Yoga and Qigong teacher Rakhee Jasani shares her favourite ways of embracing autumn. In this article find out why it’s good to take a morning walk, slow down, make your peace with loss, and to move more and breathe to support your immune system.
I’ve often said that autumn is my favourite system. So often, that when I trot it out, I can see my nearest and dearest almost rolling their eyes, in a “I know” kind of way. But not this year. This year, embracing autumn has really hard. It might be because of the challenging year we’ve lived through: coronavirus and climate emergency can prey heavily on the mind. For whatever reason, the usual autumn magic has seemed absent. To figure out why this is, I’ve been thinking about what it is that I really love about autumn, and begun to tweak my daily routine to allow autumn to inspire and embrace me.
What comes to mind when you think of autumn? Blustery days? Crisp blue skies, leaf fall, cold evenings? For me this combination has offered magic. In Qigong, a system based on the Chinese Five Elements, autumn is linked to the element of metal. The ancient Chinese Daoist looked to the natural world to understand human nature. In autumn, they observed the trees losing their leaves to allow them to conserve their energy for winter and to rejuvenate. The season in this system is associated with dignity and courage and by acknowledging grief and loss through appreciation. Like metal, autumn is about sharpness and shedding the unnecessary to arrive at the pure, beautiful essence. “Yes,” I hear you say, “but how does that relate to my life?” Well, taking these teachings on board, I’ve come up with five ways in which we can learn to embrace autumn year by year.
1. Turn towards the light
Did you know that trees shed their leaves when the light levels change? We are also sensitive to light and the best way to keep the ‘winter’ blues away is to get outside within an hour of waking up. This will also help you to reset your body clock so you sleep better at night too. This is all to do with your hormone levels. The hormone cortisol is released early in the day. This is the hormone that makes you feel alert and it responds to sunlight levels. Crucially though, it also alerts your body clock to know when it should release melatonin – the hormone that helps you to sleep. Literally saluting the sun can really set us up for the day. And remember, it is good to actually get outside as even being by a window filters too much natural daylight.
2. Slow down
Autumn is the natural time to slow down. We can take our cue from nature and use this as a time to be active during the day and use the longer evenings to learn to slow down. In his book, ‘In Praise of Slow’, author Carl Honore takes a stand against the cult of speed, recognising that it is only when we slow down, that we fact honour the time it takes for things to unfold. He defines slow as: “calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is making real and meaningful connections – with people, culture, work, food, everything.” In contrast, he defines Fast as “busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality.”
Perhaps, many of us find it difficult to slow down and speed begins to creep in everywhere including into our yoga practice. I became aware that my yoga practice was speeding up last year, and have made a deliberate attempt to slow it down now. Now, I take time to linger in poses, spend longer breathing and recognise and then embrace challenging thoughts or feelings as they arise.
I put together my class ‘Release The Day‘ to allow you to linger longer:
3. Breathe well
Find a breathing practice that works for you and practice diligently. We hear a lot about releasing and letting go in autumn. But what does this actually mean? Our exhale accounts for 70% of waste removal from our bodies. That means that every time we breathe out, we are letting go. I think that doing this consciously can be really helpful. If you feel anxious, try lengthening your exhale. It’s a great way to help you unwind.
4. Get organised
Bet you weren’t expecting that in a list about embracing autumn! The element of metal in the Chinese Five Element system is all about refining. I think that this looks a lot like getting organised. We think about spring cleaning but less about shedding stuff for autumn. That should change. It’s a perfect time, to put aside what no longer serves us and get clear about what is essential for moving forward.
5. Get cosy
It may sound like old news, but getting cosy helps us and our nervous system to fully relax. Autumn is the season in which to prepare for winter, the harshest season of the year. In the natural world, we can see animals prepare for the next season and find ways of conserving energy. Getting cosy and turning inwards are our ways of doing this. You don’t need to install a log-burner or purchase the latest frou-frou candles. Getting cosy can be as much about mindset and marking the change from summer to autumn to winter for ourselves. What do you have that you can use to get cosy? A favourite old jumper? I have one that is well worn but is a joy to put on every time I feel the days drawing in. It has holes, but I can’t imagine not having it as a way to mark this change. For more inspiration read this article on yoga hygge