The Fall equinox is almost here and personally for me the crispness in the air and changing winds offer a freshness to each morning, that seem to inspire both introspection and resilience amongst the fluctuating temperatures, winds and scenery. There is something about the fall lighting-the angle of the sun providing a delicate illumination which highlights many of the intricacies, colours, and textures in nature. Being open to receiving these changes and experiences offers a freshness and creativity amongst the decay and death.
Fall is a beautiful metaphor for transition. As we move from one season to the next, from one place to another, or even one moment to the next. Slowing down, staying present and open instead of habitually reacting on autopilot opens us up to possibilities that we could not otherwise have imagined. As I watch the tree gently let go go and offer its leaves into the breeze, I am reminded of the teachings of non-attachment/ Variagya and practice/abyasa as a way of navigating impermanence and change. When we get glued to our expectations or stuck in our stories, we rob ourselves of the creative potential in each moment and increase suffering through disappointment, resentment and rigidity. As a result we may end up stuck in the endless cycle of worry, regret and clinging.
Zen monk, Shunryu Suzuki’s famous quote “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few” is a beautiful example of curiosity, which may be considered equal parts non-attachment (being open) and practice (being awake). Whether it is in my movement practises, relationships, parenting, or everyday experiences, letting go of my expectations and judgements widens my aperture and brings me back into a place of wonder. Instead of the boredom, worryworry,and and resistance that I naturally seem to default to, I can remain open to change and receive the wisdom and potential that can only be offered in the moment.
Somatic Teacher teacher Moshie Feldenkrais encouraged his students to develop at least three ways of doing anything. Similar to mindfulness practises, where we are encouraged to pause in the space between stimulus and response in order to allow a new possibility that you could not of otherwise thought of to arise, being empowered is a result of having choices. Feledenkrais is famous for saying If you only have one way, you are stuck. If you have two options, you have a dilemma. But if you have three options, you have choice and real freedom. And so despite the fall being a time of gradual death and decay there is a beautiful opportunity of “re-birth” and possibility on the other side of letting go if we stay awaken and open to the shifts.
For me personally, fall has always been a favourite. There is something about the colours, textures, smells and energy that makes me feel nostalgic, perhaps its the nesting and organizing that my body intuitively begins to draw inwards in preparation for the winter months. Maybe its the excitement or anxiousness that comes as a result of the return to school.
In the philosophy of natural medicine, the human body is regarded as a microcosm of the natural universe, (macrocosm) and as such we experience the same cycles that exist in the natural world around us. By living in tune with the natural rhythms and cycles of the seasons, a sense of balance can be maintained internally and externally. We will be able to build a stronger natural immunity in preparation for the winter months that are aproaching.
Fall is the beginning of the yin cycle. When the daylight hours become shorter and shorter. The sap of trees begins to draw inwards and downwards toward the roots, as the leaves begin to whither and change colour. With fall comes a sense of gathering, drawing inward, stocking up and organizing; A preparation. The Fall reminds us that we reap what we have sown and that all of our actions have consequences. It is a time to eliminate what is unnecessary in our bodies, minds and spaces. Create space, and become aware of what is essential, important and nourishing. The fall is also time for inspiration and new ideas.
According to Oriental medicine (TCM) the organ system that governs the fall season is the Lung. The Lung draws in Qi, (energy) sending it downward to nourish and solidify our roots. Ruling the skin,which is a large part of the bodies immune system, the Lung protects against external invasion as the weather begins to get colder. The Fall and Lungs are also associated with the element of Metal, which governs organization, order, communication, inspiration and the mind.
In Ayurveda the Fall is associated with the beginning of the Vata cycle.
Creative thinking, senses and organization
Memory and communication
Movement of food through digestive tract.
Elimination of wastes, sexual function, menstrual cycle.
Blood flow, heart rhythm, perspiration, sense of touch.
When Vata is out of balance the mind becomes overactive, often causing worries, disturbed sleep, anxiety, nervousness, and shallow breathing.Vata imbalance is also associated with: Dry coughs, sore throats, earaches, menstrual problems, irregularity including diarrhea, constipation and gas, dry skin and poor circulation.
According to Ayurveda, keeping the nervous system stable through autumn is an important aspect for maintaining strong immunity and vitality. Wind, sudden temperature shifts, and the school season also provoke higher stress levels this time of year.
I have gathered a few best practise for the fall season from various natural medicine practices. Try incorporating these into your daily schedule and get a feel for which practices serve you best. Remember it is better to commit to simpler daily self care practices consistently than it is to drastically overhaul your diet and lifestyle as these changes are often aggressive, stressful and extreme. Slow gradual change and committing to a daily self care regime is about nourishing yourself as opposed to trying to change or fix something. It is important to be consistent with your routine especially as the winds of change begin to blow. Consistency will create balance and strong roots.
I get many questions about how to fit everything in. Time is one of the biggest limiting factors in many peoples days and the belief that there is not enough time increases stress and keeps us “sympathetically tuned”. The sympathetic nervous system is part of the Autonomic nervous system, which operates automatically and unconsciously. The Autonomic nervous system controls many vital body functions such as, respiratory rate, heart rate, digestion and sexual arousal. When we feel rushed or constantly have the thought “how will I possibly get this all done today” “there is not enough time” “there is not enough hours in a day” we instantly trigger the sympathetic nervous system, which is more commonly known as fight or flight. So when I am lying in my bed trying to sleep at night worrying about tomorrows to-do lists, or rushing to get the kids to school on time, my body is automatically having the same reaction as if I was about to be malled my a bear. My adrenal glands are dumping adrenaline into my blood, my liver is mobilizing stored glucose causing the blood sugar to rise because it needs fuel to run or fight, my blood thickens and all non life preserving activities like digestion, reproduction etc are shut down. This is an amazing response the body does automatically to save our lives, however due to our busy, high stress lifestyles and our relationship to time, it is over stimulated, which eventually leads to, Adrenal fatigue, digestive disturbances, fertility issues, reduced sex drive, metabolic syndrome and many of the other chronic issues we see today.
There are many simple tools we can use to reduce this automatic stress response. Changing our relationship to time is one of them. For instance the language we use when we speak about time has a significant impact in our internal response. When I say something like “there are not enough hours in a day” this statement immediately creates a feeling of panic, anxiety etc. The truth is there are 24 Hrs in a day (16 waking and dealing 8 sleeping) this is a constant and will not change and therefore the statement above is not true or helpful. There are enough hours in a day, it may be that I have over booked or over committed to too many things and will have to manage my day appropriately. Do you see how the second statement is a little less panicked and from here I may be able to prioritize and make a plan, because I am not in a state of panic, which also makes it almost impossible to think rationally.
Once we have changed how we internalize “time” getting organized will also help manage stress levels and make empowered choices on how we want to spend our energy and invest our attention.
Step 1: Un-clutter
The first step is getting rid of the unnecessary or de-cluttering. It seems like “de-cluttering” and minimalist living is trending, but I am not referring to creating a “zen decor” or cleaning up your desk space and closets (although I can see how a clutter free space may facilitate clarity for some who have the luxury of having too much stuff).
What I am referring to is un-cluttering your mind and heart.
What am I unnecessarily holding on to?
Where am I feeding my energy?
What am I ready to let go of?
Where am I waisting my time?
Step 2: Setting and Intention: Aligning with the heart
When we have un-cluttered the mind, we can actually hear what the heart desires. We spend so much of our days and years chasing after things we have been convinced will lead us to satisfaction and happiness. Our definition of success has been downloaded by a cultural operating system that is predicated on lack and scarcity. When we become covered in “shoulds” it becomes hard to hear our own signal. When we are chasing somebody else idea of what happiness is and where it comes from, we exhaust ourselves on the wheel of life. Taking time every day to re-connect with your heart and guts allows us to stay in contact with who and how we want to be in our lives.
Setting an intention will help you stay in “alignment” with who you actually do want to be in your life versus chasing after what you have been programmed to believe. An intention, often referred to as Sankapa/promise is set from the heart and not the head. It is not something we chase rather it is something we are.
I speak often about the power of setting your intention and how living a life of integrity is a result of aligning our vision with our heart and actions. I used to set my intentions from my head as a result of what I thought I wanted or needed to be successful and worthy. When we set intentions from this place we will often find ourselves motivated by fear and our actions are often forceful.When we are not living in an alignment with our hearts, our vision or actions are not in alignment with who and how we want to be, we experience dissonance. This dissonance is like a friction between conflicting selves or motivations. We may experience this friction when how we are acting, or what we perceive society expects of us, is not in alignment with who we feel ourselves to be, or our core values.
See if you can allow your intentions to arise from your heart, which requires intimacy.
Ask, allow, feel, and listen.
Honour your boundaries instead of being guided by expectations. In this scenario we become motivated by love and the realization that we are a beautiful miracle worthy of the life we desire. Instead of constantly seeking externally for validation, security, love, and whatever else is at the core of our chase, we can harvest genuine rewards in our moment-to-moment experiences.
Take a few minutes to sit or lie quietly with your breath. When you feel like the mind has become quiet and the tension in the body has dissolved, place one hand on your heart and one hand on your low belly. Breathe into these spaces and feel what is there underneath your hands. Ask the question, “What do I desire?” or, “What do I need” or “who do I want to be today” Allow whatever answer is there to arise. Don’t judge, think about it too much, or analyze the answer. Let your heart be heard. Sometimes this answer may still arise from a place of ego, superficiality, or lack. However, it is important to be wherever you are in the process and practise accepting whatever arises. With practice you will slowly get closer to your heart’s true desire. Recite whatever comes up in the present tense a few times. For example you might say I am worthy of love and belonging, or I am strong and resilient, or I am calm and focused-whatever is arising for you. Create a marriage between your breath and this intention; allow it to diffuse into your various layers of tissues and being. Throughout the day randomly check back in with your intention. Are you still in alignment? If not, what decisions could you make that honor your heart.
Step 3: Hold the vision & trust the process
It is impossible to organize your day, week, month or year if you don’t know where you are going. Having a general vision allows us to follow the trajectory of our heart. When we organize and micromanage our days without aligning with the heart and our vision (trajectory), we end up burnt out, frustrated or unsatisfied. As Alan Watts says:
“we go about our days wasting our time doing thins we don’t like doing, in order to make money to continue doing things we don’t like doing and we train our children to do the same…..its all retch and no vomit”
From my personal and professional experience when you align your vision with your intention and your days and weeks are organized accordingly there will be less internal resistance and therefore we have more energy.
You will also feel like you have more “time” because you are getting less distracted, wasting less time and focusing more. An important thing to consider here is that we do not burn ourselves out. Sometimes when people create a vision or set a goal they move into a state of “doing” which is a state of constantly chasing something. The intention is set from a sate of being and who we are being in the moment is also who we are becoming. While action and movement is important to actualize our vision, if we get caught up in completing tasks and chasing goals its easy to lose contact with the actual process and fall victim to our biological tendencies. Make sure as part of this vision there is ample time for rest, resolve and contentment with where you are now. If we can not extract pleasure from the actual process, linger in the longing we end up stuck in a constant state of chasing for instant gratification or “low lying fruit”.
In the creation of a vision I don’t mean micromanaging your life, you definitely want to remain spontaneous and receptive to the moment. Life is what passes by when you are only focused on tasks. Through the creation of a game plan we;
Waste less time
Get less distracted
Have more energy
Create more alignment.
Those of you who have played sports will understand this. The game plan is your vision which is tied to your deeper intention. The game plan keeps everybody in alignment. The game plan does not dictate the actual experience or even the outcome, only moment to moment decisions have the ability to effect change and momentum. The game plan directs our psychic energy towards a higher purpose, so that we are feeding what we want (what we feed gets bigger) and avoiding or starving what we don’t want. Hold the vision and trust the process. This facilitates what is known as “flow state”
What do you want to accomplish?
How can I move through my day in alignment with my heart?
What anchors me?
What are my roots and how can I leverage them?
I typically do not give out generalized nutrition advice as I strongly feel that just like movement and meditation practises, each persons dietary needs are unique. If you are interested in an individualized program I offer 12 week Empowered lifestyle transformations, where together we set goals and work on creating a program that is sustainable and healthy. The reason I only do 12 week dietary programs as opposed to handing out a one time nutrition program is that determining a sustainable nutrition program takes trial and error, support and dialogue. Also digestion and assimilation of nutrients is correlated with mental and emotional health and therefore an effective program must address the WHOLE person.
When the temperature starts to drop, the body scrambles to protect itself from heat loss. Nourishing foods, especially soups, stews and cassaroles fortify the body tissues thus insulating your body from the cold. In Ayurveda, nourishing foods are called ojas building foods. Local Ojas building foods for Fall include: Root vegetables, squash, broths and lean meats.
Try beginning the day with a warm stewed apples or pears, steel cut oats or a fresh baked crisp, and warm milk or kefir. Lunch will be your largest meal and may include a warm hearty soup, curry varieties or warm stirfy with lean protein, veggies and whole grains. Suggested snacks include warm teas with honey and warming spices, fruits and nuts, soups, or healthy baked goods. Dinner consist of similar foods: Cooked vegetables, warm whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Before bed try a cup of warm milk or herbal tea with a pinch of ginger and honey.
A process called cold diuresis causes fluid loss in the Fall season. As a result the kidneys release the extra pressure in the blood vessels by removing fluids from circulation through urination. This can leave you dehydrated and electrolyte deficient. It is important to maintain hydration through not only water, but also isotonic or electrolyte solutions. Added sugars encourages urination, as does drinking excessive amounts of water. Sour and salty tastes encourages water retention.
In TCM the lung and large intestine are the internal organs related to the Fall season. The lung is associated with the emotion of “letting go.” Pranayama or Breath work is an important practice to establish in the fall and maintain into the winter moths to support a healthy immune system and create mental stability to prevent Vata imbalances.The breath is a great tool for managing stress because the breath is something that is both controlled by the autonomic nervous system, however we also can consciously control it. When we make our breath more conscious we have the ability to either down regulate or relax as opposed to automatically going into fight or flight mode. Here is a link to the Breathe video.
Fall is a great time to reset the bodies rest and digest cycles. During summer the daylight hours are longer and it is natural to stay up later and awaken early, however as the days begin to shorten it is important to get to bed earlier each night. Sleep cycles are controlled by the pineal gland and the hormone: Melatonin. Again without getting into too much detail here, stress and erratic sleep cycles not only wreak havoc on your melatonin levels, effecting your sleep cycles, but because all of the hormones work dynamically with one another, not enough sleep messes with ALL of your hormones. A simple but profound recommendation is go to bed 1 hr earlier. If you stay awake well past midnight you may have to slowly adjust in 10 min intervals each week until you are in bed before 11pm. There is a saying that every hour you get to sleep before midnight is worth 2 hours after midnight. I have personally also found that i get way more done from 6am-9am then i do from 9pm-12am.
I will be offering a Restorative Yoga Training this November. In this course we will discuss stress, the nervous system and facilitating relaxation through yoga.
There are 2 universal laws of alignment in yoga & life that apply here:
- The harder you are on anything the faster it breaks down
- Challenge makes you stronger
With these two laws in mind move your body daily in as many ways as possible. I have been really fascinated and excited about the new research coming out about fascia. What is is pointing to is that dynamic (aka not stiff, robotic and monotonous) movement keeps our bodies hydrated and healthy. When we limit ourselves to static, repetitious, and linear movement we create stiffness, adhesions and dryness in the body. The “style” of yoga I teach and practice incorporates many movement paradigms to create strength, balance and suppleness in the body.
You can find all of my downloadable yoga classes here
Have you ever noticed your skin loses much of its luster in the fall? The vitality of skin diminishes as much like the tree pulls sap inwards to the core and the roots, blood vessels constrict with colder temperatures (a process called vasoconstriction). Reduced blood flow and warmth dries out the skin, leaving it dull and irritated. Abhyanga or daily ayurvedic massage is a great way to soothe an moorish the skin as well as calm and balance the mind. The ayurvedic massage is traditionally performed in the morning, before your bath or shower, to facilitate the release of toxins that may have accumulated during the previous night. You can use warm rich sesame oil, an herbalized massage oil, or an aroma massage oil. Twisted sisters skin nutrition: www.tsproducts.ca also makes some amazing oils and butters that are all hand made and natural.