Fall is my favorite season. It fills me with hope and brings me joy. And, as a yogi, it reminds of the importance of giving gratitude for the gifts in my life. The derivation of the fall season, also known as the September equinox, comes from centuries ago when the planting and harvesting of food was the most important time of the year. I can imagine that happiness and gratitude abounded when a good crop was taken to market. Food was the sustenance that kept people alive and well; and planting and harvesting represented the rhythm of life. The activity of reaping held dignity and worth. Today, we don't celebrate fall with a sense of nature's renewal. It's more like we celebrate the beginning of the football season across America. Or we celebrate Halloween with the children no matter our age. But as a yoga teacher, I am conscious that recognizing the richness of the fruits of labor, giving gratitude to the earth for its ability to grow food brings a new sense of positive energy into my teaching.
I often reflect in class during these days leading up to fall that we are given many gifts in our lives and being thankful for these gifts will bring us many rewards. Gratitude can also change our lives for the better. I urge students to wake up every morning with an attitude of gratitude and see how the day unfolds with amazing grace. Instinctively, I feel the need to extend our meditation at the beginning of class for just a few minutes longer in order to enjoy the full experience of letting the mind go fallow -- as farmers do during alternate years when they do not plant anything in the Earth -- so that the mind will become more receptive to positive thoughts that center around forgiveness. Letting go of old grudges and unrealistic expectations moves us closer to the universal community of others. I have noticed in my yoga classes recently that students feel less inclined to do the more vigorous asanas. They are content to meditate for longer; they relish child's pose; they are very encouraged by balance poses. I am conscious of these changes in their feelings and the practice has for a time changed to a less energetic flow practice.
I, too, am glad to accommodate their needs. My body feels differently, too. Again, I think it is the change of seasons that gives us a more heartfelt approach to our practice, which I am grateful for. I sense less expectations as hearts soften and minds shift to deeper thoughts. It is as if the students are placing a strong value on personal renewal at the same time including the world at large, not in a particular way, but in a universal sense. When seasons change, our food preferences change. It's a natural and habitual for us to want to eat warmer foods. The salad brigade of summer is passing into soups and steamed vegetables. Eating differently from the summer season of colder foods affects our yoga practice, too, because our bodies feel differently. Perhaps we feel softer and warmer inside and so we might feel a slowing down of energy. During the last few evenings I have taught my classes, I felt myself running home to prepare some warm dishes instead of pulling out the salad fixings in the refrigerator. I'm craving coziness. Being sensitive to seasonal change keeps us in contact with the rhythm of nature as it relates to the rhythm of our bodies. Fall still invigorates us in a positive way, but it is slightly shifted toward contemplation, hence, the longer meditation time and the longer we spend in resting pose at the end of class. When students wake up from resting pose and enter the present, their faces are soft and inviting. They are renewed with balance and tranquility. Warrior faces vanish. A slight transformation in the central nervous system has occurred which makes us less reactive, less resistant and more peaceful. The essence of a yoga practice is its ability to change and reflect our feelings, emotions, desires and needs. It is ever-changing and ever-lasting.
Joan Moran is the author is "Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer." She is a yoga and meditation instructor at UCLA and a public speaker. Read her blog on Red Room.