Yogic and Ayurvedic Rhythms for Fall
In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?
Fall Equinox and the Season
In the Fall Equinox, or Alban Elfed in the Celtic tradition, we are given an opportunity to embody the meeting point of life and death, light and darkness, Sun, Earth, and Moon that the cosmic body and Earth are reflecting all around us. No matter if we’re in a country or urban setting, the changes are occurring. The Sun is rising and setting differently. The plant world is peaking and drying, the colors are changing, our activities are shifting. And the world at large is also at a turning point.
Fall is the season of the New Year in both Hindu and Jewish cultural traditions. This is why the New Year begins with the strong sadhana period of Navaratri-Diwali, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Both yearly cycles begin with a period of prayer, reflection, eating healing foods or fasting, and grounding into the mysteries of life (creation and dissolution) so embodied in the Fall Equinox moment of light. The Equinox is balanced in equal darkness but moving toward the peak of greatest darkness.
Vitality Rhythm and Flow—Ayurvedic Wisdom for Fall Season
Ayurveda’s emphasis on purification in balance with regeneration, activity, and rest, as well as stimulation and restoration is a perfect complement to the fall. Because this is when we begin our journey into balancing the change of the season and balance of dark and light. During the fall, vata dosha is the predominant aspect of nature. Made up of the ether (space) and air elements, vata governs the generation of movement within the universe, which initiates all motion inside and outside of the body. Vata and prana, our vital life-energy, are connected, for life is movement and movement is the sign of life.
Vata orchestrates all forms of circulation. This includes physical movement (actions), mental activity (perception, thoughts, insights), communication (words), respiration, and the pulse and function of our heart, as well as the flow of our nervous system. Vata brings the positive mobile qualities of inspiration, creativity, spontaneity, and initiation. When disturbed these can manifest as the qualities of insecurity, anxiety, worry, fear, and overwhelm. These qualities can become exacerbated under stress.
Fall is the time to balance and nourish ourselves. Staying close to the earth is reflected in completing the harvest of one’s creativity from the beginning of the year with the steady, calm, grounded qualities that are so healing to vata.
Five Anchors for the Fall
- Slow down: try not to eat on the run or multitask. Stay present and move mindfully and consciously.
- Protect the body from cold and wind: wear a hat and scarf to soothe excess vata in the head (ears), and keep the lower back covered so that excess vata does not build up in the pelvis/colon.
- Eat moist and warm foods: refrain from cold and raw foods.
- Make oil your best friend: oil the entire from head to toe to prevent dry, rough skin.
- Keep grounded: enjoy activities and food that keep you connected to the earthy and heavy qualities. Take an Energy Sabbath for the Fall Equinox. Participate in a Global Mala or Mala for peace.
Energy Sabbath – Doing Nothing to Do Something
The Fall Equinox along with the ritual holidays of fall are potent times to unplug, tend your energy, and listen deeply to your heart.
It is possible that our ancestors understood that “Doing nothing can be doing something.” The universal teaching that being is a form of acting, that repose and reflection are often the best course of action. Ritual holidays are the rhythmic legacy of our ancestors as times for letting go of work and interruptions from the outside world. This rhythm of retreat—referred to as the Sabbath in western spiritual culture—offers a new form of sacred activism. This is an energy activism that can be offered for the transformation of our energy future that must happen within our lifetime.
UN International Day of Peace and the Global Mala Project
Another way we can tap into the power of fall is through a Global Mala. In 2007, the Global Mala Project was started as a way to bring people around the world together to work with the collective heart field by synchronizing breath, intention, and global awareness in yoga practice connected to 108 (from surya namaskar or sun salutation to mantra japa or repetition of sacred sounds). The intent is to raise consciousness and funds for good causes. It has since traveled around the world through more than 50 countries and continues every year on the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, which takes place around the Fall Equinox, and at any time ritual activation is needed.
The Global Mala offers an opportunity to connect with the yoga community at large: across all borders, styles of yoga, and forms of yoga each year on the fall equinox. This ritual goes beyond the norm, with practices of 108 sun salutations and 108 mantra japa. It combines yoga with action by offering the power of that energy and funds toward a greater purpose by supporting the organization of your choice. There is a profound vibrational ripple effect of students and teachers coming together as a mala—a circle of unity and peace—in yoga studios and centers across the globe on the International Day of Peace.
The Power of 108
The number 108 has long been considered sacred in yoga and many other spiritual traditions around the world. “Renowned mathematicians of Vedic culture viewed 108 as a number representing the wholeness of existence. This number also connects the sun, the moon, and the earth. The average distance of the sun and the moon from the earth is 108 times the sun’s and moon’s respective diameters. Such phenomena have given rise to many examples of ritual significance.”
There are 108 chapters of the Rig Veda, 108 Upanishads, and 108 primary Tantras; 108 marma points, or sacred places of the body; 108 classic dance postures. Even 108, seen in the number of steps leading to the Devi Chamundi Hill in Mysore.
Practice Offering a Yoga Mala: 108 Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutations
The Source of Love shines in the heart of all.
Seeing one in all creatures
the wise forget themselves in the service of all.
The world is their joy, the One is their refuge;
such as they are lovers of the One.
Offering a collective yoga mala practice is a powerful experience of heart entrainment as people move together for 18 to 108 rounds of collective movement around the breath pulse we all share. Empower yourself in your own practice first, on ritual holidays, before leading a group.
Create a sacred space for your practice
If possible, bring everyone into a mandala circle to practice around a community altar. The circle empowers the community and is symbolic of a mala, but not all spaces lend themselves to a circle—if yours does not, don’t let this deter you.
Create mala counters
Create two bowls to count from. In Bowl One, place twenty-seven seeds, and leave Bowl Two empty. Every time you go into a forward bend, put one seed into the empty bowl. If you choose to do the full 108 rounds, then reverse, taking seeds from Bowl Two and placing them into Bowl One. After four cycles you will have reached 108.
Introduce the yoga mala
Unify the group by chanting an invocation of Om or by chanting a mantra. Some communities may want to include a talking circle in which everyone has the opportunity to offer a dedication before you begin. Allow the first three rounds of the mala to be focused on getting everyone in synch around the power of their breath.
Offer dedications and rounds of the mala
This step is done during the first position of the namaskar when the hands are placed palms together in front of the heart in anjali mudra. Open your inner ears and listen to your heart teacher. An offering of a dedication will emerge spontaneously as a revelation. Meditate on this dedication as you move with your breath in heart-brain synchronization. Circulate this dedication through the whole round of the namaskar until your hands return back to your heart for the next round.
You can offer the complete mala of 108 namaskars in four rounds of twenty-seven, or six rounds of eighteen. Over the past twenty years, I have adapted a four-round process that moves from the microcosm within outward to the Source.
Four Rounds of the Mala
- Round One—Dedications for personal transformation and realization. This round is for you: prayers for your own personal activation, healing, and fertilization, and for the manifestation of the potency of your life.
- Round Two—Dedications for family, friends, and “precious jewels” (anyone you have unresolved conflict with).
- Round Three—Dedications for the world. This is the bodhisattva round in which we pray for what we care about in the world and actively participate in transforming the world, whether we want to end war or global warming, to focus on healing of a disease, or to serve our own community’s local needs. This is a very powerful round.
- Round Four—Dedications to the Source. This is a moving prayer that can be filled with nonverbal praise, gratitude, and joy for your feeling-connection to the Source.
When all four rounds are complete, move into shavasana (relaxation) and meditation. Read sacred texts or poetry aloud if you wish. Complete your yoga mala with a closing heart mandala dedication. Repeat the mantra Om shanti, shanti, shanti, and bathe in the radiance and empowerment of this practice.
Tending the Heart Fire
Article adapted from Tending the Heart Fire: Living in Flow with the Pulse of Life, by Shiva Rea. Copyright C 2014 by Shiva Rea. Published by Sounds True.
Shiva Rea is a shaktidasi—servant of the life-force. She is the dedicated founder of Prana Flow—Energetic Vinyasa and Samudra Global School for Living Yoga offering pilgrimage and yogadventure retreats, teacher trainings, and online programs in collaboration with teachers, artists, and activists around the world: pranaflowyoga.com.