Hibernation – To spend the winter in close quarters in a torpor or dormant state, as bears and certain other animals. To withdraw or be in seclusion. Latent but capable of being activated. A state of motor and mental inactivity with partial suspension of sensibility.

I look at my marathon training schedule for this week and then at the temperature reading. It is twenty-six degrees in Austin, Texas at seven in morning. It’s the kids’ last day of holiday break – the perfect opportunity to run up some mileage before everyone is awake and we start the to-do list for the coming school week. The frigid winter weather, unusual for Austin, has me thinking of hibernation instead.

Both sleep and hibernation have similar physiological changes that reduce metabolic, cardiac and respiratory rates. In hibernation those changes are far more dramatic and vital signs differ significantly from a sleeping state. It takes just minutes to move from sleep to wakefulness but it can take days to recover from the physical changes brought on by hibernation.

Sleep is characterized by changes in brain activity when two slower patterns, theta and delta waves, take over.  Hibernating animals have what look more like wakeful brain wave patterns. In fact, when an animal transitions from hibernation it exhibits signs of sleep deprivation and needs to rest.

This dormancy is called hibernation in the winter and estivation when it occurs in the summer. Both are inseparable from temperature and survival. The extreme cold today makes me withdraw and seek the seclusion of close quarters. My body feels heavy and slow and my mind seeks stillness. The Texas summers have the same effect but then I retreat to the shade at Barton Springs or Deep Eddy and not close quarters.

I want to lie down, breathe slowly and drift into a state of motor and mental inactivity with partial suspension of sensibility. I think of hibernation as an extended Savasana, resting or Corpse Pose, that comes at the end of a yoga practice. Often called the most important pose, Savasana is death in life, a short hibernation. It allows time for the mind and body to integrate the internal physical and mental transformation of the practice in preparation to return to daily life.

Our holiday break has been like a joyful and intense seventeen day yoga practice. The extreme cold has reminded me that I need to hibernate a bit to integrate the experience into my normal life.  As a culture we are not good at allowing for integration. It’s on to the next shiny bright thing as we charge into January. Often I am guilty but not today.

The temperatures will pop back up again and I will return to the new beginning that January offers.  Today, though, I want to hibernate like a bear and wake slowly to a different world with warmth and green. For now I will let the winter offer its slow darkness and remind me that it’s OK that I didn’t run today or get much done. Latent but capable of being activated.

End Note: In case you’re wondering about the location, I took the photo in McCall, ID.

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