Refine Your Fall Practice: Building Balance in Transitions
As the warmth & spontaneity of Summer concludes & flows into the cool nights & bright days of September, more than any other time of year I feel an invitation to attend to the cycles of nature. The energy of a full & rich harvest commencing the last cycle of growth, gives way to a more internal & reflective opportunity to rest & regenerate. Yet rather than following the guidance of the natural world to slow down & observe, we often receive the energy of Fall as a directive to channel our focus into new projects, activities & hurried routines.
Nearing Fall Equinox, light & dark come to their most balanced point, however we can easily feel the balance missing in our own bodies & states of being. Living in a beach community, the pace of life adapts but doesn’t necessarily decelerate. The rhythm of Summer is more unconstrained, but the structure provided by Fall maintains motivation & movement. To many (myself included), routine & regularity offer just another kind of happiness & freedom. I find a lot of joy in this transition. But in order to benefit from this shift (rather than burn out), we can can look to our yoga practice, pranayama, meditation & seasonal foods to cultivate balance.
Nourishing & warming foods with ginger & spices, slower yin yoga & restorative practices, soft heavy blankets & hot water bottles…. these a few of my favourite things. Always. But especially in Fall. We may feel an intuitive drawn to all things warming, nourishing & grounding this time of year. And this pull is no mystery when we look to Ayurveda, a sister-science to yoga which provides a framework to our own constitution & how it is influenced by our surrounding environment.
Ayurveda presents the theory that there are three doshas (physical & energetic compositions), which each of us contain to varying degrees. Vata is one of these three constitutions, embodied by the qualities of air & ether (space); dry, cool, light, rough, erratic or changeable. Through Vata’s association with the nervous system, when imbalanced this erratic energy can take the form of restlessness, tension & worry.
While studying at Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram in India in 2013, we received lectures on Ayurveda & its importance in a balance yoga practice. Even more insightful was the opportunity to do an Ayurvedic consultation with Dr. Harsh at Vardan Ayurved, a small family run Ayurvedic clinic next door to the Ashram (he was nothing like his name might imply & meeting Harsh & connecting with his wife Aru was a highlight of my trip). My consultation with Dr. Harsh revealed what I already estimated - Vata was certainly my dominant dosha.
In fact, it is believed that as a whole, Western culture has an excess of Vata energy. Ayurveda (like yoga) emerged in the context of ancient India, a background which couldn’t vary more from the modern West. While its a generalization, in many ways the Western “default mode” includes rushing, multitasking & prioritization of external awareness, as opposed to inner observation. Ayurveda encourages us to become increasingly sensitive to the inner-workings of our bodies & minds, recognizing how we can harness seasonal transitions for transformation.
According to Ayurveda, food this time of year should be served warm & most. Soups & stews will create more inner balance than crisp, cool salads. Heating spices are also a good idea if well tolerated by one’s own digestive fire. My general attitude to food is if its not spicy… what’s the point? Ginger, cinnamon & cardamon are well recommended so our seasonal cravings for Chai and, yes, pumpkin spice whatever (lattes, muffins, all of it), are well founded in this philosophy. A very nourishing food to eat in any seasonal transition as a cleanse or digestive remedy is kitchari (i’ll be posting my kitchari-inspired buddha bowl soon). Kitchari is the ultimate Indian comfort food, as well as being high protein & Vata balancing.
In our physical yoga practice, right now we need grounding & warming movement, yet at a slower pace to mirror the quiescent rhythm of the natural world. We also need rest, although we can surely come up with many reasons not to.
Our pranayama (breath techniques) will benefit from warming approaches like ujjayi & kapalabhati breath. Imagine your breathing as a warm, circulating current that can radiate heat from your core body outward into your limbs & peripheral awareness.
The anxious Vata mind can also be soothed by mindful, repetitive patterns of movement. Simple series of movements like cats & cows or more lengthy sequences like the sun salutation are design around the expansive quality of the inbreath & releasing aspect of the exhale. In the minds absorption into the conscious merging of breath & movement, there is a direct link to the present moment which can create a quieting impact on our thoughts & worries. Just mind that to subdue Vata, this movement is not rushed, but very downtempo & fluid in order to balance the changeability & fast-pace to which this dosha is prone.
A focus on grounding into your limbs or base & feeling a strong foundation in each shape or transition will also help to create stability & calm. In movement or meditation, draw awareness into the sensory experience of gravity rooting you, allowing the quality of heaviness to provide balance to the unsettled mind.
Like the Earth, seemingly beginning to conserve her energy deep below the surface, we also need to restore & create time to withdraw. Pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of yoga, describes the withdrawal or resting of the senses. Allowing this introspection in a still yin yoga practice or supported restorative practice is also well suited to this time of year. The energy of the yin (feminine, lunar, dark, still & internal) is growing stronger, so a yin practice of maintaining grounded stretches in meditative awareness for a lengthy period of 3-5 minutes nicely compliments this shift. Restorative yoga too allows regeneration & balance in the still surrender of effortless postures using many props for deep comfort.
When I studied Restorative Yoga with Judith Hanson Laster (an experience I will always be grateful for), she put forward the idea that we often perceive “busy” & “meaningful” as synonymous. We seem to uncritically accept the idea that to be efficient, productive & busy is the only way to create transformation. This narrative is deeply depleting, but that said I often get pulled into this script myself. To regain balance we must observe when & where it is lacking.
As Autumn demonstrates with grace & colour, it is beautiful to let things go. To shed the worn out & let go of what we have accumulated in our last cycle before proceeding into the next. To slow down, observe & self-nurture to maintain balance & wellbeing. Give ourselves permission to seek comfort & rest.