Life Off the Mat
January 18, 2017



*Cover Photo by: Ben White |


Winter is coming, as the House of Stark calls it.   According to George R.R. Martin, it more generally expresses the sentiment that there are always darker periods in our lives, that even if things are good now (“summer”), we must always be ready when events turn against us (“winter”).[1] With the greater environmental and global developments shifting around us, it may seem like we are in for a colder, more uncomfortable and challenging period of change.


What often comes with any form of change, whether welcomed or feared, are discomfort, anxiety and perhaps fear of the unknown. On the flip side, change is an opportunity for second chances, for starting again, and on a more exciting note, for revisiting and reinventing ourselves.


To learn to deal with this “seasonal change”, I looked at lessons from the far North on how to graciously embrace the winter. The Danes embrace winter with the feeling of hygge, while the Norwegians have a word, koselig.


Hygge, during the short, dark days and long nights, is akin to wintering, to slowing down, allowing the year to fold in on itself as we tend to ourselves and to each other. It leads to a sense of a rich inner life that radiates out through bleak days.[2]


In Norway, where cozy is used to describe a sense of comfort, koselig can be used to describe anything and everything: from a house to a home-cooked meal, from a person to an item of clothing. Above all else, koselig is a feeling: that of intimacy, warmth, friendliness and contentment.[3]


For Urban Yogis, we can start to embrace our own version of winter with a shift of mindset, building a strong sense of awareness and adventure, knowing that seasons come and go and periods of change do end. An awareness of this makes us able to live richer, fuller and better lives.


Here are some recommended ways to thrive and live fully in 2017 and graciously enjoy it as the Year of ME:



WINTER FOREST_amir-hamdi

Photo by: Amir Hamdi |

Sure, changing your external environment (in my case moving countries and becoming a student again) will require change, but I have found that no matter where you go, you will be faced with yourself. The good, the bad and the ugly will always be there and as a Yogi, view it as an adventure to know the self rather than to escape it.


  • Observe your habits without judgment and with kindness and compassion. Review the way you react to situations, the manner by which you speak, think and act, and from there, simple yet life-enhancement changes can be made. I often wondered why I was never able to reach my desired weight, so I started observing my eating habits. I found that by talking less, focusing and relishing the meal and company I am with, my eating habits improved. Meal times have become something I look forward to and I can now manage my weight better.


  • By understanding and improving of our responses to everyday circumstances, we are able to cultivate good habits, which become stronger over time and eventually replace bad ones. Patanjali from the Yoga Sutras states:“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” ––Sutra 2.33

 2)  Start a wellness practice. If you already have one, revisit and update it.

MPH WInter 

Francoise Freedman, Founder of Birthlight, reminds us that through our individual selves and the community we belong to, we begin and expand the Spirals of Joy. Knowing that we are all connected and that we affect the lives of those we care about and interact with. As a mother, I mindfully send my children off to school on a happy and positive cheer with the hope that I have started their day well. It can be challenging to do this given all the daily stress and worries we have, but starting your day right with a quiet mind and a calm disposition always does the trick.


  • Begin your day with a soothing breathing practice. Pranayama (or the practice of breath control and extension) allows us to observe and revisit our breathing habits to increase our life force or prana. It can be as simple as a 5-10 minute breath practice shortly after you wake up each day. Here’s an easy guide to starting a breath practice (podcast included).
  • Let’s get physical and mental. The practice of Yoga has proven to be one of the most effective paths to becoming a better human being – building a healthier body with strength and mindful movements, finding inner peace, and healing and rehabilitating injuries. If you already have a yoga practice, spend time revisiting and updating your practice to what you need for the day and everyday. I recently tore my ACL from a skiing accident, and while I loved my Vinyasa Flow practices, it is not what I need at this time of injury and healing. Discovering and redefining my practice to a more introspective and subtle body practice has allowed me to shift my physical practice to a healing and nurturing one.


One of my teachers, Annie Carpenter says, “Each practice builds on all the ones that have come before, creating a momentum that is more powerful every day. Each practice builds a visceral and spiritual understanding of karma: the idea that what I think and do will have an affect on my world and the world.”[4]


 3) Be nice.


Photo by: Annie Spratt |

Reality is what we make of it. How we interact and relate with one another becomes the source of our own happiness.


“In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference towards those who we perceive as wicked.” Sutra 1:33


This sutra and guiding principle is practiced with equanimity as it serves as a constant reminder as to how to relate to the world we live in and towards those we encounter daily. Be friendly to those successful rather than being jealous and envious of their achievements. Show compassion to those who are suffering and weak. Promote goodwill to those who are upright and righteous and instead of showing anger to those we view as evil, become neutral or avoid them. And in the current context of world events, as Pete Guinosso puts it, “This means having compassion even when the choices aren’t easy and putting ourselves out there to stand up for what we know to be right and just.”[5]


Winter is here and I ask myself is the world out there a reflection of myself within. As an Urban Yogi, we welcome change and see this as an adventure into self-discovery into developing our own human potential and perhaps in that focus and pursuit, we will find inner peace that will resonate through.




Maricar Pastrana-Holopainen is a Founding Teacher of Urban Ashram Yoga. She is currently on a sabbatical leave pursuing further postgraduate studies in Brand Communication at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand with her husband and children.





[2] Louisa Thomsen Brits, author of The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Living Well.