Adjusting your yoga practice seasonally, cooperating with the rhythm's of nature and of your body, is one more way to become sensitive and respond to your body's exquisite apparatus for healing and well being. Mukunda Stiles, possibly Indra Devi's most accomplished student, wrote that "Our sadhana (practice) is for the purpose of encouraging us to become more and more sensitive to the openings that change is revealing," and "The path of Self knowledge (practice) is for the purpose of removing all suffering." Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy, pp 231, 236.
You probably heard the term "homeostasis" in high school biology: it's the tendency of the body to maintain certain conditions in pretty tight parameters. The pH of different tissues and fluids (you don't have just one, though sometimes one can indicate a subtle trend), the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood, the amount of carbon dioxide you exhale, the amount of fat you carry, sugar in your blood... on and on. Your body produces a staggering pharmacopeia in every moment with just the right interrelationships and balances to maintain pressures - blood and internal, rates - heart and breathing, among others.
So why do we grow ill or become slow to heal? Because, by and large, we underestimate the power of our own attention and the power of small decisions we make all day long. The decision not to stop in the mornings and take a global view of our day with a few mindful breaths is one of these, as are the "just this once" infusions of sugar and processed foods, the skipped workouts, hours of sleep, vegetables, necessary dietary fats - on and on.
When we make less than desirable inputs, the balancing act our body undertakes has to respond. And respond it does. Enough of these without recovery and we've shifted the balance from a perfect give and take like the steadiness of the tide to a tsunami.
Our yoga asana (pose) and breath practices are a way of shifting the trend back to balance. Adjusting these to our environmental conditions is one more way of respecting that we are, at least in part, part of nature. Our body has to shift internal balance to account for the lessened hours of sunlight, warmth, increased briskness and growing dryness of Early Winter.
One effect of Early Winter (Hemanta) is the ramping up of our metabolic processes. Mountain climbers and tundra dwellers have known forever that cold increases your caloric burn and one way to stay warm in cold, cold climes is to ingest pure fat: your body has to work hard to break the bonds of fat and generates even more warmth from within. It also meets the increased needs. In fact, your stomach is producing slightly more acid than normal, if it has a healthy rhythm, just because your skin has sensed and changed its permeability in response to cold or cooling. There are more steps, but that's the general relationship.
This is the perfect time of year to build immunity and health, if you're not starting behind the eight ball, and to recover some if you are. Start by adjusting your daily rhythm to respect the dark and light: make sure you get some sunlight on your eyeballs - outside, not through windows - every day, preferably early, as close to sunrise as possible. It's a precious resource for your body. Even a few minutes matters, though this probably isn't enough for your Vitamin (really a hormone, but that's a different discussion) D levels, so consult with your healthcare provider about supplementation. Go to bed by 10. Go to bed by 10. Go to bed by 10. Have a sleep routine that shuts down all screens by 2 hours before your actual bed time - Hulu will have it later. These simple measures are powerful ways of cooperating with your body's rhythms and so recovering or protecting your health. If one isn't possible, double down on the others.
You're probably more hungry, so make sure you are eating discrete healthy, vegetable, fruit and clean protein seasonal meals, giving your metabolism a chance to rest between, with 13 hours between last ingestion one night and first the next morning. However, this isn't an ideal time to start increased fasting or juicing: your increased metabolism is meant for building and if not fed can lead to disturbances in stomach lining due to increased acid and even breaking down of necessary tissues, depending on other conditions. This is a great time to start adding more fat - good, healthy, unrefined, organic fats, not margarine - and so lessening your overall dependency on processed foods, finally cutting them out completely. One note: when increasing healthy, clean fat intake, it's important to reduce simple carb ingestion so there's not excess circulating insulin. Insulin stores not only carbs, but all energy, including fat, and IT is what shoves your unburned fat molecules between the layers of your arteries. In the absence of excess insulin, your body can burn the fat for fuel.
A daily or weekly practice oiling your skin is supportive for your skin's microbiome (just as important as your gut's), as well as releasing oxytocin and of course helping to ward of the dryness that cold will eventually bring.
In your yoga practice, this is the time to increase intensity, including Sun Salutations, even other forms of High Intensity Intervals, of course in a balanced yoga diet that includes Yin and Restorative, Pranayam and Meditation as well. In your Energetic Hatha practice focus on backbends, always attending to core engagement, which is part of healthy backbending. Elevator-Drawstring-Zipper, anyone? Include Kriyas like stomach churning, on an empty stomach, of course, and Maha Mudra to enhance your respiratory health and immune response.
In your yoga asana and pranayam practice, respect your daily as well as seasonal rhythms. Practice energetic hatha as early in the day as practical, preferably before 6:30pm if available. In the evenings, practice Yin and Restorative at least a couple of times a week.
For breath work, this is the perfect time to scale up your kapalabhati and bhastrika, again, preferably early in the day - they can lead to restlessness at night, especially for sensitive or already insomniac people. In the evenings, still favor Brahmari or Nadi Shodana.
And, of course, all of this is best adjusted even a little bit more for your particular constitution. Do you tend to be hearty and have a stomach of iron, even in the worst of times? Or are you more sensitive with sensitive digestion and an agile, even sometimes flighty mind? Or somewhere in between? There are ways of adjusting these practices for not only your basic set point, but for whatever stresses you are under right now. Listen to your breath and follow its advice.
And consult an experienced yoga teacher if you have any doubts or notice any trends you'd like help in adjusting to. The Healing Yoga for Early Winter course that opens on November 1st, 2019 is meant to give you a set of repeatable practices that will support you in a healthy Early Winter, so you can have healthy New Year. You can add or delete practices according to your needs. What you receive in the HYfEW course:
- access to the Healing Yoga for Early Winter webinar
- 30 minute Primary Backbending Video Yoga Practice, with principles for safe backbends
- 30 minute Second Backbending Video Yoga Practice
- 30 minute Yin Backbends Video Yoga Practice
- 30 minute Restorative Backbends Video Yoga Practice
- 30 minute Sun Salutation Video Yoga Practice
- 30 minute HiYo (High Intensity Interval in Yoga) Video Yoga Practice
- Rest day practice showing a quick abhyanga for daily or weekly use with a 15 minute video Metta Meditation Practice
- $30 video private YogaGuide consultation offer for personal adjustment
Not everyone needs an added High Intensity Interval, over and above the Sun Salutation, so maybe instead of that you repeat the Restorative or Yin for an extra one of those each week. Maybe you love the mood lift of Energetic Hatha backbends, so you get an extra one of those every week. Or maybe you follow it to a T and notice over the course of the weeks of Early Winter how it affects your energy, attention, mood and sleep and adjust accordingly. And, of course, you may want to book a one on one YogaGuide Consultation to help with this adjustment if you're adjusting to difficult or confusing conditions, or just want to have extra support, care and attention.
However you adjust your practice, do so in consultation with the wisdom of your breath, err on the side of care and attention. Your health is precious and worth your expenditure.