The Four Seasons of A Yoga Practice

By Nicole Doherty – Published in American Athlete Magazine

As we are fast approaching a shift in season it’s important to acknowledge the changing rhythms of Nature of which humans are a great reflection. With each season we can explore our relationship to the external factors at play and create an experience that nourishes our being. 

The Autumnal Equinox, marking the first day of Fall, usually brings a break to the summer heat and a beautiful crispness to the air. Coming from the East Coast, it was an exciting time to witness the rainbow of vibrant colors gracing the tree-lined streets. This vivid landscape elicits memories for me of “back to school”, Halloween and Thanksgiving. It’s a very social time for communing with friends and family, in preparation for perhaps a very long, introspective winter. It’s also a season that requires a great deal of focus and concentration as we begin our studies or start training again for competitive sports. As we get used to filling our schedules again, we need a bit more energy than we normally require.

To honor this Fall season, we can practice more invigorating poses that create energy like backbends. Backbends encourage more inhalation, increase the flow of energy in the body and require more strength. These poses open the chest and in turn the circulation to the heart and lungs. As we physically open the heart, we break down emotional barriers and our being reflects more heart-opening qualities such as forgiveness, love and gratitude. We may also consider meditation and standing balances that call for concentration and single-pointed attention.

The Winter Solstice is the first day of Winter in December, often a time in most cultures when the weather gets markedly colder. We begin to move indoors as a culture and inward energetically toward introspection and contemplation. In some places with snow, for instance, one may experience a more peaceful and quiet outdoors. As much as it can be calming and more restorative, for some it also can be harsh and depressing.

You can use your yoga practice to match the energy of Nature or you can counter it to increase the opposite energy toward more balance. Forward bends are great for calming the system and can help alleviate stress and depression. These poses will also improve digestion, often needed as we eat heavier foods when we store up for the winter. If you find your energy is too lethargic and heavy however, try using the aforementioned backbends to uplift you. In the Winter your muscles will be much more rigid, so you will need to use many poses to warm up the body before you practice.

Springtime is a time of renewal and new beginnings.

We see the earth awaken. Nature is blooming with discovery and magic. Animals rouse from hibernation. With this enchantment of the new season, we begin to give up the old stories of fear and charge ahead with inversions and arm balances. These poses will build strength, focus and determination. It’s a fun time to try something new. As the days get longer and the darkness lifts, you can pay tribute to the Sun by practicing Sun Salutations. Spring is also a great time for detoxification. During winter months we may live a more sedentary lifestyle. For some due to lack of exercise and activity we may experience a shortening in the length of our muscles and tissues, resulting in limited joint mobility. Twists are great for wringing out the organs, providing fresh blood to the body and offer a full range of benefits to the length of soft tissues and the health of our spinal discs.

Summer is all about freedom. Generally, the weather is warm and coats, hats, or umbrellas don’t burden us. The heat requires us to wear less and we can flow more. We might be out of school and for many we get longer vacations. Our outdoor activity increases.

Since our muscles and bodies are already heated we are more pliable, free and flexible. We have the opportunity to get deeper into our bodies and challenge ourselves to slow down a bit. Deep hip openers can be grounding when our energy is heated. Backbends may feel easier since we are more open, yet less is more. Also, you may even consider splits given the access to more malleability. Move a bit slower and more methodically in the summer. Take out some of the Sun Salutations. Opt for more cooling restorative poses, which are beneficial in cooling down the system.

All in all, it’s interesting to observe how we reflect our surroundings. When you practice yoga, consider that the seasons may be affecting the way that you feel. Experiment with your practice. You can either work with the seasonal energies or you can counter the seasonal energies. Some people may incorporate all of these poses in every practice to maintain a balance of energy throughout the year.

The most important thing to acknowledge is your body and how it’s affected by the elements around you. With a better understanding of the poses and the seasonal forces, you can create a practice that supports and nourishes you.

By Nicole Doherty – Published in American Athlete Magazine

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