand in hand. Likewise, the old brown leaves rotting down in winter provide the compost that gives us new green leaves and blossom in spring.
If you are a teacher seeking inspiration for your Halloween themed yoga sessions, then check out my Wheel of the Year digital download, which is a treasure trove of year-round resources for yoga teachers.
At Halloween, we light a candle in the darkness, drawing our awareness inward to contemplate that which is eternal and unchanging. This is the power of yoga.