I find autumn can be a difficult time of year in the practice calendar. At the change of the season, the body’s urge for hibernation is strong, the soft tissues tighten with the cold and bugs are in the air. Still over the years, I have come up with some good ways to honour the seasonal shift without becoming a total squirrel and hiding away with cheeks full of nuts till the next season.
The body often asks for a little more sleep at this time of year and if there is any way in your busy life to listen, then see if you can get to bed without devices a little earlier or sleep in a tiny bit later. Even 15 minutes of extra sleep can feel like a decadent elixir at this time. You often find once winter is in full swing this is less important.
In ayurveda autumn is viewed as the season of vata (air in our constitution) suggesting the cool, dry, air we often experience outside, is the quality of the body as well. Massaging the body with a focus on the joints using warming oils like sesame is great at this time of year. Also, putting some oil in a bath, so the skin absorbs it, is wonderful. You can also eat more oil rich foods in your diet.
Listen to your tiredness
Rest is most important at this time of year. Remember sutra 1.22 in which Patanjali suggests meditation practices can be mild, medium and intense. In the same way our āsana practices should honour the seasons and might err on the side of mild to medium during this time.
Gentle openers before practice
I have felt the great benefits of openers pre bigger practices at all times of year, but never more than in autumn. I often do some combination of pigeon or agni stambhasana (firelogs) for my glutes, lunge or virasana variations for my hip flexors, parighasana variations for side body length and roll on a dharma wheel. I also use physio balls to find the bits stretching can’t.
Building internal heat or having a good heater
Practising in a cold space is bad for us, so make sure you are warmed by your own internal heat of ujjayi breath (which is very warming) combined potently with dynamism or long holds in āsana whilst working stability to build internal heat. Where possible keep your space warm enough and/or start in layers.
I find autumn a great time for cultivating brahmacharya (in this instance – conserving vital energy) through fewer social engagements, meaning less frittering of valuable energy. I prefer walks and more time nesting. When socialising, I try to make good choices about how my energies are best spent. Much as we are all still celebrating our post lockdown liberties, there can be something very potent about finding a few extra quiet moments for yourself. Often this is when reflections on the year past and the year just around the corner come to mind.
Shedding our dead leaves
Autumn is also a time of tramping through dead leaves. Decay never looks as golden as it does in autumn. The dropping foliage dies only to become compost for new life. I often think our new year’s resolutions are born out of considerations of what we too need to shed; thoughts about what doesn’t serve us any more. If we can give up some unhealthy patterns, we create a fertile ground for the seeds of intention we plant at New Year.
Mindfulness, attentiveness and being observant
Autumn is one of the most beautiful seasons and it is so easy to miss nature’s show when we are wrapped up in our busy lives. I am going to close by sharing a poem by a wonderful Scottish writer called Kathleen Jamie about the leaves in Edinburgh and how we should not miss their beauty as they whistle through the city reminding us of nature’s majesty.
~ Kathleen Jamie
O whence the leaves
scuttering down Easter Road,
sycamore and rowan
desperate as refugees,
crowding against the wheels of street-side dumpsters
– common leaves
with two-three crisp packets, like gaudy imposters
fleeing by outside the corner-shop
convenient for milk and pornography
see the leaves hurry, Shy but Dirty –
past the Chinese nail-bar,
Mr Greg’s Tatoos –
they’re here, look:
blown into your stair
with the pizza delivery leaflets…
O whither the leaves?