Autumn Yoga for Balance and Focus
Ayurveda divides the year into seasons according to the three doshas, namely Pitta, Kapha and Vata. Each dosha–or substance believed to be present in a person’s body—has unique characteristics. Tailoring your daily routines and yoga practice to the season and prevailing energies can help to promote good health and a tranquil mind.
Understanding the Seasons and Doshas
Rather than segmenting the year into winter, spring, summer and fall, Ayurveda divides the year into three seasons: Kapha season, Pitta season and Vata season.
According to Ayurveda, the latter half of winter into spring is Kapha season. Composed of the elements of water and earth, Kapha qualities are cold, moist, heavy, dull, static, smooth, dense, oily and soft, and sweet, sour and salty in taste.
Next comes Pitta season. Pitta consists of the elements of fire and water. It is characterized as being oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy, spreading and liquid, and salty, sour and pungent in taste. The energy of pitta is strongest from late spring to early fall.
In contrast to the hot, sharp, oiliness of Pitta is the airy, spaciousness of Vata. Autumn and early winter are Vata season. Vata is characterized by the qualities of dryness, roughness, windiness, unpredictability, coolness, subtlety, and clarity. These qualities can leave you feeling agitated, restless and unsettled.
To reduce Vata and counteract its qualities, Ayurveda recommends adding practices that enhance the qualities of Pitta and Kapha into your daily routine and yoga practice. In other words, practices for bringing more moisture, warmth, calming energy into our daily routines.
Autumn Yoga Practice Guidelines
Vata is very easily aggravated by fast, mobile activities which can be depleting. To counteract this, autumn is a time to favor slow, mindful forms of yoga which are less draining. Slow vinyasa or gentle restorative practices are best suited to harmonizing Vata’s erratic energy.
Begin your yoga practice by warming up slowly. Move with intention and fluidity, focusing on neck rolls and joint rotations. Then, as you move through your practice, strive to hold each posture for a short amount of time (5 breaths or so). Aim to do multiple repetitions of each asana to get its full benefit.
Keep your breath deep and calm. Ujjayi (Victory breath) is an effective means to achieving this. It also has the benefit of being a warming breath. Conclude your practice with a balancing pranayama like Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing which has a steadying effect on Vata.
Finally, less is more! Vata types can exhaust themselves, so exercise at about fifty to seventy percent of your capacity, breathing through your nose the entire time.
Vata-Pacifying Yoga Poses
Create your own fall yoga sequence using these suggestions as a guide. Remember– even if you can only commit to five minutes a day, a regular, consistent yoga practice, is key to staying grounded and balanced during the cooler, dyer autumn.
Soothing Seated Poses
To increase calm and keep busy minds and bodies still, practice seated poses, such as Hero pose, Easy Cross-legged Seated, Thunderbold, and Lion pose.
Stabilizing Standing Poses
Balancing and standing poses help stabilize both body and mind, reducing anxiety and nervousness. Include poses that increase stability and strength, like Tree Pose, Mountain, Triangle and Warrior II. Focus on the foundation of the pose for stability, grounding through big toes, and the sides of the feet.
Grounding Forward Bends
Practice forward bends to quiet the mind, connect with the earth, and give immediate relief for excess Vata. Poses such as head to knee pose, standing forward bend, and seated forward bend are good for tight lower backs and stiff spines. In addition, try a 10-minute forward bend before bed time to calm your body and mind and reduce insomnia.
To balance the effect of forward bends, incorporate a few gentle backbends. Supine backbends, such as Cobra, Locust, and Bow pose have the added advantage of being grounding poses, too.
Twists to Support Digestion
Spinal twists, especially when done lying or seated, reduce Vata in the nervous system and aid digestion. Examples of these include Reclining Revolved Belly Twist , Half Lord of the Fishes and Twisted Chair Pose. To reduce constipation and gas, incorporate poses such as Child’s Pose and Cat-Cow which compress the pelvis.
Rest and Restore
Equally soothing are gentle inversions and restorative poses, such as Legs-up-the-wall or Mountain Brook pose. And don’t skip savasana! End your practice with a cozy, 20-minute Savasana or yoga nidra. To maximize relaxation and avoid becoming chilled, use an eye pillow and cover yourself with a warm blanket.
Designing your yoga practice to sync with the energy of the seasons will help to ensure good health, energy and mood throughout the year. To learn about Ayurvedic wisdom for staying healthy during the fall season, read my blog, “6 Ayurvedic Tips for Fall Health and Wellness.” Happy practicing!