Living seasonally is a relatively new way of life for me. It was introduced to me first in a yoga class taught from a method (Katonah®) that uses seasonal metaphor and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with hatha yoga to create a deep theory and way of practice (and by extension, a way of living). This practice of living by the seasons became evidently valuable during the uncertainty that 2020 brought. If we learned anything from the past year or so, it’s that we do not hold much control beyond ourselves. TCM and seasonal living present such practical methods to live and thrive during changing seasons (both literally and metaphorically). There are tools available to us that we can use for support and guidance through the changing seasons. TCM as well as the Indian traditional medicine, Ayurveda, have been guideposts for me as I’ve been learning more on this topic. Here, we will focus on TCM because of its relevance in yin yoga.
TCM in yin yoga
As yin yoga practitioners, we are familiar with terms such as meridians, qi, yin and yang, etc. These are all terms that come from TCM, whether you have realized or not! The name “yin” for this style of yoga comes from the concept of yin and yang. Yin is the more observant, feminine, lunar energy while yang energy is active, masculine, and solar. Yin yoga in practice is a more subtle and introspective approach to yoga, encompassing yin energy. The postures we take in a yin practice usually target a TCM meridian line relating to an organ or a function in the body. Let’s look at how we can best support our bodies using seasonal knowledge in a yin practice and in other aspects of life.
Time for Autumn
Leaving the warmth and energy of summer can be difficult. I am clinging to it more than usual as we leave the yang cycle of the year and enter the yin. Autumn is the fruition and harvest of all the growth and ripening that took place during spring and summer. We are called to turn inward during this season, reaping what we have sown. The fruits of our labor are available and now it’s time to store them as we prepare for the coming colder months. This is also a time to reflect and let go of anything no longer serving you, whether it be physical, literal, metaphorical or spiritual. We must lighten our load and gain clarity of mind while beginning the work of Autumn.
These are good considerations to keep in mind but how does it relate to TCM?
Simple seasonal knowledge for Autumn
According to the Chinese Five Element Theory, metal is the element of fall. Metal energy is focused on the inner workings of the mind and clarity. The organs related to metal and fall are the large intestines and the lungs. Both of these organs are sources of health and immunity and need support to carry us through into winter without getting sick. Their associated meridian lines move Qi energy throughout the body and need to remain unblocked and flowing. Their health is especially important this year because every person’s immunity is somewhat weakened due to such limited contact with others over the past year.
Now that all sounds great but what does that practically look like in my life?
How to use this information
With fall, we see less daylight and have longer nights. Illnesses are easier to catch and seasonal depression may be more prevalent. With the mindset that we can gain something from this darker, quieter season, we can grow and be more positive through the shift. Let’s focus more on harvesting fruit from summer and keeping a clear mind.
When beginning to live seasonally, find practices that best fit in with your life. Do you love cooking? Perfect, find local seasonal foods and get creative. Do you enjoy movement? Add fall focused yin postures to the beginning or end of your exercises. Do you want to create a morning routine? Try pranayama and meditation. There are small ways to fit this lifestyle into the one you currently live, rather than trying to incorporate everything at once.
Practical tools for fall:
Food – Eating seasonally is one way to support the large intestine as well as consuming immunity boosting foods such as garlic, lemon, and ginger. Find sources of locally grown foods and eat what is in season.
Meditation – meditation is an ancient practice used for clearing the mind, so it is well suited for fall! People are often intimidated by beginning a meditation practice, but it doesn’t need to be. I use a meditation timer and just sit quietly for 5 minutes. I also enjoy a walking meditation, for days I can’t sit still. Your yin practice can also be a meditative time for you to intentionally clear and still the mind.
Pranayama – this is one of my favorite practices! Pranayama just means ‘breath control’ and there are many methods for practice. An easy one you can do anyway is a square breath where you take equal inhales and exhales. There are more instructions for this below.
Yin yoga – incorporating a fall focused yin practice can help to support your lungs and large intestine by doing a practice targeting these areas of the body and meridian lines. Practice the following sequence or sprinkle in these postures to your own yoga practice this season. Maybe even just choose one posture to do right when you wake up or go to bed.
Pranayama for lung support and vitality
Square breath with seasonal metaphor – take 4 counts for breath/retention of breath.
Inhale up the front of the body for the growth of Spring
Hold overhead for the ripeness of Summer
Exhale down the backside of the body for the clarity of Fall
Hold below yourself for the emptiness of Winter
Resources for further seasonal knowledge study:
Staying Healthy with the Seasons by Elson M. Haas
Learn more about the Seasons in TCM and their correlation with Yin Yoga in the following webinar: