As the seasons change so must our routines to be in line with nature. Our daily habits, diet and yoga practice all need to adapt to keep us in optimum health and to stay balanced while all around us change is afoot.
In autumn the temperature outside begins to drop, leaves start to die and turn into deep oranges, reds and russet colours. The air has a crispness to it and new vegetables are harvested. There is a definite change in the air and this change can make us unsettled and ungrounded.
Affect in Ayurveda
Ayurveda, the sister of yoga says there are three main types of energies (doshas), Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Most people have one or more doshas that are predominant but each season also has a dominant dosha. Autumn is a time where Vata dosha is prevailing. Vata, is composed of air and space element, it is irregular and it’s responsible for movement. It has the qualities of cold, light, rough, dry, and is changeable, which are all similar to the qualities of autumn. If we do not adapt at this time then this is reflected in our mental, physical and emotional health. Vata is responsible for nervous disorders as well as digestive disorders; as such we may feel nervous, anxious, erratic or overwhelmed, emotionally and mentally, and physiologically we are more prone to constipation, gas and bloating.
With a few changes to your routines you can combat all of this and transition smoothly into the new season with ease and comfort.
Firstly you can modify your yoga practice to be slow, warming and mindful. Stick to practices that focus on long breaths and move with a steady flow. Holding positions for a longer time is highly beneficial for vata as too much movement aggravates vata dosha so you can feel disconnected with a fast routine. It is movement without awareness that aggravates vata so if you move with awareness it’s fine. Hatha yoga focuses on mind, body and breath awareness combine this with warming and balancing pranayama practices and relaxing meditation to aide you through the change of season.
Fix a regular time for your practice, for meal times and try to stick to the same routine everyday, as this will also help. Limit the amount of activities you do in autumn, it’s a time to start looking inward and to quieten the busyness of the summer ready for the upcoming winter.
Vata reducing postures
The seat of vata resides in the colon and digestive system so you want to focus on positions that aid with digestion as vata can increase disorders such as constipation etc.
Yoga positions such as balancing postures are very good as well as grounding and surrendering asanas. Instead of fighting the transition try to succumb to it gracefully and with awareness. If you have had your eye on a meditation course for a while this is the perfect time to do it.
The following postures are all good for an autumn practice for the reasons outlined above.
We start with standing postures to increase heat in the body so the practice is more dynamic at the beginning and ends in a relaxing shavasana.
Start with a good balancing warmer, Tadasana, (mountain pose). Balancing postures aide with concentration and help to keep the mind focussed which is why they are excellent vata pacifying asanas.
Then move on to Uttanasana, a forward bend that helps with elimination and digestion.
Vrikasana (Tree) https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/tree-pose
and Garudasana (Eagle) are both beneficial balancing postures.
Seated positions are vata pacifying as they help to ground you to the earth and are quietening and surrendering.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Balasana, (Child’s Pose)
Prone positions are grounding and aid with digestion as they put pressure on the abdominal area.
Makarasana is a gentle and soothing asana that can be kept for a long time with ease and is immensely relaxing and vata pacifying.
Shalabasana, (Locust) is another good balancing posture as well as grounding.
Supta Matsyendrasana – a supine spinal twist is great for relaxing and calming.
Pawanmuktasana, (Wind-Relieving Pose) is good for helping with bloating and digestive disorders.
We end our practice with lying on our back, as our final asana is always Shavasana (Corpse Pose). Ideally we should stay in shavasana for a longer time during autumn, so 15 minutes or more would be great.
In autumn we recommend Nadi Shodan, alternate nostril breathing as this helps to keep our mind calm and balanced during the change of seasons.
Nadi Shodan is a simple practice, first start with your second finger on your forehead above your nose and rest your first finger on top of it, then close your left nostril with your third finger and inhale through the right, once you’ve completed a deep inhalation to a count of 8 or more close the right nostril with your thumb to exhale through the left, inhale through the left nostril then close the left and exhale through the right, this is one round. Continue by alternating between the two. The breath is always slow and the inhalation should be counted to 8 with an exhalation of 8, 12, or 16.
Yoga nidra is an excellent meditation and relaxation practice all year but is especially good in autumn when we may feel too skittish to sit down to meditate. In yoga nidra you lie down in shavasana and listen to a gentle guided relaxation, which will soothe your nerves and calm your way into a relaxing day. Yoga nidra CD’s are available upon request or you can download them online.
Drink warm fluids as this will help a sluggish digestion and avoid cold and icy drinks, which typically slow down digestion. Limit air travel at this time as this also increases vata dosha.
It’s beneficial to eat warming foods, swap your summer salads for warming soups with hearty vegetables like pumpkin, squash and other seasonal veg. Nature has a great way of providing you with exactly what you need and this is reflected in the foods that are harvested at this time. If you always eat what’s in season then you are going along with the natural order of life.
Foods that are lightly spiced with chilli such as curries are great for the autumn.
Whole grains such as rice, pasta and bread are all vata pacifying, as are all the autumn squashes.
It is especially important to massage yourself with oil at this time of year to help combat the dryness associated with vata and autumn.
Massaging with a warm, (not hot), sesame oil all over your body in the evening with long, gentle but firm strokes. Make sure you focus on all the openings in the body such as the nostrils, ears, belly button, lips etc as the cold seeps in through these areas during the day.
Have warm baths and indulge in steam rooms rather than saunas as we want to avoid dryness but moist and warm such as a steam is great.
Be careful to not do too much at this time, respect the season and your body and start to slow down, ensure plenty of time for rest and relaxation and swap fast cardio workouts for gentle, steady, static yoga postures so you transition through the seasons with ease and comfort.