Yoga for the Autumnal Equinox
As Summer loosens its grip and autumn slowly enters, do you too feel a bit discombobulated? It isn’t just Mercury in retrograde to blame (which finally ends today); it’s the effects of the Autumn Equinox occurring today, September 22.
Equinox translates to “equal night” and marks the point in which the sun crosses the celestial equator. It’s a time when everywhere on earth experiences equal day and equal night, a balance of light and dark. It denotes a shift and as we enter further into autumn, we experience longer nights with prolonged darkness.
With autumn comes an innate sense of survival. Winter is often associated with death, as the leaves fall, animals hibernate, and food sources diminish. So, autumn presents a time to prep for the coming winter and reap what we have sown. Not only literally, but figuratively we can ponder over our personal yield (tangible and intangible) and plan appropriately for the future. It’s also a time when our energy is heightened from summer and going into holiday mode. It can feel like a whirlwind, but finding balance is imperative. Whether it’s just observing the changes around us or taking a deeper approach, we tend to feel a shift during this time that needs nurturing. Take time to acknowledge the changing of the seasons (with techniques highlighted below) and maybe you’ll notice a little more balance in your life.
Find a spot outside to relax and observe the transient autumn. Utilizing all of the senses, observe how the world around you feels. Start to inhale deeply through the nose and notice what you smell, feel the crispness in the air, see the vibrant foliage, hear the trees rustling as the leaves make their fall, and maybe taste the freshness from a local harvest. Exhale and let the sensations release, signifying the brevity of this time in the calendar and autumn’s experience. Appreciate this moment for what it is, as autumn will ravish our senses and quickly lead us into winter.
Autumn Equinox Yoga:
Since the key in equinoxes is balance between light and dark, yoga can help us achieve that same balance within ourselves. Practicing balancing poses, we will challenge the mind and body to find strength in stillness. With Yin/Yang yoga will we practice for the changing season, finding dark and light within our own movements. Yin yoga is a passive practice of long-held floor poses (deeply invigorating stretches) and on the flip, yang yoga is a more active asana practice (think vinyasa flow). Together they make the perfect combination of warm/cool and effort/surrender.
The symbolism with tree pose during autumn may feel cliché, but it is an approachable balance pose for all levels. Start in a neutral standing position, then begin engaging and shifting weight into the right leg. Slowly draw the left foot up and place the sole of that left foot onto either the inner right calf or the inner right thigh (the farther up, the more difficult). If you’re wobbling, press the sole of the left foot firmly into the standing leg (wherever it is) and press the standing leg back into the left foot. The push-pull effect will help you equalize and find stability. Next, find steadiness with your gaze and breathe. Stay for 10 deep breaths before repeating on the other side.
Cultivating a practice that fuses deep, slow postures (yin) with flowy faster movements (yang) will provide a sense of harmony between the two contrasting disciplines. Yin poses should be held for about 3-5 minutes and include poses that are grounded stretches requiring mental strength and stillness. The yang aspect of a vinyasa class creates heat and exerts more physical energy.
Try child’s pose for a restorative and calming yin pose. Bring the knees near outer edges of the mat, feet in towards each other and sit down on the heels. Bow the torso down between the thighs and rest the forehead on the ground. Arms can relax out long in front of or behind you. Let gravity take over and just surrender to the pose. Yin plays with comfort levels in holding stillness, so if you notice an urge to move around or racing thoughts, just go back to your breath. It may get uncomfortable and that’s expected, however if you experience pain then adjust accordingly. After 3-5 minutes slowly and mindfully rise out of the posture.
If you’ve taken a vinyasa class, then you’re no stranger to sun salutations. Sun salutations build strength and flexibility while honoring the sun. Even though our nights are getting cooler and longer during autumn, the sun will still rise tomorrow providing light and warmth. This abridged version of sun salutation highlights the 3 main poses: plank, updog, downdog. Get creative and expressive through your transitions from one pose to the next. Linger in the poses that need more attention and make your movements mean something. Remember your breath-- deep inhale through the nose and deep exhale through the nose. Repeat your sun salutation until you feel an opening, warmth, and release.
Autumn equinox is the perfect time to find balance, respecting the imminent dark while revering the light. It’s harvest season after all, so reflect on what you’ve worked for thus far, and acknowledge your accomplishments. Energy flow during autumn retreats back into the earth, so likewise, find self-reflection with an inward journey. Without judgement, explore where you are right now in life-- strengths and successes, weaknesses and failures, and the in-between parts. Don’t spend time dwelling-- just recognize, keep moving, and understand that without the dark we cannot comprehend the light.