Hygge and Yoga

The Danish have a word, hygge. I’m not sure how to even give a good phonetic pronunciation, so I’m just going to skip it. Anyway, hygge is often translated to English as some combination of coziness-warmth-togetherness. I think it’s meant to describe the feeling of coming in from the cold and the dark to a mug of your favorite hot beverage and a fire in the hearth and someone you love. But from the articles I’ve read, hygge isn’t just something that happens. It’s something the Danes build into their lifestyles with intention. Hygge is something you cultivate.

When I read about it the first time, I was struck that hygge seems to describe the imagery we see around the holidays, but which could not be more separated from the way most of us experience the holidays. The common experience, I think, is something along the lines of a frantic dash from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, of entertaining, family obligations, shopping, cooking, parties and end-of-year events at work, and traveling. Your holiday season may be even crazier, but this is just a start. How do you feel inside during this time of year? Warm? Or cold? Spent? Dried-out, empty, and exhausted? When we feel like this, we can’t be present for our families and friends like we want to be, because we don’t have anything left inside to share.

I don’t think it has to be this way.

I think the important takeaway about hygge isn’t the mugs of hot chocolate (though those can be an excellent way to start), but rather the intention. The Danes prioritize taking care of themselves and each other. American socializing, maybe especially around the holidays, can veer distressingly toward the performative rather than the caretaking.

There’s a ton of advice online about the joys of simplifying your holiday season, and I love that idea. Giving yourself the gift of begging off of events you’re not excited about, shortening the list of people you buy for, maybe making charitable donations instead of buying tangible gifts for the people in your life, whatever speaks to you that would lower your stress levels this December sounds like a good idea to me.

This is a little bizarre, but to my mind, hygge, a very traditional Danish value, is one of the clearest connectors I see between the ancient Indian practice of yoga and our modern western life. Hygge is an old word for self-care, and for a culture that values self-care. Maybe you have to when the days get as short in the winter as they do in Scandinavia.

Taking Care of Ourselves Like the Danes

Self-care, in the winter, should make you feel warm and full inside, not cold and dry. Calling it self-care sounds selfish rather than generous, but I think this is a failure of English to not have a word like hygge, and a failure of America that our holidays are so focused culturally on stuff and accomplishment rather than just being present with each other. Maybe we should put “self-care” on the shelf and talk in terms of hygge. Because when we care for ourselves, we have more to give to each other, and when we take care of each other, we take care of ourselves.

I don’t have themes for all my classes as a general thing, but I am going to focus on hygge for the whole holiday season. How can we use yoga practice to lower our stress levels and build more relaxation, ease, and warm feelings into our lives? That’s what we’ll be exploring in December.

What else can you do in your life to be more present for yourself and those around you? For me, this time of year feeling warm inside is all about hot beverages–tea, coffee, mulled wine, hot cider. I’m not much of a massage person, but especially for those of us living in the desert, an oil massage can be very hygge. So is catching up with a friend.

How can you build some more hygge into your winter? A week after turning the clocks back, daylight savings time and lighter evenings feel really far away…


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