Thursday, August 19, 2010

Seasonal Yoga

"There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven," says Ecclesiastes 3:1 and so is true for yoga practice. Yes, yoga practice should ebb and flow with the seasons because our bodies do. It's no wonder since the creator of our bodies set the seasons into motion too.

As the summer begins to wind down and the weather shifts to cooler temperatures, I have heard more complaints from students about stiff muscles and achy joints. The summer warmth offers a reprieve from many body aches and many students find that they can go deeper into poses or get into poses they couldn't during the winter. I often joke that the only time I do the splits is in July. However, fall can be rough because of the shifting weather patterns. Fronts affect our bodies because of the transition from high to low pressure. Likewise, the increased moisture next to the skin cools the muscles even more.

Mentally too we shift as the seasons change. In the summer we often feel more energetic and bright. Depending on work and family schedules, we might find that we have more time for leisure activities and exercise during the summer. Fall tends to bring more busyness as kids head back to school, vacations end and we feel more of an urge to accomplish our work and tasks. I tend to think of fall as more serious and contemplative especially on cool foggy mornings. In winter we might feel more lethargic and gloomy because of the lack of light and colder temperatures. Spring can bring more anxious energy as the need to be outside sets in and our bodies like the earth wake up. We can have a tendency to want to accomplish more and do more during the spring. 

With this idea in mind I find that it's helpful to structure yoga classes around the seasons.

In the winter I like to do more movement in the poses to increase blood flow to the body and help students wake up a bit. Rising cobra, cat/cow, flowing crane, swinging table top, the morning series are good examples of poses that increase circulation and warmth in the body. Often yoga is more therapeutic and restful during this time to help cope with the body aches and pains. Sometimes if students are particularly tired and grumpy I might spend the entire class practicing restoratives. Winter is a more restful time for our bodies.

In the spring, sun-salutations give outlet to our new found energy. A combination of forward-bends and back-bends are also good to help us stay grounded and ease lowerback strain associated with gardening and yardwork. Since spring in the Northwest tends to be rainy it's sometimes nice to do more of a workout to make up for the inability to get outside to exercise.

Summer is a great time to try poses that you haven't before or perhaps go deeper into poses you've been reluctant to. I really enjoy arm-balances during the summer along with inversions such as headstand. I also enjoy holding the poses longer than I typically would in the winter. Summer often feels like a quick season, especially here in the Northwest, so it's nice to slow down a bit and enjoy it. On really hot days it's better to slow down even more and do some restorative work. Palm tree, fish pose, boat pose and pigeon are all good summer poses as their names suggest.

Fall is the time for battening down the hatches so to speak. I still like to hold the poses longer, but classes tend to become more therapeutic again as we work out the last kinks of summer. Spinal twists and poses that promote stress relief such as supported child's pose, forward bends and half moon are very appropriate for the fall.

As the seasons change try to become more aware of how they affect your body. The above is a generalized example and may not necessarily be true for you. If you know what your body needs you can better adjust to the changes the seasons bring.

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