Yoga and the Seasons
22 August 2020
I am most definitely a warm weather and sun loving person. I notice straight away that my mood changes when the sun comes out after a long spell of cloud and gloom. I’m aware of my complete lack of motivation to do ANYTHING on miserable days. Like many people, I used to spend the colder, gloomier part of the year, wishing my life away to the sunnier part of the year. However, yoga helped me to accept the seasons as they are. It played a part in creating an understanding that we are nature and we need to work with the cyclical energy within us to keep us in balance, in the same way that we see our natural surroundings following a cyclical pattern.s
When we practice yoga, we are not just building strength and creating flexibility with the poses, we are also moving energy around the body. We are made of energy as is the world around us. There are many different cycles of energy; the seasonal cycle, the moon cycle, the daily cycle. At different points in these energetic cycles, the strength and direction of the energy changes. We are an integral part of nature - something many of us don’t think about. We are made up of the same elements as the natural world around us - earth, water, fire, air and ether (space). In fact this forms the basis of Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga.
The Energy of Yoga
Yoga is about connecting to our true self - our natural self. People used to follow the seasons out of necessity - they used to gather food when there was an abundance; shelter quietly when the trees and the ground were bare, resting before coming out of the stillness when the first signs of Spring appeared. However, now we have supermarkets, electricity, central heating which may make us feel superficially more comfortable and secure year round, but they have caused us to lose touch with the natural cycles.
When I teach, many of my classes are themed. Sometimes, those themes are around classical yoga concepts, sometimes there is a focus on a particular area of the body, but often there is an emphasis on the energy at that particular time of the year. I try to build an awareness of where we are in the year and how we can use different yoga practices to align our energy to the world around us. The energy within us is also different depending on the time of day and whether the moon is waxing and waning.
The Energy of the Seasons
The changes in energy as we move through the wheel of the year can be felt by anyone. Even if you think you feel the same at all times of the year, in all probability, you just aren’t consciously aware of the different sensations that are triggered at the change of the seasons. We are constantly being driven to do something and the way many of us live today doesn’t allow a pause to notice how we truly feel. This is where yoga comes in. Even if you only attend one class a week, it is still an opportunity to pause and reflect on what is going with you right at that moment.
A time of rebirth, when everything comes alive. Many people will feel a lift in their spirits when there is a slight warming in the air and the first shoots appear in the earth and the hint of buds in the trees. If you listen, you can hear the birds singing as they start to feel the change around them. This change is present even in cities and built up areas as there is a change in the energy, not just what is perceived by our senses. In terms of our yoga practice, it is a time for working with lifting our energy. Really thinking about breathing fully and deeply. About creating space in the body; no longer needing to be curled inwards to conserve heat and warmth. It is also a time for setting intentions and beginning to manifest change in our lives. This is the time for change, rather than on January 1st. Now we have the energy and drive and any changes begun now are more likely to be long lasting.
The peak of energy in the year. A time of warmth and exuberance. This a time to work with the powerhouse of the body around the area of the navel. To celebrate life and the energy within. This can be a time for working more through the upper body. However, as with any time of the year, we must keep balance - so while working with the fire element at the centre of the body and working with the natural lift and space that can occur at this time of year, also, bringing in the water element, by working through the hips and keeping ourselves grounded through the earth element by maintaining an awareness of our foundations throughout our practice.
A time of gratitude for what has happened during the more active time of the year. Traditionally a time of harvest and celebration for all that we’ve gained. Also a time to let go of what no longer serves us so we can draw our energy inwards without clinging to any grudges and regrets from the past year.
At this time of year, my classes have an emphasis on acceptance and letting go. Beginning to slow down, releasing what we don’t need. Settling and finding more time for stillness. As with the transition from Winter to Spring, the transition from Summer to Autumn can be tough. The energy is changing direction. At this time of year, we transition from the Yang time of year to the Yin. We go from upward moving energy to downward and this can leave us feeling a little unsettled. It is important to be sensitive to these feelings and being aware of what you feel you need during these transitions.
A time for hibernating! This is time for giving the body space and time to rest and after having the mental clear out during Autumn, allowing space and time for ideas to bubble up to the conscious mind. This time can be used for planning what we feel we need to achieve once the ‘doing’ time of year comes round again but not getting caught up in the detail that comes from engaging the conscious mind - allowing the subconscious mind to lead the way so you can naturally discover the next step on your life journey.
This is the time to incorporate stillness and meditation into a yoga practice. This doesn’t mean that you have to sit still in silent meditation without doing a physical practice. It’s just about not striving to achieve. It’s not a time to try to master that challenging pose. A physical practice at this time of year can be about allowing stillness to be incorporated into the practice, such as in a Yin class or it can be about using it to find a moving meditation, such as in a mindful Vinyasa practice but noticing if your energy begins to wane and respecting that. Pausing - resting - allowing time for being still.
A Personal Practice
The above are just guidelines. There is no 'you must do this' or 'you must do that'. We are all unique and lead unique lives. What you need at a particular time, will be different from what someone else needs at that particular time. We all need balance - summer doesn’t mean you need to be doing endless rounds of energetic sun salutations. You may be having a super busy summer and what you need is rest and some quiet time - maybe a peaceful yin practice to allow yourself some time out and restore your levels of energy. Equally, although winter is a time of quiet stillness, that doesn’t mean we want to feel a lack of motivation to live our lives. Many people are affected by the long hours of darkness, so maybe you need to work on lifting energy a little so you don’t feel listless and withdrawn. I hope I have encouraged you to increase your awareness of our place in nature and an awareness of the energy guiding us through the year. This awareness can enable each person to really understand what they need at any given time and the confidence to act upon it.