I’ve written before about how to ease the body into autumn, but it’s been a couple of years and I feel it’s time to go there again, in greater depth.
What does the autumnal equinox even mean, anyway? I was asked this by a very intelligent, articulate, kind, humble and professional man yesterday after bringing it up in conversation. He said, “How did I go this long in life thinking there was only a summer and winter solstice?”
This Tuesday, September 23rd, will be the autumnal equinox (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Unlike the solstices, which signal the days of longest and shortest daylight, respectively, the equinoxes also occur twice per year. They are known as the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. These occur when the equator passes the center of the sun, making two perfectly opposite points on the celestial sphere, though traditional and ancient translations call the equinox the day when light and dark are of equal length. This is not always the case, physically, as sunrise is often perceived at different times from year to year but, transcendentally, this is a very grounding aspect of the equinox. In essence, it is a very energetically rich time, as are the solstices.
As an Ayurvedic counselor, I suggest a gentle shift in daily practice to facilitate an easy, smooth transition from summer into fall. The same goes for moving from winter into spring, though the two are completely different metaphysically. The shift initiated by the autumnal equinox is one of slowing down, turning inward, growing more quiet, welcoming some darkness and a sense of hibernation, fostering security and restoration. Oppositely, the vernal equinox embodies the sloughing off of those layers, the shedding of that hibernation, the letting in light and warmth, liberation and energy.
So now that we’re clear on what the autumnal equinox is, how do we best prepare for this shift? I have some simple techniques I follow (and build upon) each year to make the transition as graceful, enjoyable and nourishing as possible. Here are a few:
There’s nothing quite like meditation to soothe uncertainty of any sort. Seasonal shifts are no different. I believe that connecting deeply to the transcendental importance of life is the single most guiding force one has. Finding space for solitude and self-inquiry, silence and stillness, truly provides a steady foundation on which to proceed. When one is rooted and grounded, no shift can be too jarring.
- Yoga Practice
As a yoga teacher, I am keen on individualizing one’s practice in such times as these seasonal shifts. But as a general recommendation, the autumnal and vernal equinoxes both provide a perfect time for twisting, detoxifying practices. Preparing the body for change and boosting the immune system. For spring, I add in more backbends and exhilarating postures to stimulate growth and energy. For autumn, I like to focus on more grounding postures and forward folds. Moving directionally, with the seasons, learning to fold in and promote feelings of safety during the shift into autumn, really helps soften the vulnerability that naturally arises when things outside the body begin to change. As always, longer savansans after practice and an additional restorative posture or two in the evenings are highly recommended.
There are few better ways to tap into one’s own unique experience than to journal. I am keen on gratitude journaling, list-journaling (making bullet points and going about it stream of consciousness style), self pen pal journaling (writing unabashedly in detail to oneself as though writing to a girlfriend or long distance lover). Journaling offers insight to present experiences that can heal both in the moment, and by looking back over passages to gain deeper understanding and clarity about one’s own history and intimate awareness. In terms of the seasonal shift, one’s journal can purposefully and also inadvertently capture many insightful offerings to how the transition is resonating on each subtle level.
- Time in Nature
Getting out in Mother Nature and really participating in her shift is the most palpable way to embed this seasonal shift into the spirit. Hydrating every cell with the pure, unadulterated nourishment of nature is an unparalleled practice any time of year. Hiking, walking, moving meditation, seated meditation, simply sitting and observing…the options are endless. I suggest combining all of these practices at least once around the equinox; making space for a yoga practice, meditation, and simple picnic with one’s journal and one’s breath, sensually tapped in, a solo adventure in nature. This is much more accessible than it may sound. This could be in the woods, at the beach, the park or even in one’s own backyard. No need to overcomplicate matters. Just get your bare feet on the earth. Bask in the sunlight, bathe in the moonlight. A few minutes can do the trick. Get out often. Breathe deeply.
- Connecting to the Senses
I like to begin incorporating autumnal eats into my daily cooking. Warming pumpkin spiced porridge, butternut squash soup, baked sweet potato and roasted acorn squash. I relish in treating myself to a yearly, nontoxic heirloom pumpkin candle (seriously, it’s the little pleasures in life…) that I burn each night at my altar. I decorate my home with tasteful bursts of the season; a bouquet of sunflowers, sprigs of deep red leaves, a pumpkin on the front porch, pinecones, woven wicker baskets, colors of deep orange and rich brown, a bowl of crisp, fresh-picked apples. Adorning myself each day in textures that murmur fall…soft, knit scarves, chunky-heeled boots, soft, crocheted fingerless gloves, warm, woolen socks, smart little caps. For my sisters, this is a sacred time to get in touch with the Divine Feminine. The equinox is rich with a fertile energy; this doesn’t mean you’re bound to get preggers, it just means there is latent potential for growth and rebirth, planting seeds of intention and watering them with the ripe fullness of the celestial shift. Bathe oneself in the sweet sounds of leaves crunching beneath one’s footfalls, the subtle nuances of a warm evening breeze, the smells and sounds of the crisp, ethereal shift into fall.
This one’s a biggie. As an Ayurvedic counselor, I believe in using diet to shift organically into a new chapter, whether it’s a season change or any other little monthly or weekly change. Moving from summer to autumn, as well as from winter to spring, each require a finely tuned and yet very simple dietary approach. A kitchari cleanse does the trick perfectly in fall, as it is easily digestible, warming and very nourishing. A spring cleanse would look more like raw salads, cold grains, plant-based proteins and green juices/smoothies. Loads of herbal tea, warm lemon water, ginger/turmeric spiced tonics and milky herbal chais ease the body warmly into the darker, colder season. Either way, resting the digestive tract a bit and making space for the body to adjust to new environmental factors and conditions.
That’s likely enough to keep us all busy through the equinox, but incase you seek more information or guidance, or simply have questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I welcome the conversation. I welcome your energy into the shift. I value your presence in the cosmic consciousness. This space offers great warmth and comfort to me each year, it is a time of reflection and deep contemplation for me. The vernal equinox tends to be a more vulnerable shift, in my experience, but this is so unique to us all. There is no right way and no wrong way. There is no good or bad. There is just feeling. There is just your sweet, sacred body. There is just your own perfect, human experience. And there is your spirit, your beautiful spirit, infused with Grace and inherent wisdom, leading you along your path. May these practices nurture a healthy and stable shift from the pulsing heat and freedom of summer to the fading warmth and light of autumn.
Om Namah Shivaya.