22 Oct Autumn Yoga for calm & stability
Autumn brings an increase in vata energy, which can make us feel anxious and unsettled. Try a grounding autumn yoga sequence to bring you back into balance.
As the seasons change, it can sometimes knock us off kilter, but our yoga practice can support us through this transition.
Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, focuses on bringing our minds and bodies into balance. According to Ayurveda, there are three primary doshas, or energies. Just as each person has a dosha that predominates, each season is also dominated by one of the three doshas.
Autumn is the season of vata dosha, cold, dry, rough, light, changeable and constantly moving. Think of blustery autumn days with the wind whipping up the fallen leaves. Too much vata energy can make us feel unsettled, anxious, scatty, overwhelmed and have difficulty focusing. Physically it can cause dry skin, dry hair and constipation.
Vata is a combination of the elements air and ether. We can counteract the effects of too much vata by working with the opposing energy of the earth element in our yoga practice. As my dosha is predominantly vata, I often practice this way to bring myself back into balance. When my mind is swirling around like those autumn winds, an earthy grounding yoga practice really anchors me down and helps me feel calm and steady.
To bring that earth element into your yoga practice think strength, stability and stillness, feeling the ground beneath you and putting down roots. Draw that excessive energy from the mind and send it down into the legs and feet. Find the strength of the earth element in standing poses such as warrior I and II and find a calm stillness in forward folds. Including a twist helps to counteract constipation.
Here’s a short sequence to try
Before you begin, warm up the body with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) but keep the pace slow and steady. Spend a few breaths in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), standing tall at the top of your mat. Feel all four corners of the feet in contact with the ground. Try to hold each pose for 10 breaths, maybe longer if you feel able to, rather than rushing through them.
Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
Come into a forward fold, bending from the hips. Place the hands on the mat and step back into plank. Lift the hips and send the chest back to the thighs, tilting the sitting bones to the sky. Make length through the spine, then send the heels down towards the floor. Plug the arms back into the shoulder sockets so the posture feels firm and stable. Feel the connection of your hands and feet to the ground.
Warrior I – Virabhadrasana I
Step the right foot forwards between the hands and place the left foot at a 45 degree angle to the right foot. Press the feet into the ground as you come to stand. Bend the right knee to stack above the ankle and square the hips drawing the right hip back. Raise the arms and drop the tailbone. Feel how the legs create a firm and grounded foundation for the pose from which you can reach up and lengthen through the upper body.
Warrior II – Virabhadrasana II
Open to Warrior II, rotating the left foot to a 90 degree angle and turning the torso to face the left. Extend the right arm ahead of you and the left arm behind you, gazing at the right hand. Draw the outer edge of the right hip towards the back of the mat and press the outer edge of the left foot into the ground. Slightly draw the feet towards each other to fire up the muscles of the legs. Feel the strength of the legs and the firm, grounded foundation of the pose. Sense how the palms of the hands face down to the ground. Tune into a downwards flow of energy.
Goddess – Utkata Konasana
Turn to face the left side of your mat, bring the feet a little closer together and point the toes slightly outwards. Sit down into a squat, checking the knees are pointing in the same direction as your feet. Bring the arms to a cactus arms position, elbows in line with the shoulders. Have a little wiggle of the hips and you’ll probably find you can get a bit lower to the ground. Sit tall and feel the strength and stability of the pose. Pivot to face the back of your mat and practice Warrior II then Warrior I on the left side.
Tree – Vrksasana
Step the right foot to meet the left then spend a few breaths standing tall in Tadasana, feeling all four corners of the feet in contact with the ground. Gently shift your weight on to the right foot and visualise sending roots from your foot down into the earth. Once you’ve planted your roots, feel that you’re drawing energy up through those roots and up your leg. Fully shift your weight on to the right leg, bringing the sole of the left foot to meet the right inner ankle, calf or thigh. Place the hands together at the heart or let your branches grow and extend the arms to the sky. Repeat on the left side.
Standing Forward Fold – Uttanasana
Stack both feet below the hips. Lift up tall on an inhale, then as you exhale, hinge from the hips and come to a forward fold. Place the hands on the ground or hold the legs. Try lifting your right heel and slightly dragging back the heel to make length through the sole of the foot. Repeat on the left. Feel any sensation you’ve created in the feet. Tilt the sitting bones up to the ceiling and draw the crown of the head to the ground. Breathe here, releasing through the hamstrings. You may want to slide the hands under the feet for Padahastasana.
Garland Pose – Malasana
Widen the feet to mat width and point the toes outwards. Sit down to a low squat. If the heels don’t touch the ground in this position, roll up the short edge of your mat and place this under the heels. You want to feel stable and be able to sit tall. Place the hands at the heart, squeezing the knees open with the elbows. Feel your closeness to the ground and sense a downward flow of energy.
Seated Twist – Ardha Matsyendrasana
Sit down on the mat and extend your legs. Bend your right leg and cross the foot over your left leg. Inhale as you sit up tall and on your exhale twist to the right, placing your right hand behind you on the ground. The left arm can rest on the right leg or take the arm beyond the leg for a deeper twist. With every inhale remind yourself to sit tall and with every exhale focus on the twist. Repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold – Paschimottanasana
Extend both legs out straight and point your toes to the ceiling to ground the backs of the legs. Inhale as you sit up tall and on your exhale hinge from the hips as you fold forwards. Think about drawing the torso forwards rather than just rounding through the back. Hold on to the feet, ankles or legs, or place a strap (or dressing gown belt) around your feet. Breathe here and feel the quietness of the pose as you fold into yourself.
Corpse Pose – Shavasana
Time to relax. Lie down on your mat and spend a few breaths hugging the knees to the chest. Extend the legs out straight, feet a little more than hip distance apart and toes falling out to the sides. Turn the palms of the hands to the sky. Close the eyes and feel how the ground supports you, so you can completely let go of any effort.
Bring your awareness to your breath and with every exhalation feel the body soften and release. Sink into the ground. Feel that any tension, worries or thoughts can fall away from you, like autumn leaves falling from the trees. Spend as long here as you can.