Fall is a holiday dense, activity filled season. Halloween kicks things off with exorbitant amounts of sugar and thrills, then Thanksgiving continues the theme with copious amounts of pie. All of December seems like one big scattered hectic preparation for Christmas, and then finally Winter settles in and there is nothing - hibernation, calm, endless cloudy days and rain... The point being, the season is busy enough without us bringing that Vata energy into our yoga practice.
Maybe the logic is that since we are eating so much we need to counteract it with vigorous exercise. Or maybe since we are already so busy we are attracted to a faster practice - feeding the imbalance the season has created. Maybe it is just that vigorous vinyasa flows are so popular - it is all we know how to do! It's all I knew how to do for a long time and I still fight the desire to try to do as many arm balances as possible in one class. What I want and what I need from yoga practice are often two different things.
Even though different days throughout the Fall might require a different practice - generally our yoga practice in the Fall should be slow and grounding. Vata dosha is undeniably present this time of year and as it imparts quick movement and spaciness on us, we must find slowness, focus, and grounding to bring balance.
Here is a really great 25 minute flow that works well when you need some strength and grounding! Try it, tweak it, and see how it feels.
Start with a 5 minute seated mediation while holding the Prithvi/Earth Mudra as shown in the picture on the right above. Sit on a pillow or block and focus on grounding down. With every exhale imagine your connection to the ground getting stronger. Keep the gaze down and keep a strong focus on the breath. You might come in and out of focus, and that is ok. The mudra will help bring more earth element and Kapha dosha into the body creating more stability for your practice.
Forward folds are great for calming Vata dosha and for feeling the heaviness associated with the Earth element. I recommend bent knees for this one! This calming forward fold should be less about finding a stretch and more about feeling the heaviness of the torso. The bent knees will allow you to more comfortable fold forward and for the head to come closer to the ground. Feel the release in the back of the neck and, again, use the exhale to deepen your connection to the Earth by firmly rooting down through the feet and allowing the torso to become heavier and heavier.
Squatting is one of my new favorite things to do! Step your feet hips width distance apart and align your little toes with the outside of your heel. From here, start to bring the weight back into the heels. Try to keep the knees over the ankles (they will probably come forward a bit and that’s ok – just make sure the knees don’t come in front of the toes) and bend the knees to slowly come into your squat. Move down as slowly as you can and eventually come all the way down to seated on some sort of prop – a block, book, or pillow will work! Once in your squat take a couple of slow breaths with the gaze down. Then, as slowly as you can stand back up! Do this a few times working on moving slowly down, taking a break for a couple of breaths, and coming back up just as slowly as you came down.
After squatting a few times, come back into downward facing dog. Try to find stillness immediately. I typically like to find movement in my downward facing dog, particularly if it is the first one of the day, but for the sake of pacifying Vata dosha, stillness is better. Vata, like air, wants to move. Taking the movement out of it brings in Kapha dosha and allows you to feel more rooted.
After a few breaths slowly bring your right knee forward and come into a low lunge. You can keep your knee lifted or drop it down to your mat – either is fine. From here, keeping the gaze down, inhale extend the right arm out in front of you. On the exhale slowly reach your right arm back. Follow the arm with your gaze making sure to keep the gaze forward or down on the way. Do that a few times – moving slowly with the breath and continue to root down through both feet as you move your arm.
On the last round, keep your right arm behind you and use an inhale to lift into a high lunge with twisted arms. Keep your gaze slightly down and back and find a few rounds of breath. Use the strength of your core to deepen the twist and your exhale to send energy out through your heels. After holding, use a slow inhale to straighten into the front leg and lift the extended or back leg up. Bring your hands to heart center, the gaze towards the tops of your fingers, bring the weight slightly back into the heel, and hold for five slow rounds of breath. Slowly make your way back to downward facing dog, and repeat the whole thing on the other side.
Next, take the slowest vinyasa of your life! From down dog, slowly roll into high plank and hold for 3 slow breaths. If this quickens the breath too much bring your knees down. Then slowly come into chataraunga. Try to hold for at least one full round of breath. Hold longer if you can keep the breath slow and controlled. Then come into your upward facing dog. Bring the gaze down and hold for three rounds of breath. Then, come back to downward facing dog. This shouldn’t be overly easy! Moving slowly and holding helps you build strength which is good for Vata dosha!
One last slow flow! From downward facing dog slowly bring your right leg through while hugging the knee into the chest and then sit the foot down for a low lunge. Inhale to lift into high lunge and take a few rounds of breath. Then slowly, bring all of your weight into your right leg, straighten the knee and lift the left leg up. Bring hands to heart center and hold. While grounding down through the right heel reach the left leg behind coming into airplane posture. Hold.
From there, bring the right up arm down and lift the left arm up, opening into half moon pose. Again, hold & strengthen. Exhale to root down through the heel. Staying a little while longer on the right leg, lift the leg back through and grab the left knee with your right hand. Reach the left arm behind you and gaze back and down over the left shoulder. Hold. Then slowly transition to a forward fold, then to downward facing dog. Repeat on the other side.
From here slowly make your way into savasana and stay for as long as you would like. I recommend at least 5 minutes. That is all!