I walk my dog along the river, most mornings. It is good for me. Yesterday, though, I groaned and creaked; the sky was gunmetal gray, the river black, the wind staggering and pulling leaves and milkweed silk away into what could only be darkness. Darkness, and cold. The sound of those brittle leaves, skittering down the pavement when there was no other human noise, pulled at something in my belly.
How is it the quickness and fullness – the stark raving beauty of the autumnal feasting and festing and chittery birdsong – so quickly became this dankness and sharp? I slouched deeper into my coat and my hands would not stay warm. The dog I think has better transitioning skills than I do; he wanted to stay.
I wanted to go. We cowered and shuffled our way home through a neighborhood that seemed all railroad track and chainlink fences, beer cans like leaves rolling down the street. Last week I didn’t notice, these. I noticed the trees on fire. I noticed the warmth in the sun.
It is good for me, these walkings and meditations: I wondered how it is one transitions into fall. Or, more generally, how we weather the cold and barren times of change. What happens to us when we are blown upon?
This, in itself, has been the revelation: it is not a question of how ‘one’ bears transition or seasons, yoga doesn’t ask that. Yoga asks how you, yourself transition. If you do. And how that happens to be working for you. And if it might change – you might change – to not only cope better but to find the joy in it, the harmony.
In the ayurvedic system, autumn is governed by the vata dosha. In Chinese medicine, the season affects the lungs and the large intestinal meridian.
Vata: that which blows. The lungs constrict in a blast of cold air – and stay in shallow breathing patterns if either the external or internal cold lingers on. This fuels anxiety, hyperexcitability, irritability, a sense of being ungrounded. The vata dosha itself rules the nervous system, our ‘moods’ and ‘thinking’ and ‘cognitive ability’. Imbalance of the vata dosha results in skittery, blowsy, richocheted movements that seem to have no center or gravity. There is endless activity, but nothing much that matters. There is crisis, after crisis, after crisis and a hyperfluidity of people and circumstances and things without any of it connecting together. Imbalance can manifest as lack of enthusiasm, loneliness, fear. Diminished creativity, unstable memory, scattered thoughts.
The leaves, I think. The wind.
The large intestine, the colon, is essential to the apana vayu or grounding movement of energy. It is digestive, yes, but it is also related to our ability to be grounded, nourished, not wispy and famished or bloated and lethargic. The intestinal meridian needs, in this season of cold and withdrawing, warm and slowly cooked foods. Earthy, comforting foods. We need not scattered activity but meaningful rituals and deep, profoundly deep, retreat and rest. The body needs movements that are slow, purposive, contemplative. It is good to do
The preparation and culmination of all that feast, I think. Rest. Truly rest. Create and establish rituals that will hold you in the lean time, the meaningless activity. Find connection to the unchanging aspect of it – life, I mean life – that exists within and underlies everything.
The surface is blown clear, frozen, withered away. The way through is to find the deeper core.
Fall is, or can be, a potent time to begin to withdraw and to rest. To complete things we have started, even as the season completes her own work.
How do you transition? I wondered about myself and realized I wasn’t sure I’d ever asked such questions before. Do I transition? Or do I react and feel victimized? Do I, vata style, keep going and going and going in an attempt to override reality with endless activity and surgical attachment to the cellphone? Attempt to keep busy rather than deal with mental, emotional, or physical issues? Vata also has a tendency to cling tenaciously to false ideas and hopes even when faced with evidence to the contrary in unconscious efforts to escape dealing with a deeper reality.
The days are neurotic here in Minnesota – it was 80 degrees and colored like jewel box or a laquered chinese painting last week and now here I am scrounging for warmer socks and something to cover my head. Vata is a dosha, which is usually understood as a personality type. I am not Vata – I am kapha and pitta pressed so hard it’s become stone – but doshas are NOT personality types but characteristics and patterns. Characteristics are things that all people have, and seasons and earth and rhythms, too. Vata changes without me directly influence my internal environment.
And what does this mean? I am so glutted on yogic information it becomes hard to know what to teach or why. And the accumulated wisdom of thousands of sages, the ruthless edicts about diets and cleanses and practices, the strange stories of yogic transformation that involve at times stopping ones heart or sleeping in the snow or somehow bilocating oneself to be in different parts of the world at once; what does any of that have to do with who we are? How can yoga mean anything to those of us who do have jobs and families and televisions and high fructose corn syrup? The stories are lovely as fairy tale and the promise of souls waking up speaks directly to what we most quietly long for. But what do the stories have to teach us? Where our our stories?
Again, revelation is backward turning and face slapping. Biting like the wind, I suppose.
All of this yogic knowledge, the practices, are only relevant if we can apply them to our own selves. It would be unrealistic and unhealthy to swallow any prescription wholesale, or to believe yoga will turn you into a wandering saint humming chants. Or to take what any yoga teacher tells you, any class teaches, as the answer. The answer is in the question. The answer is in beginning to question.
The point lies in knowing how change affects you, and diet and movement and circumstances, and in learning how powerfully we can respond and grow. The point lies in realizing we are not powerless, but poignant. Thriving in that power, within and without. Becoming, through the practices, better selves.
Next post will highlight key concepts, asana, dietic stuff for transitioning into fall.