Winter. A time to retreat: plump up the slow cooker, pour yourself a warming cup and snuggle under a throw. Waking to an early morning practice can be oh... so...hard! Ditching a nourishing bowl of soup at your desk to take a lunchtime class seems impossible and staying after work for a yoga session, rather than racing home to Ugg boots and your best trackies, seems senseless. But its what your mind and body needs.
During the transition from Autumn to Winter, we need to keep the body moving. Slow practices that embrace the internal element of winter are ideal, with a focus on joint mobility and muscle retention. A juicy yang to yin or flowing yoga session will ensure that the body stays limber and avoids drying out in the virus-carrying winds. So when you feel that calling to be still and over indulge... get up, move slowly in the sunshine and keep your body well oiled and toned.
In traditional Ayurvedic practices the year is divided into three seasons to match the doshas, or our personal mind-body types: Pitta, Kapha and Vata. In Ayurveda, the five elements that are found in all living things—ether, air, fire, water, and earth—are the building blocks of life. While this foundation unites all humans, the manifestation of those elements through the doshas is what gives rise to our differences. How the three doshas appear, and in what proportion, is what makes each of us unique. An example of the three doshas:
- The fiery and intense Pitta type may enjoy the occasional power trip. They will devour a mountain of food with ravenous hunger and yet be ready to eat again when it comes to the next meal.
- In contrast, a delicate Vata can never seem to get warm. They will nibble, snack, and graze her way through the day, and she may feel the need to rest often. They're also inclined to talk about a number of diverse subjects, probably repeating themselves more than once.
- The contented Kapha type may, with great deliberation, consume three pieces of cake. They will spend quality time curled up on a couch making phone calls to loved ones with uplifting advice.
We are moving through the Ayurvedic season of 'Vata' into 'Kapha'. The Vata season in nature begins in Autumn with the winds carrying the beginnings of colds and flu. Our skin starts to dry, our joints grow stiff and our sleep may be restless. During this time it is best for us to eat cooked, grounding foods to settle and calm the digestive system. Use warming spices such as nutmeg, tumeric, ginger and cardamon, take an oil massage and establish a bedtime routine to ease the flightiness of the mind into a deep slumber. It is the time to enjoy that book that is yet to be read. Be warned! Steer clear of sweet cravings and make the effort to continue your practice... you will be thankful when the fruits of Spring begin to flower and you move from your hibernation.
"Imagine feeling more love from someone than you have ever known. You’re being loved even more than your mother loved you when you were an infant, more than you were ever loved by your father, your child, or your most intimate lover—anyone. This lover doesn’t need anything from you, isn’t looking for personal gratification, and only wants your complete fulfillment.
You are loved just for being who you are, just for existing. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success— none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here.
Imagine that being in this love is like relaxing endlessly into a warm bath that surrounds and supports your every movement, so that every thought and feeling is permeated by it. You feel as though you are dissolving into love.
This love is actually part of you; it is always flowing through you. It’s like the subatomic texture of the universe, the dark matter that connects everything. When you tune in to that flow, you will feel it in your own heart—not your physical heart or your emotional heart, but your spiritual heart, the place you point to in your chest when you say, “I am.”
This is your deeper heart, your intuitive heart. It is the place where the higher mind, pure awareness, the subtler emotions, and your soul identity all come together and you connect to the universe, where presence and love are.
Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not “I love you” for this or that reason, not “I love you if you love me.” It’s love for no reason, love without an object. It’s just sitting in love, a love that incorporates the chair and the room and permeates everything around. The thinking mind is extinguished in love.
If I go into the place in myself that is love and you go into the place in yourself that is love, we are together in love. Then you and I are truly in love, the state of being love. That’s the entrance to Oneness.
Welcome to the path of the heart! Believe it or not, this can be your reality, to be loved unconditionally and to begin to become that love. This path of love doesn’t go anywhere. It just brings you more here, into the present moment, into the reality of who you already are. This path takes you out of your mind and into your heart."
~Ram Dass, The Entrance to Oneness
You are on your yoga mat. Sweat drips...your muscles groan... when will this pretzel-bending body journey end? Then the lights dim, the teachers voice softens and you hear the cue.
"Savasana." Ahhh, blissful reward is on it's way...
The last pose of the yoga class, dead corpse pose or savasana, offers the yoga practitioner massive health benefits, although this is not always easy to achieve. Staying still for ten minutes can be extremely trying for some, as our busy Western minds are not accustomed to taking 'time out'. To achieve savasana, simply lie flat on your back, palms facing up, close down your eyes and return to a natural breathing pattern. Let your thoughts drift and feel the weight of your body rest upon the earth. It is here the experience of a floating, outer-body realisation can occur, known in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as 'pratyahara', or 'withdrawal of senses'. This is the desired state of the experienced yogi.
So what occurs on a psychological, physiological and metaphysical level?
The physiological benefits
After twisting, inverting, stretching and lengthening during the class, your muscles and organs are ready for rejuvenation. Dead corpse pose engages the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) decreasing blood pressure, slowing the heart rate and allowing the entire body to repair cells and release stress. The metabolism awakens and the nervous system relaxes.
The psychological benefits
A strong yoga practice will challenge you mentally. Our bodies will naturally take the path of least resistance, so learning to control your breath and remain in postural discomfort creates neurological distress. Savasana allows us to relinquish all conscious control and a deep sense of peace and contentment arises, along with clarity of thought and presence of mind.
The metaphysical benefits
Savasana is known to induce a trance-like condition, giving us an intrinsic sense of self and 'oneness' with the fabric of nature and time. The integration of the physical practice (asanas) with breathing (pranayama) in savasana leads us to a state devoid of social masks and dogmas, freeing us from the burden of the body and the ego, transcending our earthly selves into the ether.
Surrender and Discover your own Peace
The goal of the yogi is to repose in peaceful meditation in order to find the 'higher self'. By engaging in dead corpse pose, we learn to detatch from our body and mind to experience the lightness and joy of complete surrender. This doesn't come easily, however, it takes time and practice to master such vulnerability and acceptance of this pose. Some days you will get it, some days you won't.
Does it really matter? No. I am not here to tell you how to feel. I am here to tell you I am trying to work it all out too. So join me. Let's nut this crazy life out together - without judgement, without expectations... just a bunch of yogis laughing as they fall (again!) onto the floor.