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Practices to stay Grounded and Balanced in Autumn

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Practices to stay Grounded and Balanced in Autumn

Sally S Bruno

I used to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Every year like clock work, when the first hint that summer was ending and longer nights lay ahead, my internal rhythms would shift.  My enthusiasm for life would wane, my moods started to get darker and my energy would plummet.  I would slow down and feel heavy.  Though I loved the changing of the leaves and the crisp fall air, my physical, energetic and emotional heaviness kept me indoors, under a blanket most days. It was debilitating.

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In 2013, the year of the three-day blizzard, I decided to start a daily practice of being outside.  My goal was to go for long walks by the beach or in the forest.  In the beginning this goal seemed unattainable.  Not only did daily responsibilities loom, but my energy was so heavy and physically I felt weak. 

So in the beginning, sometimes it was just a walk a few houses down the block and back, or even settling for a few moments sitting on the steps outside.  Or if I really wasn’t feeling up for getting outside, I would even settle for a few moments sitting by a window allowing the sun to stream in through the panes, warming my face. 

Eventually, through daily practice and consistency, I was able to get outside daily, and go for walks on the regular.  To be sure I still felt sad on occasion, but overall my energy and mood were so greatly improved that I couldn’t imagine going back to my former ways.  By the time the blizzard rolled around, I was so hooked on my daily dose of fresh air, natural rhythms, and vitamin D, that I simply layered on as many warm clothes as I could (yes I looked like the kid from a Christmas Story) and marched down the banks of snow, sometimes sinking waist high, but reveling in the aliveness I felt and the connection to nature and childlike enthusiasm for the wonders I got to experience which had previously only been a dream. 

This practice of being in the elements each day and connecting to Nature and the natural rhythms within eventually brought me to the practice of Yoga and so many other Mindfulness and Wellness practices.  Today I lead a life of balance, celebrating my own internal rhythms and honoring their connection to the greater rhythms of Life and Nature which we are all a part of. 

The Autumnal Equinox marks the day the Sun crosses the celestial equator, which is an imaginary projection of the Earth’s equator into the atmosphere.  On the Autumnal Equinox, day and night are almost equal.  It also marks the day we move into the Zodiac sign of Libra, balanced scales.   It is very much a day of balance, energetically, seasonally and personally...  An opportunity to pause, take stock of your progress this year and gain clarity on what will sustain you through the Winter ahead.  The Autumnal equinox fell on Friday, September 22nd this year but the opportunity to connect, clarify and refine lasts through weeks ahead.[1]

In Ayurveda, the ancient mind-body health science that for many accompanies the practice of Yoga, Autumn is a time of transition from Pitta energy (hot, light, intense , moving) during the warmer days to Vata (cold, crisp, clear, dry, quick, moving) during the cooler days of Fall.  We are not quite at the slow stages that accompany Kapha energy (heavy, slow, steady, solid) during the Winter. During these cooler, darker, yet energetically moving months it is easy for Vata energy to get out of balance and to cause anxiety, depression, insomnia, brittle skin, and other symptoms of being off-balance. 

And yet the Autumn, is also a powerful time to set intentions and manifest your dreams.  During this time we attune to the natural rhythms and cycles of Mother Nature and allow her wisdom to guide us in our own journeys and transformations.  We prepare for a Season of turning inward, of introspection. It is a time to reflect on how our intentions of Spring and Summer have served us and blossomed, obstacles we may have encountered, loss and grief we have endured.  We allow the quick, clearing, cleansing Vata energy to help us wipe away the debris, let go of what we are ready to release and re-attune to our Truth as we refine or set new intentions and continue our journey.

There are many practices we can cultivate to help us balance our energies as we harvest the bounties we received, process and release the pains we have weathered so we can continue to call to us and nourish the energies that will sustain us through the dark and coolness of Winter.  To help keep your energies in balance and in alignment with the seasons and transitions try these following rituals.  A ritual is simply the creation of sacred space and sacred energy.  And energy, as we know, is everything.

1)   Take long walks outside. You will get the benefits of

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a.     Connecting to Nature. With the Earth beneath you, air above, animals and living plant life all around you, this immersion effortlessly attunes you to the energies and rhythms of nature which help you to keep your own emotions and biological cycles (think Circadian Rhythms, etc.) in balance.

b.     Absorb vitamin D from the Sun.  Vitamin D supports healthy immune, nervous and brain systems. It is also said to help prevent cancer, aid in insulin regulation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth.  While there are many supplements one can take, turning to the natural source of the Sun brings so many added benefits

c.      Invigorate your senses with the crisp, cool air and fresh scents of changing and falling leaves.  

d.     If you walk along running water (the ocean, a river etc.) , you get the added benefits of negative ions which enhance mood (improved serotonin uptake!), provide relief from bronchial asthma, allergies, migraines and all sorts of pain, and stimulate the reticuloendothelial system which boosts our immune system and our ability to ward off disease

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2)   Altars are physical manifestations of your spiritual beliefs and aspirations.  They important spaces that help us to cultivate gratitude, inspiration, even prayer and worship.  Whatever your intention or desired affect, you too can create your own an altar to welcome the bounties of your Fall Harvest. If you already have an altar at your home, the following suggestions can help you adapt your existing altar for the intentions of this Season.

a.     Start by placing items that reflect the changes in Season.  Pinecones, fallen feathers or leaves, anything that calls to you.  They can be items that you collect during your daily walks outside, retaining the active energies of your natural environment and recent memories. 

b.     Add incense or a candle to represent the Air element and call on the balancing of Vata or air energy in your home and life every time you light them. 

c.      If you don’t have them already, place pictures of loved ones and teachers, present or passed. Let them serve as guides and fill you with Love.

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3)   Cultivate a meditation and journaling practice specific to the Fall season.  Set up a cushion, blanket or other comfortable seat.   Place objects meaningful to you in front of you, or at the four Cardinal points (North, South, East and West).  Take a walk around your meditation seat, pausing at each point and reflecting upon each associated element, season and meaning:

a.     North: the Earth element, Winter, time of midnight, the new moon

b.     East: the Air element, Spring, sunrise and the waxing moon[2]

c.      South: the Fire element, Summer, noon and the full moon

d.     West: the Water element, Fall, dusk and the waning moon

Some lineages choose to circumambulate clockwise, while others follow the orbit of the earth and move counterclockwise.  Either way, begin at Northand pause at each point to reflect and absorb the energies they offer.  Sit down upon your cushion with your journal in front of you so you may write any significant realizations that come to you.

Sit up tall.  Begin with a natural breath, drawing your awareness to your breath as it moves through your body.  Yogis believe that whereyour awareness falls, your Prana or Life Force follows.  So allow your awareness to bathe your body with your breath, trusting what is revealed. 

Begin to settle your awareness at your heart center, Anahata Chakra, and feel yourself breathing from and into this space.  Try not to let your thinking mind tell you what you are feeling, instead simply breathe in and out of your heart and sense into your Truth. 

You can practice this heart sourcing breath with your hands comfortably folded in your lap, arms extended out to the side palms up, or arms extended up at a 45 degree angles, palms in.  The latter two techniques helps to energize and direct the breath and Prana and are useful for those new to meditation.

When you first begin your heart breathing, start with one minute of concentrated breath. Then slowly build to 5, 10, 20 even 60 minutes of fully connected heart breathing.  Use your journal to record any meaningful thoughts or realizations that come to you.  Let your Wisdom guide you as gain clarity as to what it is time to let go of, and what you should continue to cultivate or call to you anew. 

4)   Practice Yoga Postures to help deepen your energetic connection to the cycles of Nature and your own internal rhythms, and encourage balance and release. 

Practice Sun Salutations to physically and energetically connect you to the cyclical nature of life.  Allow each round to bring you into a deeper awareness of your breath, physical body and sensation.

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Tree Pose (Vrksasana) to cultivate balance and a deepening of your roots into the sustenance of Mother Earth.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold) to encourage a sense of release and fall fully into a state of introspection and reflection.

Pigeon (Kapotasana) to help open the hips, release stuck patterns and prepare for meditation.

For a full Autumnal Yoga Flow to help balance your energies, as well as in depth alignment cues and discussion of the physical, mental and spiritual benefit of each posture visit: sallysbruno.com

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5)   Eat warming foods.  Think soups, teas, and porridges.  Use plenty of invigorating spices, like cinnamon, clove, ginger and garlic.  Among my favorite Fall go tos are Turmeric Ginger Lemon tea, Butternut Squash Soup and Red Lentil Bisque. 

 

 

 

 

[1] Unless of course you are in the Southern Hemisphere, where this Day represents the Spring Equinox and the transition is reversed. 

[2] When the moon is in transit from Full to New.