Shifting Your Practice for Fall or Vata Season
October 1, 2018
Here in Texas, we know that the summer extends longer and the winter is but a flash. However, there is no denying that change is in the air – quite literally! We are just beyond the Fall Equinox, and you can indeed feel the shift of energies as the heat and “fire” of the summer dissipates with the cooler winds. We are steadily descending along the shorter days of fall into the darker months of winter.
In yogic and Ayurvedic philosophy, autumn is the season of the vata dosha. Vata is the subtle energy force that governs movement. The word vata is Sanskrit or “wind”, and literally means, “that which moves things.”
Vata, as a subtle energy, exemplifies the qualities of: dry, light, cool, rough, and mobile. Physically we feel this in our surroundings as autumn brings an abundance of blustery winds, cooler temperatures, and drier air. We see it in nature as the leaves, the trees, the grasses start to dry out, become brittle, and blow around.
Our lifestyle also tends to shift in vata season, and can bring excessive stress. Back to school changes and fragmented schedules, as well as travelling and entertaining that lead right up to the holiday frenzy, can put us in a place of over-stimulation and exhaustion. Our nervous system becomes high on anxiety!
We know that stepping onto our yoga mat can help us become grounded and balanced. In a season of vata – a season of shift and change – getting our yoga practice into a regular, habitual routine is especially key. Having this regular routine can help us find stability and keep us from getting blown out of balance.
It can also be very helpful to shift our practice down to a slower pace to help combat the effects of excess vata. Try adding a Deep Stretch or Beginners class to your regular routine. Deep Stretch is very nourishing and grounding as you hold postures for longer with less dynamic movement.
Beginner’s classes aren’t necessarily easier classes –they are just slower! Slowing down the pace and focusing on stability and security in each posture can be highly effective in pacifying vata tendencies …and calming our nervous system!
If you do come into your regular vinyasa class, give yourself permission to NOT do every variation offered in that class. You might take out those extra movements (leg lifts, chaturangas), to lessen the dynamic-ness and instead focus on increasing the steadiness.
If the instructor says, “one more time” and you are feeling taxed, allow yourself to find child pose instead. Your practice – during this season especially – should be more strengthening, not draining. Try not to over extend or deplete yourself on the mat.
If your mind is still scattered, worrisome, or anxious as you practice, give yourself something to concentrate on. Try using a mantra, which is a string of words riding on your breath. You can use mantras as a mindfulness practice anytime your nervous system becomes over-loaded.
A good mantra to pacify the excess vata of fall is: “I am steady” or “I am safe”. Mindfully repeat the phrase as you inhale and exhale and move on your mat; or use it as you sit in traffic or in the carpool lane, or stand in line at the mall.
Here’s also a breathing technique that you can try on your own:
Sama Vritti pranayama, which means “equal fluctuations of the breath”, is a practice of mindfully breathing in and out at the same pace. Balancing out your inhalations and exhalations helps to create a sense of equanimity and calmness.
Find a comfortable sitting position such that your spine can be upright. You can sit on a block, a cushion, or a chair. Lightly rest your hands on your thighs.
Spend a few moments watching your natural breath. Observe natural inhalation, exhalation and organic pauses between each breath, then begin mindful breathing practice.
- Begin with an exhale for the count of four
- Hold on to the exhale for the count of four
- Inhaling for the count of four
- Hold on to inhale for a count of four
After a few rounds you could take the count up to 6, or if you are struggling with the breath simply lower it to 2 or 3. Find a pace that feels comfortable. Try to cultivate the same quality of breath at the beginning, middle and end of the count.
Sama Vritti can also be practiced without holding the breath, just equalize the inhalation and exhalation. It is fine to drop breath retention in this practice if they are uncomfortable or if you are pregnant or have high or low blood pressure.
Stay grounded and enjoy the transitions for the fall season with Uptown Yoga!
Jenn Usherr earned her 500 hour certification specializing in Ayurveda and is part of the Uptown Yoga Teacher Training faculty. Study with her in our next session starting Jan. 2019.