Finding Balance at the Equinox
In the Northern Hemisphere the Autumn Equinox falls on Monday 23rd September this year. It is the perfect time to explore balance in your Yoga practice. And Yoga is the perfect way to bring balance to body and mind.
At the Autumn Equinox night and day are balanced, before we tip into the darkest phase of the year. The dark will continue to expand until the Sun is reborn at the Winter Solstice in December when the light phase of the year begins anew. “Equinox” is derived from the Latin and means “equal night”. At both equinoxes the Earth is perfectly balanced, with its North and South Poles neither tilted towards nor away from the Sun, making day and night equal all over the world.
We create balance in our lives by being clear about what and who are important to us. This enables us to defend our energy from being hijacked by things that are trivial and don’t really matter to us. This clarity gives us the confidence to say “yes!” to the things that we value, and to be comfortable saying “no!” to that which is depleting and takes us away from the life we want to live.
When our life is out of balance we feel cut off from the flow of life. We don’t feel at home in our own skin. We are somewhere else, not in the present. We feel time pressured; unable to find time for doing the things that we love, the things that nourish us and bring us back to a balanced state.
When our life is in balance, we feel connected; carried by the flow of life; on the right track; happy, optimistic, generous, and tolerant of others. When balance is present in our life, there is enough time; things get done with ease; there is enough love, and we feel held by the web of life.
At the Autumn Equinox day and night are equal. It also corresponds with the date that the Sun enters the sign of Libra- the scales of balance. Here are some meditation questions that explore balance and are designed to be used around the time of the Autumn Equinox.
For a full set of Autumn Equinox Meditation Questions please see the Autumn Equinox chapter of my Yoga Through the Year book. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere go to the Spring Equinox chapter, or visit my Spring Equinox Page on this website.
Tree Wisdom in Autumn
"The tree embodies all of yoga's teachings, and so trees make a wonderful guru...Where tree meets sky is the spaciousness of yoga. Where tree connects with earth is the groundedness of yoga. Where tree stands in space is the peaceful centredness of yoga. The tree stands at the centre of its own circle, and daily life rotates around it. Even within the frantic rush of city life we can always find a moment of peace when we rest our gaze upon a tree."
In autumn nature responds to diminishing hours of daylight by gradually withdrawing into dormancy; leaves fall from the trees, vegetation dies back, and some animals prepare to hibernate. We too can honour our connection to nature and respond with wisdom to the changing season by changing our focus from activity and outward action to contemplation and inner reflection. During the autumn and winter months our focus is on the inner journey. The more meditative side of yoga allows us to let go of mental clutter and creates a sense of blue-sky spaciousness.
The tree in autumn can provide the inspiration for our autumn yoga practice. The tree knows that to survive the dark, cold winter months it must conserve energy. We can imitate the wisdom of the tree by conserving energy over the coming autumn and winter months and letting go of unnecessary baggage. This process of letting go enables us to create a sense of physical and mental spaciousness in our lives. Letting go is about prioritising what’s important to us and clearing a space, both physical and psychic, to nurture and nourish the things that do matter to us.
Here are two ideas of how to integrate tree wisdom into your autumn yoga practice:
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Stand tall, feet hip width apart; hands in Prayer Position (Namaste). Picture a tree in all its autumn splendour. Imagine that like a tree you have roots going from the soles of your feet way down into the earth. Then bring the sole of your right foot to rest on your inner left thigh, rotating your right knee out to the side. Either keep your hands at the heart or take your arms above the head, hands in prayer position. Fix your gaze on a point that is not moving. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on the other side. If you have balance problems, instead of bringing the foot onto the thigh, just rest the sole of the foot on the opposite inside ankle or be near a wall for support.
Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Sit tall, legs outstretched (bend the knees to ease the pose). Inhale and raise both arms. Exhale and fold forward over the legs. Inhale and return to starting position. Repeat 6 times. Then stay in the pose for a few breaths, and as you do so ask yourself this question:
In autumn, as the trees let go of their leaves, what do I wish to let go of?
The science behind why leaves fall from the trees in autumn is fascinating. How much do you know about this phenomenon? Use the resources available to you, either online, books, knowledgeable friend etc. to find out more. Once you have done this, observe whether your new-found knowledge adds or detract from your enjoyment and appreciation of trees. Share your knowledge with friends.
You can find more "Trees and Creativity during Autumn" ideas in my book Yoga Through the Year.
Announcement Coming soon: A Celtic Tree Wisdom page on this website.
Seasonal Yoga in Autumn
The dark half of the year between the summer solstice and the winter solstice can be compared to the exhalation. It’s relaxing, regenerating, renewing and supports letting go. It is associated with moon, night, waning, drawing inward, yielding, incubation, hibernation, reflection, contemplation, rest, and regeneration. The dark half of the year takes us from the height of summer into the depths of winter. During this time, the sun’s energy is waning, the dark is expanding, and the days are getting shorter and nights longer. We move from summer to autumn and into winter. As autumn and winter progress, nature starts to gradually die back, and we enter a period of dormancy and decay. Broadly speaking, the dark half of the year favour’s an inward focus, with an emphasis on contemplation and rest. We use the watery energy of the season to incubate ideas, to find rest and renewal, and to dream and plan. During the dark half of the year, our yoga practice can help us remain positive and stay connected to our inner light.
As we become more experienced at recognising the prevalent pushing or yielding energy of the season, we can fine-tune our ability to choose yoga practices that balance our own energy flow. For example, during the autumn and the winter there’s a natural tendency to want to hibernate, so we might honour this by choosing restful, restorative yoga poses. On the other hand, we might also want to choose energising poses to boost our happy hormones and ward off the winter blues.
Below is a simple yoga flow (vinyasa) to relax and energise in autumn:
1 Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) into Cow Pose (Bitilasana): Start on the all fours. Exhale: round the back up like an angry cat. Inhale: into Cow Pose (Bitilasana), arching the back, lifting the chest up and away from the belly, and looking up slightly; alternate between these two positions, rounding and arching the back (If you have a back problem don’t arch the back). Repeat 8 times.
2 Child’s Pose (Balasana) into Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana): From Cat Pose, bend the knees and sit back into Child’s Pose (Balasana), arms outstretched along the floor. From Child’s Pose inhale and move forward into Upward-Facing Dog, arching your back and keeping your knees on the floor. Stay for one breath. Exhale back into Child’s Pose. Repeat 6 times. Then rest for a few breaths in Child’s Pose.
If you have time finish the practice by meditating on the following Autumn Meditation Questions:
* What do I wish to incubate over the autumn-to-winter season, ready to send up new green shoots next spring?
* What are the ways in which my yoga practice can nourish, enrich, and support me over the autumn-to-winter months?
A full set of Autumn Meditation Questions and an Autumn Yoga Practice can be found in my book Yoga Through the Year.
Jilly Shipway, sharing seasonal yoga ideas and inspiration with you through the year...
Please feel free to share ideas and resources that you find in my blog, but please do acknowledge me and my website as their source. Thanks!
Disclaimer: if you have any concerns about your health or suitability to do yoga, please consult a medical professional before attempting any of the yoga routines in this blog.