The winds (and rains!) of change are rife, and with that, storms of plenty. Farewell, dear summer, and now Autumn beats at the door bearing golden gifts!
Ayurveda, the Indian science of life, refers to Autumn as the season of the Vata dosha which is governed by the elements of wind and “ether” (that which is indescribable), and if aggravated, displays a number of symptoms and side effects.
Getting to know Vata
Physically, the colder weather may make our skin feel drier than usual (lipbalm festival), and perhaps the chill bites at our fingers and toes and makes our joints tighter and more stiff. The rhythm of digestion might also be upset, leading to bloating and constipation (to refer back to the element of air is too easy, right?).
Vata is the energy of movement and it acts primarily through the nervous system through which it flows like an electric current. Consequentially, Vata keeps the life energy (or “prana”) mobile and maintains everything in the body chugging along nicely, thank you very much. Circulation, blinking, winking, beating and elimination, it´s a pretty spectacular feat. Vata is also at the source of our creative drive, so those moments we´re feeling connected, buzzing with ideas, productive and excited, we can tip our hats to this dosha. However, if Vata veers out of balance, it´s often behind erratic, nervous, anxious and frenzied behavior.
Just like a walk on a gusty day, we might feel swept up in something, blown around or at the mercy of changeable winds. Perhaps it´s difficult to focus, instead our energy is scattered and the accumulation of “things to do” is overwhelming, making us anxious, perhaps even affecting our sleep with bouts of insomnia. Moving a lot, worrying a lot, being unable to find peace but a lot to complain about – it´s an exhausting consequence.
So what to do if Vata is disturbed?
As you´d expect, to counter balance being airbourne, coming back down to earth is a good way to go. This might be as simple as feeling the earth beneath you and getting your feet (bare, if warm enough!) to make contact with the floor (indoors counts too!).
One of the best ways to get centred, fast, is through the breath. Simply “watching” your breath can work wonders. It forces us into the present moment. At this time of year i can´t resist upping my Ujjai pranayama practice. Often referred to as the “victorious breath” or “the one that sounds like Darth Vader”, it´s an audible breathing technique conducted with a gentle compression to the back of the throat. As if you´re sipping air, as smooth as silk, through a straw at the back of your throat. It´s a brilliant heating breath and useful when we need to get warmed up, fast, which is extra important during cold weather, protecting the joints and muscles from injury.
Balancing Vata through asana
In terms of asana practice, each pose “family” (e.g. standing poses, inversions, backbends etc) have general benefits for the body as a whole, however some poses within each asana family might be better to counter balance disharmony of the dosha than others. That said, each person is unique and what works for one, might not do anything for the other.
One of my favourite books on this subject is Dr David Frawley´s Yoga for your Type: An Ayurvedic Approach to Your Asana Practice. He refers to a common analogy for the yoga sequence is a herbal formula: a number of singular herbs for various purposes amalgamate to create an overall effect, as opposed to being used in isolation.
As oppose to the abrupt, sudden shifts or changes in our environment, finding a fluidity to the physical practice can be highly beneficial. The classes this week sought to oil and rotate the joints, with a long and steady warm up, much like creating a small bonfire in the pit of the belly, and adding to it, little by little. Standing warrior postures combined with long holds in hero pose, pigeon variations and forward folds paved the way for a longer Savasana than normal (recommended at least 20 minutes if you can folks!). Pigeon pose is a great one for getting down to the nitty gritty of things, as we work into the deep-rooted emotions held in the hips. Coupled with Camel pose after a backbending sequence, it can be quite the combo, encouraging us to be aware of changes and shifts as we literally turn our worlds upside down.
Vata, transformation & evolution
Change in life is a certainty, and dealing with these shifts on and off the mat may make us “lose our footing” or feel insecure and unstable, but it need not be that way. It might feel difficult to take, but if we meet change with resistance and rigidness, it´s likely to be more challenging and confrontational, than if we soften, assess and adapt.
Focusing on one thing at a time and being in the present moment will help us adjust less painfully, no matter what kind of storm we´re faced with. Embrace it, transform and let that Vata wind propel you forward!
Should you feel the urge to indulge in a little Autumn vision board, here´s one i made earlier via Pinterest.
Oh and here´s a Spotify playlist for your ears whilst you wrap yourself in wooly knits and sip on some warming cocoa.
Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley – Pyramid Song
Ali Farka Toure And Toumani Diabate – Debe
Os Mutantes – Baby
Taken By Trees – To Lose Someone
Neil Young – Harvest Moon
Nitin Sawhney – Sunset
Jamie Woon – Night Air
James Yuill – This Sweet Love
Gold Panda – Like Totally
Simon & Garfunkel – Leaves That Are Green
Scott Matthews – Eyes Wider Than Before
The xx – Angels
Frankie Rose – Pair Of Wings
Patrick O’Hearn – So Flows The Current
Tom Brosseau – True to You
Cat Stevens – The Wind
Billie Holiday – Autumn In New York
Fleetwood Mac – Albatross
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Child
Karsh Kale – Easy
Lianne La Havas – No Room For Doubt – feat. Willy Mason
Little Dragon – Twice
Nina Simone – Who Knows Where The Time Goes
Labi Siffre – Seasons Come, Seasons Go