Yoga with the Changing Seasons
Many cultures recognise five key elements in their traditional spiritual practise. Each culture varies slightly but are remarkably similar. The Chinese list wood, fire, earth, metal/air and water as key energies that constantly change and evolve throughout the year and greatly influence their daily lives. Today, we artificially grow or import our food in all seasons, control our climate and remove ourselves from this natural process as much as possible, deepening our disconnect from the earth and ourselves.
These 5 elements correspond to 5 different seasons which each effects your mood, body and energy levels in different ways. During the course of each season, taking stock of how you’re feeling, the way your body is moving, the kinds of foods you crave (particularly the ones that energise you without weighing you down), is a wonderful way to stay connected to yourself and nature throughout the year. Yoga provides not only way to increase your awareness of these seasonal changes, but a means to deepen your awareness of ‘you’ as time marches ever onward.
You may find that different foods are more suited to different seasons – warming soups and broths in winter and light, cooling meals in summer. The same goes for physical activity – discovering what you prefer during different seasons will help to balance your body and mind, keeping you happy and grounded.
The following guide is based on Chinese medicine and is only an example that may vary depending on your own constitution and local weather.
木 “rising, development (of an action), impulse, expansion, decampment”
Think: graceful, grounding and energising activity. Get outside, especially in the mornings and perhaps reassess your health regime and see what can be updated.
Yoga: A time to focus on flexibility of the spine and other joints and muscles.
Poses: Twists, deep forward bends, heart opening back bends
Eat: Fresh fruits and greens, drink plenty of fluid, and add lemon juice to season salads and water.
火 “embodiement, definition, action, dynamic phase, design”
Think: expressing, expanding, self-awareness. Summer is a time to be social and outdoors
Yoga: Power yoga or partner/acro yoga with a focus on strong, warming flows to awaken your internal fire and cardiovascular system. Try practicing in the morning
Poses: Warrior I & II, chaturanga dandasana
Eat: If you tend to run hot and feel the heat, choose cooling foods – light salads, fruit, lemons and limes. If you are craving more warmth, try warming foods such as meats, chili, ginger and rice.
Late Summer (Earth)
土 “alteration, transformation, transmutation, change, conversion”
Think: A time of change requiring stabilisation and grounding in preparation for winter. This is a time of transition so staying focused is important as we can become confused, distracted and absent.
Yoga: Grounding, meditative practice including seated or supine twists
Poses: Bow pose (danurasana), locust, childs pose, spinal twist, sage pose
Eat: focus on eating slowly, calmly and in moderation
金 “sinking, contraction, declining”
Think: Slow down and let go of things that no longer serve you. As the days become shorter, remind yourself to check in with what’s important and let go of things that waste time or energy.
Yoga: An afternoon or twilight practise focusing on deep, cleansing breathing and strengthening poses
Poses: half moon, dancer, reverse warrior, chaturanga dandasana
Eat: plenty of fibre-rich foods to aid elimination and warm, rich and perhaps spicy foods.
水 “contemplation, calmness, (re-)consideration, observation, reflection”
Think: Stillness, flow, depth and tranquility. Winter is a time for meditation and looking within. Deep relaxation, restorative and yin yoga is often considered most relevant, however a warming, vinyasa practice may serve to provide flow and heat when you tend to feel sluggish and cold.
Yoga: A balance of meditative yin yoga and warming vinyasa yoga, preferably in the evening
Poses: Seated meditation, savasana (corpse pose), supported inversions or Sun Salutes, half moon (ardha chandrasana) depending on whether your body feels warm or cool.
Eat: warming soups, nuts, warm/cooked greens, root vegetables and seafood. Drink warm water and herbal tea
You might also like to incorporate the moon phases and pay particular attention to your emotions and the intensity of these seasonal tendencies around Full and New Moons. You can check a moon calendar here.