Autumn reflections: a time of change

Have you felt that little internal tug recently, like a child pulling on your coat sleeve, as autumn sneaks up on us, to slow down or be a little more solitary?  Or perhaps you feel an unexplainable urge to clear out clutter, bravely venturing into dark and dusty cupboards and forgotten corners of the house!

As autumn approaches, we look forward to the vibrant colours of fire and warmth that the leaves bring, the crispness of the air and the fresh clarity of the light.  When living in the Middle East, autumn was the season that I missed the most for those very reasons.  It was my first autumn back that I rediscovered my love and appreciation of this beautiful and fleeting season, not only for its vibrancy of colour but the feeling of introspection that it inspired.

Autumn is a time of transformation, of paring back and letting go what is no longer of value.  We can see this all around us in nature in the autumnal colours and the quality of air and changing light. But it is also a time of taking in the crisp invigorating air of our surroundings, which brings a greater clarity to our thoughts and ideas.

As with any kind of transition, this shift can sometimes feel uncomfortable.  Understandably, we’d like the long summer nights and the enlivening feeling of warmth on our skin to continue.  We may not be ready to pack away our summer clothes or banish the camping equipment to the garage or attic for yet another year!  But just as nature does, it is important that we change with seasons too.

In nature, the survival of trees during the cold winter months followed by their transformation in the Spring is only possible through this sloughing and condensing process: Leaves are dropped and precious sap, that nourished leaves during the spring and summer, is withdrawn to it’s roots to sustain the strength, and continued growth, of the tree.

Just as the falling leaves expose more of a tree, emotions that may have been covered over or silenced during the summer months are likely to be more strongly felt, asking to be acknowledged.  It’s so much harder to ignore dust that has settled when light from a window is shining on it, revealing every little particle!

In Chinese Medicine “falling leaves are a reflection of sighs of grief and melancholy that autumn brings when all dies back to the ground”.  If we follow this impulse to withdraw, then we give ourselves time to process our losses, which may prevent depression from settling in during the dark winter months.

It is important to change with the seasons by adapting our diet and yoga practice too.  Here are some ways in which we can do that:

1. Autumn inspiration

It is the perfect time to draw inspiration and energy from our surroundings as we practice yoga. Breathing exercises combined with movement teach us to expand our lungs more fully, which invigorates the body and mind.

2. Refining our practice

The element that resonates with Autumn is metal, which embodies the quality of refinement.  We can bring more refinement to our yoga practice by focusing not only on the outer shape or frame of the asana, but on our inner selves, such as the breath as it moves around the body, the sensation in our spine and muscles, the movement of the diaphragm, or the feeling of gravity pulling the lower body down. 

3. There can be no expansion without contraction

As nature begins a process of gathering in it’s energies, so too can we encourage this feeling of consolidation when we practice yoga, by bringing our awareness back into our center and the lower body as we exhale.  Some postures immediately have this internalising effect, such as Tadasana, Tree pose, Child’s pose, or forward bends.

4. Stillness within movement

As we move into a quieter, more ‘yin’ time of year, nurturing softness and relaxation within effort, and mental stillness within movement, can be deeply restorative and cultivate a feeling of wellness and peace of mind.

Better stop short than fill to the brim,

Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon be blunt.

Yield and overcome;

Bend and be straight;

Empty and be full.

Daodejing, 4th century BCE

5. Tricky transitions

I overhead someone saying the other day that ‘somehow the ‘in-betweens’ are more difficult, as you know what to expect during summer and winter’.  Change can be unsettling and it sometimes feels like the ground is literally shifting beneath us….It’s no wonder that we may feel unsteady, anxious or want to hold on to the familiar. 

Steadying and strengthening Warrior postures or Tree pose can provide a welcome calming, empowering and settling influence - just what we need during periods of change or uncertainty.  While practicing, focus on drawing your attention and energy to your roots, which will help you feel supported during those uncertain transitions.

6. Being present

Transitions require that we keep in the present moment and connect with our inner selves, just as moving into a challenging yoga balance calls for us to be more attentive, trusting, and sometimes brave.  If we can find a way through the inevitable resistance, we’re brought closer to our deeper feelings and vulnerabilities, the recognition of which can bring greater understanding, strength or release.

7. Hearty is best! ... Eating for the autumn season

In Chinese Medicine, foods that embody the deepening and internalising qualities of Autumn include potatoes, parsnips, turnips, cauliflower, carrots, onion and ginger…the heartier the better, so don’t waste any time, get them root vegies roasting! Citrus fruits are great too for their cleansing properties and vitamin C boost as we move closer to winter.