Autumn has arrived in a gust of wind and a flurry of falling leaves. It’s a pretty picture and—looking through the lens of ayurveda, yoga’s sister science—it’s the picture of vata dosha. Autumn, the season of vata, can aggravate this dosha’s attributes: rough, dry, mobile, light, cool. It’s a good time for a bowl of hot soup…and an ideal time to take a look at where vata reveals itself in your yoga practice.
Of the three doshas, vata is the most easily disturbed or dis-arranged. Vata is associated with the elements of air and ether (space), so “vata derangement” is often blamed for restlessness or air-headedness. Excess vata can result from something as simple as a long flight or as complex as prolonged stress. But whatever the cause, you’ll likely recognize its effects.
Have you ever found it difficult to focus during meditation and asana? Do you tend to rush from one pose to the next, without taking time to experience the fruits of each? Do you spend your time in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) ticking over mental lists like errands or groceries?
These signs of excessive vata are pretty obvious. But you’ll discover other, subtler clues within your asana. Take Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Are the corners of your feet evenly connected to earth, or has your weight shifted forward, as though you are poised to run? This is a sure sign of vata’s restlessness, as is clenching the toes. Gripping or clenching—the opposite of the yama of aparigraha (often translated as nongrasping)—suggests underlying fear or anxiousness. Anxiety is vata run rampant, and related conditions include insomnia and constipation.
On a deeper level, grasping represents a fear of letting go, like an autumn leaf clinging to a branch. Instead, surrender fully to your practice. The beauty of asana is that it uses the physical body as an entry point for addressing emotions and mental states that may be otherwise elusive. To balance vata’s restlessness, emphasize grounding and stability with standing poses. Let autumn become a metaphor: As your practice matures with time, your awareness ripens. Focus your awareness on savoring the fruits of each pose before moving on to the next.
Because vata is associated with the large intestine, cooler, dryer autumn is the season to focus on practices that strengthen intestinal fire: the pawanmuktasana digestive series, belly twists, bhastrika pranayama, etc. If you perform daily oil massage (excellent for balancing vata dosha), it’s time to switch to a “heating” oil like sesame. If the change in seasons has shifted your daily activities, reestablish a regular routine, something Deepak Chopra recommends for grounding vata. Or simply move your mat into a sunny spot, and enjoy the delicious juiciness of a deeply centered asana practice.
When you need to get grounded and centered, which yoga practices do you find most helpful?