Helpful tips and important points to remember post-Hurricane Sandy and every day this Autumn season.
by Jillian Pransky
Tragedy, disaster, our deepest challenges, leave us feeling strangely present. They force us to stop, immediately. Seizing our attention. Convincing us, instantly, to open our eyes, ears, mind and eventually our hearts. Oddly, this is very similar to the type of presence we are practicing cultivating on our yoga mats and meditation cushions. To show up most fully.
Marie Howe’s Poem “Sorrow” captures the essence many touched deeply by disaster experience:
“So now it has our complete attention, and we are made whole.
We take it into our hands like a rope, grateful and tethered,
freed from waiting for it to happen. It is here, precisely
as we imagined.
.…there is at least a kind of stopping that will
pass for peace….
Now when we speak it is with a great seriousness, and when
we touch it is with our own fingers, and when we listen
it is with our big eyes that have looked at a thing
and have not blinked.”
Autumn is a transitional season, and through its decay, it is always teaching us the lessons of letting go. But Storm Sandy really brought home these lessons of Fall with an in your face reminder of the reality that we cannot control everything that happens to us. But, we do have total control over how we react and respond.
Now, in the wake of Sandy, we continue to see and experience how it has wreaked havoc in so many people’s lives this week along the East Coast. According to the news reports, more than 50 million Americans are coping with the aftermath of storm surges, snow, floods, evacuations, power outages, loss of property, financial losses, interruptions in school and work. And while we have a long road of work to endure from physical destruction, loss of power, and financial effects, there will also be work to do for all of us transitioning through this storm and this season on a health level; physically, emotionally, energetically and psychologically.
Sandy will leave us working towards healing our personal and community environments for days, weeks, months and maybe even longer. But remember your own health and healing at this transitional seasonal time as well. Regardless of the hurricane, this is a very un-grounding time of year. And this transitional season always requires more focus, presence and daily routine to ensure your day to day wellbeing and wholeness. So here is your Autumn Attunement article, which I just so happened to write before Hurricane Sandy, but may be of even more use today.
I am still savoring my trip to the Berkshire mountains last weekend, where I led an annual Fall Foliage yoga retreat. This year’s adventure began with a solo three-hour drive through heavy rains, accompanied by Sirius Satellite’s acoustic Coffee House channel and the season’s unfathomable beauty. Zealously, I witnessed radiant red and gold leaves fall through the gray atmosphere and the silvery bark of the half-bare trees glow like the moon through the fog. Mile by mile I grew more humble as I drove deeper and deeper into Autumn. Needless to say, I arrived to lead my retreat centered in the hugeness of my heart—with the weekend’s curriculum divinely delivered to the tip of my tongue.
Surrounded by such grace-filled splendor, my heart literally ached with joy and melancholy simultaneously. I was in awe. And awe, like love, is a heart-expanding experience, helping us increase our capacity to stay soft and open to what’s in front of us.
Autumn, a master teacher, beckons us, lures us, to behold its beauty while we bear witness to its passing; demonstrating the art of letting go, of release. It invites us, encourages us, and even may eventually demand us to experience the reality of impermanence. Autumn restores our humility, reminding us that ultimately we are not in control: No matter how much planning, arranging, solidifying we do, there is a cycle beyond our manipulation.
Lessons of impermanence are challenging, they churn us up, leaving us feeling shaky and ungrounded. And if this is not a hard enough blow, then we can rely on the wind itself to humble us. In Yoga and Ayurveda this is called the Windy Season (vata) as the qualities of air, wind, movement, coolness, and dryness are dominant energies both around and within us. Even the most steady of us begin to lose root as we agitate or stress more easily, become more anxious or spacey, and deplete faster than normal.
Always, the deepest intention of the practice of Yoga and Ayurveda is to harmonize our inner world with the outer; our energy with the environment around us. Your Autumn Yoga practice should help you SLOW down while nature speeds up, moving quickly from bountiful to barren. It is an essential time to cultivate a deeper sense of groundedness and release.
Let me remind those who prefer to “push,” be careful not to confuse exhaustion for calmness at this time of year. With the winds around us whirling, it’s easy to get whipped up too; to move faster in your practice, pack more into your schedule, and race into the holiday frenzy. But depleting and agitating yourself at this time of year will deplete your energy reserve and diminish your winter health. The antidote is to cultivate the opposite inner experience. On your mat, think slow flows, lots of hip openers and legwork. Add more restoratives, Savasana, and meditation all season long. This is not the time to work toward new flexibility, but instead allow for the release and openness that allows energy to move down and the nervous system to relax.
While an Autumn-attuning yoga practice should leave you feeling more grounded, calm and open both on and off the mat, make sure to take time to actually be in nature. Being encompassed by, paying attention to, and studying nature will greatly enhance our health and healing, while helping us to more fully digest life’s most profound lessons.
So slow down now, as we bow to its magnificence, wisdom, and teachings, and consider adding some of these practices to your season:
SIMPLE TIPS TO BALANCE ALL SEASON:
FLOW INTO STILLNESS
Stay dedicated to or re-dedicate to your yoga practice, or any “moving meditation” practice that helps you with circulation while bringing attention to your breath.
Each day, take some time to breathe deeply and slowly. As you inhale the crisp Autumn air, feel yourself taking in pure energy, and as you exhale, feel yourself letting go of that which you no longer need. Introspection and elimination are the tasks of Autumn, and we harmonize with this process by learning to go with the flow more: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Cultivate the habit of starting each Autumn morning with several deep, mindful breaths. Watch the breath come and go, and follow it as it comes from outside your body in, and back out again. Follow the beginning, middle, and end of the inhale and exhale. Relax in the pauses between the breaths. As the breath moves through the chest, pay attention to the way it massages the heart center. The heart and lungs are a focus of the season, and the breath flowing through helps make space for the release of whatever the heart is holding to tightly, or resisting.
MMM MMM GOOD
Attempt to eat seasonal foods whenever possible. Increase your warm dishes. Enjoy hearty soups with lots of vegetables, beans, and grains. Savor squash, pumpkin, potatoes, turnips, late spinach, and apples.
Go through your closets, drawers, garage, and cabinets and recycle what you no longer use or need. This de-cluttering will help you to feel lighter and more energetic.
UNPACK THE BAGS
This season is an ideal time to let go of any stuck emotions and old pains that contribute to suffering. Just as you go through the closets and drawers of your home, go through the mental and emotional storage places within you and see if there are any old hurts, grudges, or resentments to let go of. Consider reaching out to someone you may need resolution and healing with.
OPEN THE HEART
At this time of year, most spiritual traditions pause and honor those who have passed. Take some time, in a way that is manageable and authentic for you, to grieve the losses in your life; any type of loss. Allowing grief to move through you honors that which you have lost, and can lighten your heart, and create room for greater healing, growth, and creativity.
“I was once told that certain spiritual masters in Tibet used to set their teacups upside down before they went to bed each night as a reminder that all life was impermanent. And then, when they awoke each morning, they turned their teacups right side up again with the happy thought, ‘I’m still here!’ This simple gesture was a wonderful reminder to celebrate every moment of the day.”
PRACTICE DYING TO BECOME MORE ALIVE…
Savasana, Corpse pose, is the art of practicing our death, little by little, every day. As we cultivate the skill of completely letting go, it ultimately releases us to live more fully.
As you head toward Thanksgiving…and the season of celebrations…let go of the things that are not deeply moving you and remember: “Tradition is not the worship of the ashes, but keeping the fire alive.”
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