Autumn Turns to Winter From the end of October to mid-December in the Northern Hemisphere From the end of April to mid-June in the Southern Hemisphere
Over the next few weeks the dark will be expanding, until the waning cycle of the sun will reach its fullness at the Winter Solstice, at which point it will end and we will welcome back the return of the light. Our yoga practice offers us many ways of lifting our spirits and lightening up the dark days of autumn and winter.
In many traditions this point where we enter the darkest phase of the year, is seen as a new beginning rather than an ending. We pass through the darkness only to be reborn into the light at the Winter Solstice. You and I, before being born into the light of the world, began our lives in the darkness of our mother’s womb. An oak tree started out as an acorn buried in the darkness of the soil. Each new day begins and ends in darkness at sunrise and sunset. Every month, before the new moon is reborn into the night sky, there is a period of darkness, when the moon is not yet visible. Similarly, as autumn turns to winter we are entering the darkest phase of the year, until the Sun is reborn at the Winter Solstice in December. Every ending is a new beginning.
We Light a Candle in the Darkness
Our challenge during the autumn-winter period is on the one hand to embrace the darkness and on the other to bring light in to the darkness. We recognise how darkness offers us rest, regeneration, and renewal during the autumn-winter months. At the same time, it’s important to lighten up dark days by conjuring up healing images of light.
In Classical Yoga the divine spark within is called the Atman, and is said to be like a flame, or a continuously burning pilot-light that has been ignited in the heart-space. As Nature (prakriti) enters her decaying, composting phase, we can counterbalance the dark, heavy (tamas) quality of the season by visualising sattvic images of light and luminescence. We light a candle in the darkness, drawing our awareness inwards to contemplate that which is eternal and unchanging.
The autumn-winter period is the perfect time to draw inwards and reconnect with your inner light. In this way we uncover an illuminating presence that will sustain us through the highs and lows of a life constantly in flux. This is a lamplight that burns steady, in a place where no wind blows.
Tree Wisdom Autumn to Winter
As autumn turns to winter the prettiness of autumn leaves changes to the brown, soggy mess of decomposing leaves. Mindfulness encourages us to turn towards and embrace all aspects of our experience non-judgementally. When you are out and about during this season take time to notice how trees manifest both the beauty of the season and the process of decomposition that is occurring. Mindfully observe what feelings arise in you in response to both the beautiful and the decaying. Is it possible to find richness in both aspects of the season? Approach this mindfulness exercise with an open mind and curiosity. Use all your five senses to appreciate the season in its fullness.
Whenever possible I prefer to walk and leave the car at home. One of my well trodden routes takes me through a churchyard where an ancient yew tree grows. The tree’s branches curve down to the ground and then grow back up again in a u-bend, which creates a house-like space around the bough of the tree. Yew trees are often to be found in churchyards and it is believed that the trees marked sacred sites where people gathered to worship before the churches were even built. In the name of research for my book, I persuaded my husband to take a midnight walk with me to visit my favourite yew tree under the light of the full moon. It was that starry, moonlit walk through the churchyard that inspired me to write the Meditation Upon a Yew Tree prose poem, that is included in the Autumn to Winter chapter of Yoga Through the Year.
Autumn to Winter Meditation Questions
The autumn-winter period is a time of drawing inwards, resting, and recuperating.
How will I go about nurturing and nourishing myself over the winter?
Which yoga practices will energise me and help to banish the winter blues?
Which activities nourish me, and which activities deplete me? How can I increase the nourishing activities and reduce the depleting ones?
A full set of autumn to winter meditation questions can be found in the Yoga Through the Year book.
Yoga Through the Year Book
In the Autumn to Winter chapter of the book Yoga Through the Year you will also find:
An Autumn to Winter Yoga Practice
Spring Flowering Bulb Visualisation
The Surrounding a Difficulty with Love Mediation
Ideas for Trees and Creativity during autumn to winter
Yoga philosophy and inspiration for the season...and more...
Autumn to Winter Yoga Practice
Below is an aide memoire for the Autumn to Winter Yoga Practice. Full instructions for the practice can be found in The Yoga Through the Year book. The main theme of this practice is to bring light into the darkness and brighten up the dark days of autumn and winter. Sun imagery is used to lift the mood and shake off seasonal blues.
The practice honours the autumn-winter urge to hibernate by including poses that draw the awareness inwards, poses such as: Standing Twist, forward bends and Child’s Pose. To avoid the autumn-winter slump we include backbends to open the chest. As a nod to Halloween we choose the scary Lion Pose which is reminiscent of a church gargoyle that scares away evil spirits.
This practice is designed to be used during late autumn to early winter, but it’s fine to use it any time of year. The practice has a calming, soothing effect. It is gently energising and boosts the mood, encouraging a sunny outlook.