It's official. We've made it into the heart of Autumn! It seems like we just celebrated Labor Day, but here we are, Halloween costumes tucked safely away in the backs of our closets, and Christmas music sneaking its way out of department store speakers.
Nature is physically changing, preparing itself for winter, and we are too. But in thinking about the kind of mental shift that occurs during this season -- we're leaving summer-mode and approaching the holidays -- I noticed a link between Mother Nature and our fitness patterns:
If you describe the year in terms of a workout, spring is your warm up, summer is your high intensity training, autumn is your cool down, and winter is your rest. So where does that leave us this time of year? The cool down -- which I bet is most people's favorite part of their exercise regime!
In autumn, the world seems cool in a way that I think we should pay attention to and carry with us throughout the year. So, cool down! Take a cue from Mother Nature and chill out. Chilling out is a treat, a period of change between intensity and rest.
Chilling out is an opportunity to quiet your mind chatter and breathe, indulge in some treats, show gratitude...whatever makes you feel energized yet relaxed; that's the trick. Chilling out is not about flopping on the couch and turning into a potato so quickly that your friends start calling you Spud; it's about turning down a notch and allowing yourself space for reflection, recovery, and preparation. Think back on your workout structure. What are the predominant elements of the cool down? These five things come to mind:
Stretch. You've worked hard; your body has earned some release. But there are a lot of ways to stretch. You might literally stretch by making yoga part of your weekly routine. If you're don't practice yoga, you might find that elongating your body and settling into stretches might awaken different parts of you. And if you do practice, you can certainly set challenges for yourself during this time of year, setting specific intentions that facilitate this chilling out. You might also consider simply stretching your time. Don't pack in your schedule down to the quarter hour. Give yourself time to get to and from places in a way that allows for productivity but also space to shift gears mentally! There's nothing worse than being in business meeting brain when you're heading out to lunch with a pal!
Breathe. It sounds so simple, right? But I'd place a bet on the fact that when you get stressed or hurried, your breath shortens. And then your whole body tightens. That's the opposite of what we want. Air is healing to body and mind, and there's something so crisp and refreshing about cool, autumn air. I encourage you to get outside as often as possible. Even though it's cooler, a stroll outside in this weather is invigorating.
Reflect. A common misconception about reflection is that you have to do it alone and with your eyes closed! Maybe in a fitness studio that's true, but when you're not exercising, one of the best ways to reflect and share is by picking up the phone! I love to text and email, and a conference call certainly has its function, but the simple act of talking to a friend or family member on the phone is so eye (and ear!) opening. Verbalizing your thoughts opens up a whole new channel of reflection because you actually have to listen to yourself and not just your inner monologue.
Focus. Now this is, ironically, at the core of a chill out. Focus doesn't have to mean intense productivity and head-down, closed-door, activity. Focus just means having a singular lens through which you're looking to accomplish a task. The task at hand is up to you! Meditation is always an option at the end of an exercise routine, but I encourage you to take the challenge of focusing on an active task as well. This means not checking your Facebook, Instagram, E-mails, etc! With the holidays coming soon, trying a new recipe in the kitchen can be fun. Sometimes cooking or baking can seem like a chore, if there's pressure to entertain involved. Just make something for you, and focus on doing it to a T. You might be a master and not even know it because you've not given yourself focused time!
Sit. I put this last because we simply don't do it enough. To clarify, I mean active sitting: the CHOICE to chill out and slow down and allow yourself to sit. I do not mean the sitting many of us do from 9-5 in an office or elsewhere that is a requirement and not a mental/physical choice. When we sit we can be loud or quiet, active or passive, engaged or removed. The choice is yours. But since your body is still, use this
chill out pose to engage your mind, even if that means watching a few episodes of that show you've heard everyone talk about but have never sat still long enough to explore.
Whether you choose to practice all five elements of your chill out/cool down this fall or only one or two, I urge you to be present. Skipping straight from your intense summer circuit training to winter sleep would be an extreme physical and mental shift, so take advantage of what chill out Autumn offers us. A cool change is everywhere this time of year, and it would be a disservice to both ourselves and those around us to ignore its power and purpose.