Updated: Sep 22, 2021
The Autumn Equinox is upon us in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere will experience the Spring Equinox- what does this mean for your yoga practice?
The whole idea of adapting our yoga practice and our daily routines to be in line with the seasons, reflects ancient wisdom. It is a gracious acknowledgement that reflecting the wisdom of mother nature in our activities and habits, allows us to live in balance with the natural world, of which we are an integral part. The practices suggested for different seasons are drawn from the observations made around how all of nature- animals, plants, humans and the elements- change alongside the seasons. In both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the human body is seen as comprising all the elements of nature within it and different seasons are dominated by the energy and characteristics of specific elements. Moreover, each of us are unique, and we may be predisposed to one or more tendencies and characteristics associated with the elements. Working with the elements in our yoga practice and understanding our unique composition, is thus a way to find balance and harmony in our bodies and in our inner landscape. Moreover elements are not static, they are dynamic, as we are too… we may evolve and change over the course of our lives. We also experience the natural ebbs and flows of the seasons. Sometimes we have an abundant source of energy like the yang-est of seasons in summer; we may experience the emotional growing pains but also the potential of glorious expansion in spring; in Autumn we may experience both the resistance to letting go and also the liberation of making that space for what really matters; and in winter the world signals that it is time to slow down completely, to retreat, to nurture our essence and find stillness.
Spring Equinox and the Wood Element
Spring is connected to the Wood Element in TCM. Wood is the energy of awakening, renewal and growth.Spring is a time of expansion, where nature bounds forth with new life and intension but we can also experience some sensations of ‘growing pains’ or being stuck in spring, as we transition from a time of rest and stillness to a time where nature is calling us to awaken and bring to life our visions and goals. In this change of seasons we may experience bursts of energy and also times of tiredness. During this time of transition, your yoga practice can support you to manage your energy levels and support your visions for the bloom into spring.
The Wood Element is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder and their Meridians. In TCM our ability to envision, plan, be creative and put our dreams into action is connected to liver health and to the ethereal spirit (Hun) housed in liver. And so a balanced wood element is associated with our ability to plan, envision and bring our dreams to realization. Healthy liver ensures the smooth flow of Qi (vital energy) and healthy digestion of emotions. When Qi is flowing and spreading freely in the body our emotions are also appropriate and we feel at ease. When Liver’s function of regulating Qi is restrained, then we can fell emotions of anger, frustration and depression. The gallbladder in TCM works together with liver, it helps us to feel supported in our decision making and gives us both the clarity and courage to make the right decisions that support our best interests. Feelings of indecisiveness, lack of clarity and feeling overwhelmed by the many possible paths one could take, are the signs of a weak gallbladder.
5 Tools to Bring Wood Element Into Your Yoga Practice
Wood Salutations: transform your sun salutations by adding some twists and side bends into the mix e.g. parivrtta anjaneyasana. Twisting asanas and stretching into the side body are wonderful to stimulate wood element meridians. Other Asanas to practice often in your yang practice focused on inner thighs (liver meridian) twisting and core (gallbladder meridian): Parivrtta Utkatasana/ twisted chair, Parivrtta Parsvakonasa (parsvakonasana b), parivrtta trikonasana, twisted half moon/ parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana, half lord of the fishes/ Ardha matsyendrasana, supine twists, Marichyasana C,D, Navasana/ boat, lizard/ Utthan Pristhasana, Baddha Konasana/butterfly, Skandasana etc.
Practice Yin Shapes that focus on the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians: Gallbladder: Swan, Cat Pulling its Tail, Twisted Roots, Shoelace, Banana Asana, Threaded Child’s Pose. Liver: Sleeping Butterfly, Happy Baby, Squat/ Malasana, Sphinx, (half) Frog, Butterfly, Dragon, Dragonfly
Pranayama and Kriya: Spring is a time when we may feel bursts of energy and then moments of tiredness too. So allow a flexible approach to your pranayama (and asana) practice. When you need to re-energise and detox you can practice Bhastrika pranayama or Kapalabhati and Nauli Kriya. When you need to settle the sometimes anxious energies of spring try a balancing practice like Anuloma Viloma or Yogic Belly Breath.
Meditation: Green is the colour of Wood Element, so include visualization of a nourishing green in your meditations, you can color your breath with a green reminiscent of nature’s revitalization. Spend more time in nature, enjoying a walking meditation and try to take your asana practice outdoors. Try a shaking meditation: nothing fancy just shake it out! An imbalance of wood may mean that energy is not flowing in the body, that there is a stagnation, as wood ensures smooth flow of Qi. Shaking is a great way to get energy moving in the body that has become stuck. Liver meditation: Bring your full attention to energizing your liver in your meditation.
Bringing awareness to the jaw and invite relaxation: Wood is associated with action of tension and relaxation and when we relax our jaw and face muscles we tend to be able to relax the whole body .... especially tension in hips, neck and shoulders, which are all connected to imbalance of wood.
Check out this Spring Equinox Wood Element Flow practice, to help you to ease into this time of beautiful expansion and new vision!
Autumn Equinox and the Metal Element
In TCM Autumn is associated with the Metal Element. A key theme for balancing a healthy Metal Element is embracing the 'art of letting go'. As the leaves fall from the trees in Autumn, we too are reminded that to live in harmony with nature there is a time to let go. Nature sends us signs to let go of the fullness and abundance of summer, to take stock of what is not needed, what has become heavy or is no longer serving us, and to begin preparing for the stillness of winter. It asks us to turn towards our inner field, to let go of striving and being overly productive and make space for rest and the things that really matter to our wellbeing. Letting go of the stale in our lives, invites in a receptivity to the pure and receiving anew. It also allows us to come into contact with who we are in our very essence and to value what is most important in life.
The Metal Element is associated with our lung and large intestine meridians. The health of our lungs enable us to take in Qi and oxygen and then to filter out what is not needed. Similarly, it is the lungs in TCM that enable us to release stagnant energy and strong emotions of sadness and grief. One only needs to have mindfully used the breath in your yoga practice, or just in life, to know how a simple deep exhale can truly be powerful in aiding us to release heavy emotions. Grief is the emotion associated with Metal element. A healthy expression of grief can help us to release heavy experiences and move through them, soaking up their life lessons along the way and then expelling the waste, the trauma, and what ever we outgrow as we evolve. However, Metal is not just about letting go, it is also about our ability to take in and absorb the pure; just as our lungs take in the pure, crisp and cool air on an autumn day. The secondary organ for Metal is the large intestine, which absorbs liquids and nutrients and releases waste and what is not needed by the body. So when in balance, the intelligence of Metal element and it’s supporting organs, helps our body and mind to know what to absorb and what to release.
5 Tools to Bring Metal Element Into Your Yoga Practice
Acupressure and Tapping of Meridians: Pressing and releasing or gently massaging Large Intestine 4 (LI4), located in the web between the thumb and index finger, is especially effective to release headaches but also for stress, facial pain, neck pain and toothaches. Lung 9 and 10 (LU9 & 10), located on the fleshy part of the inside of the palm, LU9 is at the base of the wrist and LU10 is at the base of the thumb. It can be used to help with the release of sadness, grief and helping you in general to release strong emotions. It also supports the healthy functioning of the respiratory system and treats lung and throat infections. Gently tapping is another way to bring harmony to meridians and this is especially effective making use of Lung 1 (in the compression between your collar bone and shoulder) and Large Intestine 20 (each side of your nose crease).
Yin Shapes: Yin postures that focus on stimulating the lung and large intestine meridians like Reversed Namaste/ Angel’s Wings, Open Wings and Broken Wings (or half versions), Gomukhasana or Eagle arms. These shapes or yin postures can be held for 3-5 minutes to stimulate the target meridians. These focus areas can also be brought into a Yin/Yang flow by making use of gomukhasana arms, reverse namaste or eagle arms.
Mudra and Mantra: Make use of ‘Kali Mudra’ by interlacing all of your fingers except for the forefingers. It is a powerful Mudra which aligns with the sharp aspect of metal as a destroyer. It is also a gesture of pouring out and letting go and is used in Yoga Therapy to ease anxiety, depression and insomnia. Metal element benefits from chanting mantra or singing Kirtan as a way to release. Especially focus on changing the tone of your voice.
Lung Meditation: Visualise your lungs. Slowing down the breath; breathing in through the nose and out of the mouth. Take a deep inhale through your nose, visualise fulling up completely with oxygen and Qi, into the very bottom and top of the lungs. Visualize the lungs expanding lengthways and then emptying out completely, as you sigh out of the mouth. Let each breath facilitate your ability to release, not only the breath, but any stored emotions that arise. Next, visualize breathing into the left and right sides of the lungs, visualize the lungs expanding sideways ... and then exhale out completely. Then breathe into the front and back of the lungs, visualize the front and back space of your heart expanding. Lastly, bringing this all together, focusing on the four movements of the lungs with your breath. With each exhale, allow for a deep release of whatever emotions arise.
Engage your Sense of Smell with Essential Oils: Using essential oils can be a wonderful way to nurture your metal element, since it is connected to our sense of smell. If you feel fatigue, use something invigorating like peppermint oil or rosemary and if you need something calming lavender or chamomile oil. You can also gently apply pressure to the sides of the nose crease, where Large Intestine 20 ends. You need not even use essential oil, but just taking moments out in nature, to breathe in the scents around you. One of the key lessons of Metal is to be grateful for the present moment and to value who you are and what you have right now. Tapping into our sense of smell can bring us into the moment, helping us literally take the time our body and mind is yearning for to ‘smell the roses’ and see the beauty all around us.
Check out this Autumn Equinox Metal Element practice, to let go of the summer with grace and ease you into Autumn
Wishing you all a beautiful turn of the seasons, wherever you are in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres. May you find space to nourish yourself, a sanctuary in your yoga practice, to take care of your inner world, so you can show up in the full power of your life's purpose.
With love, Namaste