Embrace the dark side

The Heart of Darkness Winter Solstice Celebration

Taylor Donovan and Jennifer McClellan lead the winter solstice celebration.

Taylor Donovan and Jennifer McClellan lead the winter solstice celebration.

Yoga Loka is at Lakeside Drive. Next year’s winter solstice will occur at 5:30 a.m., Dec. 22, 2011.

The winter solstice must have been a scary time for cavemen. People’s memories are long enough to note the seasons on an annual basis, to note the tide like ebbs and flows of days and nights, but like now, there must have been myths to help people understand the longer cycles in the world around them. And on the longest night, they must have wondered whether the Earth would tilt back toward the sun or if it would continue falling away—no spring, just slow, cold starvation and death.

Nowadays, human beings are a combination of science and superstition, and while we know the Earth is on a wobbly axis, and spring will always return, the winter solstice is still a time of introspection and fear. It’s a metaphor for death and rebirth, for spiritual and psychological light and darkness.

Those were also the themes of the Heart of Darkness Winter Solstice Celebration held for the third year at Yoga Loka studio. It cost $12. My girlfriend, Joy, and I arrived, not really knowing how much yoga to expect, so we were dressed for exercise—me in my shorts in what felt like a nascent blizzard. Taylor Donovan, a Reno chiropractor who incorporates New Age spirituality into his practice, and Jennifer McClellan, a yoga instructor who incorporates crystal bowl toning into her yoga practice, led the celebration.

It was a pretty mixed bag—paganism, Jungian and Freudian psychology, yoga, meditation, spiritual affirmations. Somehow, 32 of us were squeezed into the largest studio at Yoga Loka. After we were arranged on blankets and bolsters on the floor, the gathering began with an acknowledgement of the seven directions: north, south, east, west, up, down, inward. At each direction call, Donovan would describe the attributes of the direction. As he crossed the room, shaking a rattle, McClellan played softly on a flute. Afterward, he played a recording of one of the Northern tribes, calling spirit guides.

The yoga was extremely light, essentially four restorative poses—laying on our backs with the bolster down the spine, right side, left side and backs without a bolster. At times, particularly during the changes in posture, Donovan spoke, reminding us why we were there, essentially to recognize that each of us, like the world, is a mixture of light and dark. People are often afraid of their dark sides, but without inspection, there can be no change or even self-awareness.

Then McClellan started with the crystal bowls. Are you familiar with singing bowls? They’re basically bowl-shaped objects—they can be natural crystal or other materials—that make a tone when struck, and then ring when the mallet aligns the vibrations by whirling around the edge of the bowl. There’s a different bowl for each note in the octave, and each bowl attunes to a chakra point in the body. A chakra is a nexus of energy, and each human has seven—from the spine base and sitbones to the top of the head.

I’m sure I said this before, but I’m basically defenseless in a tone-driven meditation. I don’t know what it is, but when I’m in a warm, comfortable, dim environment, and someone fires up a gong or one of those singing bowls, I get to a deeper meditative state than I can get without. I have no idea how this works, but there’s probably a military application under development. Pretty hard to blow up a wedding when you’re feeling this peaceful and relaxed. We ended the evening’s practice by lighting a candle on our way out of the studio.

I have very little trouble imagining that this evening of self-reflection could become an annual winter solstice tradition. But until next winter, maybe I’ll pick up a singing bowl recording.