What is "retrograde motion"?
What are "stations"?
What is a retrograde zone?
How are these cycles/zones interpretted?
What if a planet in my birthchart falls in one of these zones?
Every so often, each planet (except the Sun and Moon) ceases its normal forward movement around the zodiac (called "direct motion") and appears to move backwards ( "retrograde motion") for a time. This occurs whenever the Earth passes up the other planet as they both orbit the Sun, similar to how a slower car appears to move backwards when you pass it at higher speed on the highway. After a time, the planet stops this reverse motion and resumes its normal, direct motion, again.
As a planet slows down, preparing to go retrograde, at some point it is standing still against the zodiac before actually going into reverse gear. This "standing still" point is called a "station", in this case, the "retrograde station" (because the planet is going retrograde). Because the planet is literally standing still at this position, sometimes for days, the energies of the planet are powerfully focused at this spot, practically burning a hole (so to speak) at that zodiacal position.
The direct station is similar, except that now the planet is changing from retrograde back to direct motion. This is also a powerful zodiacal position (in my opinion, even stronger than the retrograde station).
For a given instance of a planet undergoing retrograde motion, the region of the zodiac between the direct and retrograde stations is a "retrograde zone". The importance of this zone is that the planet passes over each position in this zone not one, but 3 times, spaced out over a time period that can last for months. This can spell the difference between an influence that passes quickly, and one that lingers forever and exerts an overwhelming impact on your life.
There are 4 points of interest in a planet's passage through this zone. The entrance is when the planet first crosses into the zone. The position of this entrance in the zodiac is the same as the position of the direct station which will occur later. (The direct station is before the retrograde station in the zodiac -- remember, the planet will be moving backwards!) The second point is the retrograde station itself, while the third is the direct station. The 4th and last point is the exit, when the planet moves forward past the retrograde station point and leaves the zone completely.
The planet crosses each position in the zone for the first time between the entrance and the retrograde station -- I call this period the first pass. It then backs (retrogrades) over each position again during the second pass. The third and final pass is from direct station to the exit.
A retrograde cycle is the process of the planet's passage through this zone and includes all 3 passes.
A retrograding planet is a sign from the universe to pay close attention to something. Instead of a planet passing quickly through your birthchart, it decides to linger awhile in one area so you "get the message" it has for you. Sometimes, this feels like it's marching in place on top of you with big, heavy army boots, but only if you're being very resistant to change. The sooner you make the shifts, the more painless the process.
During the second, retrograding pass, this situation that the deeper you has initiated begins to mature and unfold. If you need to let go of something in your life, events happen to cause it to break or to wrest it from you. If you need to wake up to some lesson, events repeatedly show you how painful it can be to walk through life half asleep. By the direct station, the situation is usually intolerable -- something must change! This is often seen as some kind of "crisis situation" in your life. Just remember that "crisis" comes from a Greek word meaning "to choose" -- this is a time to make some serious decisions and take conscious responsibility for yourself.
Assuming you come through the "crisis" in good shape, the final pass is a time to make the changes, create some new habits, start living at a new level. This is liberation at it's best, being set free not only from an intolerable situation, but also from the old you that's been holding you back from growth.
My first advice: Listen Up!! That natal planet means something in your horoscope (by sign, house and aspects) and this retrograde cycle is a time to discover this meaning at a deeper level. The kinds of experiences that will bring you this insight are described by the nature of the planet performing the retrograde (see the thumbnail sketches on the Retrograde Zone page) and the house of your birthchart that it occupies.
Also, be prepared for a long, drawn out process. Retrograde cycles have their own sense of timing and unfolding, and will not be rushed. Impatience like this only seems to distract us from learning our lessons, hence make the cycle more difficult to get through. Planets are very big, insistent critters -- they take their time and so should you.
Approach a coming retrograde cycle with your eyes wide open. The sooner you grasp this message from your unconscious, the less force it will need to get your attention. You can save yourself a lot of grief by simply being aware.
Finally, a retrograde zone is not only active in that one zodiac sign. Due to the way aspects work, those same degrees are active in all 12 signs, giving you 12 times the chance to experience this "growth opportunity" of a lifetime.