Tag Archives: Winter Solstice

solar year vs lunar year

Hindu_calendar_1871-72

Hindu Calendar 1871-72

Ancient people had two reliable ways of measuring time—the length of a day and the length of a lunar cycle.  Figuring out the length of the solar year was more complicated and required close observation of natural events, such as the cycling of the seasons and the movement of the stars in the heavens.  A lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, and twelve lunar months equals 354 days—approximating, but not equaling the length of a solar year, which is 365 days.  The seers of ancient Egypt are credited with first accurately figuring out how long it takes the Earth to orbit around the Sun.  They did this by observing the movements of the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky (currently visible in the eastern sky a couple of hours after sunset—down and to the left from Orion’s Belt).  In first century BC Rome it was discovered that the existing Lunar Calendar was three months off in relation to the seasons.  This was due to the eleven-day discrepancy between the Lunar and Solar Calendars that had been playing out over time.  On the advice of Sosigenes, a learned astronomer from Alexandria, Caesar added 90 days to the year 46 BC and started a new calendar on January 1st 45 BC.  Sosigenes tells Caesar that the length of a year is actually 365 days 6 hours, and advises him to add a “leap year” every fourth year.  We have been using this same calendar ever since.  The ancient Romans developed a custom of setting aside the period of 11 days at the end of the year, which constitutes the difference between a Lunar Year and a Solar Year, and designating it as a period of holiday, when time stood still and people feasted, celebrated, and partied, and absolutely no work got done.  This time period corresponds roughly to the Winter Solstice through New Year’s Day.  It makes sense to devote our time at the end of the year to celebration rather than to work.  At the Winter Solstice we have the least amount of Solar Energy to warm us and invigorate us, and many people suffer from SAD—seasonal affective disorder.  During Christmas we spend time with our family and many emotions are evoked.  The year has been long and we have worked very hard living our lives, because being a human being is not an easy thing.  Certainly there were some things we could have done better during the course of the year, but we are imperfect beings, after all.  The important thing is that we learned something during the year that will make us wiser and more compassionate and loving as we continue forward into 2015.  The living of a year is something like a yoga practice, with all the different asanas serving as metaphors for all the different situations we encountered.  Some of those asanas were better than others, but it was all sadhana, and sadhana is always worthwhile.  In reference to keeping our sadhana in the proper perspective, Patanjali says:  Abhyasa vairaghyabhyam tannirodah—“By practicing diligently, with devotion and no interruption over a long period of time, and with nonattachment to any particular outcome, we will have peace of mind.”

December 30th Post from Tim Miller’s Blog Tuesdays with Timji

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12 illuminating sanskrit words for christmas yoga meditations

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As we move now toward the shortest day and longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere), let’s take a deeper look at yoga teachings on light and darkness and explore what they have to say about light within and without, body and mind, the transient and the eternal. Though for us moving toward the Winter Solstice light is now diminishing, yoga philosophy suggests there is a light within that never wanes.

First, let’s introduce two ancient Sanskrit words: The ancient yogis saw our being as spiritual creatures made up of (word #1) prakṛti [prak-rit-ee] and (word #2) puruṣa [poo-roo-sha].

Prakṛti is our body (it is also a word used to mean “nature”). It is all that is changing in us, or, in other terms, and this is not always obvious: the body-brain system. It is not always obvious because we identify with something that is changing, thinking that it is something permanent.

Puruṣa is all that is not changing within us, sometimes defined as the soul, or pure awareness, or in some other contexts, “consciousness.”

Puruṣa is the light that never wanes.

Now a third and fourth Sanskrit word: Patañjali (#3), who compiled the Yoga Sutra-s sometime around 350 CE, uses the word īśvara (#4) to mean a Higher Power. Iśvara is the source of light, or pure awareness or consciousness; through puruṣa (our individual light as experienced by us), we are connected to this one light, the source of all light, awareness, consciousness.

So, the interesting question arises, if reality and our relation to reality is constructed like this, how is darkness possible? How can depression, wrong action, confusion, illness, a sense of disconnect from light and wholeness, arise? This is an ancient question, and a living one.

Here are some things to ponder from the yoga teachings and their related philosophies. These are suggestions we can more than ponder, but test in our own life and in our yoga practice to discover for ourselves what they might mean.

Sanskrit word #5 is prāṇa, or life force. The ancient yogis saw health as a smooth flow ofprāṇa within the body-brain system. Since our body is made of matter, it has limitations or a conditioned nature. We experience that conditioning, yoga suggests, through the guṇas(#6), or tendencies. The guṇas influence matter very strongly. Just as electricity can’t pass through wood but it can pass through copper, the body’s receptivity to prāṇa will change. According to yoga, the guṇas govern this receptivity.

The guṇas are sattva (#7: balance, order, purity), rajas (#8: change, movement, dynamism) and tamas (#9: lethargy, dullness, slowness).

To bring this full circle and to see the interconnected, holistic view of reality to which yoga is inviting us, the guṇas also qualify the seasons. Sattva is the springtime, with it’s creative potential, and all that blossoms with it. Rajas is the summer, it is hot, people move around and travel. Tamas is associated with fall and winter as it gets darker and colder. The seasons are a reflection of the guṇas of the world. When people talk about nature or the environment, we usually understand it to be the external world. However, according to yoga philosophy, the internal environment is just as or even more important than the external.

In the moments when we are feeling less receptive to the light within, it doesn’t mean the light is not there. Our receptivity is different in accordance with our state of mind. Yoga suggest that deep inside us there is always light. That is why Patañjali advises us in Yoga Sutra I.36 to meditate on the light within.

YS I.36 viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī“We can be free of suffering by paying attention to the light within.”
Viśokā (#10) literally means “no despondency.” When grief is sustained it becomes despondency. Everyone has bad experiences in their lives, but when we identify with those past experiences we negate our reception of light. According to yoga philosophy there is always an inward resource.
Jyoti (#11) is our inner light, and jyotiṣmatī (#12!) means “to focus on the light within.” Despondency may transform when we pay attention to the light inside.
In times where we feel darkness or depressed, we don’t need to search outside, the yoga teachings suggest, we can be inspired by the source of light inside. The next time you are in a state that feels disconnected, try your yoga practice. Did that feeling turn out to be reality, or does it change when your body-breath-mind state changes?

The teachings of yoga seem to be suggesting something further as well, beyond helping us return to equilibrium. Here seems to be a key point: both suffering and joy are only possible in something that changes. When you begin to become sensitive to the transient, changeable nature of prakṛti, you might ask, what is it that lies beyond all the changes, what is the source of both light and dark? What is there that never changes?

That may be the most eternal quest.

From Huffington Post Article 12 Illuminating Sanskrit Words for Christmas Yoga Meditations by Rowan Lommel