Like with food and lifestyle, it is very important to engage in the appropriate body and mind practices throughout the seasons. As the energy surrounding us constantly changes, so do our needs. Awareness, listening to our body and mind, as well as observing any changes in nature can guide us in our personal practice. Below are the guidelines for healthy practice during each season.
Spring, characterised by wet and cool, generally reduces Pitta and Kapha doshas. Vata benefits from moisture and increased warmth during spring but can become aggravated if it is too windy.
If it is a fresh and wet spring then it is best to do physical activity that stimulates circulation, ease of movement and heat, balancing Kapha and producing enough dryness for Pitta. Temperatures are not too high during spring, making it a perfect time to spend in nature and engaging in more intense activities that allow you to sweat daily (cycling, hiking, jogging, climbing, or swimming). The best time for active practice is in the morning, when Kapha energy remains strong, if possible before 10am or if not in the evening at 6pm.
Yoga: Instead of a vigorous and fast-paced practice, start by holding postures longer while using your breath, exhaling deeply, releasing any heaviness and winter toxins from your body. Warm up with dynamic, gentle, and slow sun salutations and standing positions (Trikonasana – triangle pose, Virabhadrasana I, II & III – Warrior I, II & III). Springtime is great to continue with your active winter routine, yet during this time it is recommended to start focusing on lung cleansing (chest opening exercises, gentle backbends) and kidney warming exercises (Bhujangasana – cobra pose, Dhanurasana – bow pose, Utrasana – camel pose, spinal rolls). Assist your body in the detox process by holding your twists a bit longer, while exhaling deeply. What matters most during this time is to keep your practice regular and steady.
If practising inside, make sure the room is warm and if possible adjust the humidity in accordance with your body type (lower for Kapha and Pitta and higher for Vata), as your body already has a high amount of mucus in this time of year.
Breathing: During spring the body is working intensely to release toxins and moisture but you can assist your body with this detox by using simple breathing exercises. Breath of fire (Kapalabhati) is especially recommended as it dries up excess mucus. Using Bhastrika (bellows breath) pranayama allows your head and mind to feel light and fresh.
Relaxation and aromatherapy: During spring time you need less relaxation, therefore shorter relaxation practice is recommended. At this time of year, you should be very active and out and about as much as possible. It is also great to place a bolster under your chest, to open your chest up and fill your lungs with fresh and rejuvenating spring air. Feel free to use refreshing and cleansing aromas: holy basil, sage, rosemary, eucalyptus, orange or lemongrass.
Warm and humid summer weather is especially soothing for Vata and Kapha doshas, who normally stay pacified during the entire summer. Hot Pitta, on the other hand, may get aggravated and overheat easily, therefore this type needs to mainly focus on a calming practice during this time.
Despite the rising heat, summer is a wonderful time to stay active and engaged. When choosing the right time for your practice and balancing activities, the best time is early morning or late evening. However, only practice to 50 % of your capacity, as in this way you will get the most out of your practice. Great summer activities are those carried out in water or near the sea as they will keep you cool and refreshed. Hiking up mountains is also recommended as the fresh mountain air is cooling and refreshing.
Yoga: Instead of heating sun salutations, choose a gentle and relaxed flow of moon salutations, expanding your awareness and learning to flow with grace, rather than keeping your focus fixed on achieving results. Ground yourself in calming Tadasana – mountain pose or Vriksasana – tree pose, while completely surrendering your awareness to your deep, conscious, natural way of breathing. To release heat, focus on postures that massage and release tension from the abdominal region: cat/cow, Bhujangasana – cobra pose, Reclined Badhakonasana – reclined butterfly pose, Balasana – child's pose and any kind of seated forward bends, grounding your forehead down to the ground or yoga block. Practice slowly and gently, allow yourself to pause after each pose in short Shavasana – corpse pose and observe the calming results of your practice. Grow your intuition by closing your eyes, giving them a rest from daylight and practice the postures with your eyes closed. Feel the ground beneath you and become more aware of your breath. Keep your room well ventilated and cool.
Breathing: Great for hot summer days is relaxing belly breath in Makarasana (crocodile posture), as well as cooling Sheetali (cooling breath) pranayama, or simply left nostril breathing, which can be stimulated by simply lying down on your right side, to cool down your body and mind.
Relaxation and aromatherapy: As the heat increases, your body needs longer breaks and relaxations periods in order to be able to cool down properly. Therefore, make sure you leave enough time for a long relaxing final Shavasana (corpse pose), or simply relax on your back, observing your breath, or even practice yoga nidra during the hottest part of the day. To induce coolness put a drop of essential oil (rose, jasmine, peppermint or lavender) on your third eye, throat and navel, then relax completely into the stillness and calmness of your inner being.
Autumn is cool and dry and therefore decreases and pleases Pitta, keeps Kapha balanced, yet severely aggravates Vata, therefore it especially recommended for this type to choose appropriate practice.
As temperatures decrease, autumn represents one of the best times to spend in nature and it is best to do slow and strengthening activities (hiking, walking, cycling, tai-chi, swimming, or yoga). As in previous seasons, the best time to practice is early morning or early evening, as this time of day is governed by strong, grounding Kapha dosha. If you practice during these times you can increase your output to 70 %.
Yoga: Slow down, ground and stabilise your practice, yet allow for enough rhythm to keep your prana regular, and warm up with slow joint and gland rotations. If you love sun salutations, then make sure they are slow and free-flowing. Feel free to hold any grounding, stabilising or centring standing postures (Tadasana – mountain pose, Vriksasana – tree pose, Trikonasana – triangle pose, Virabhadrasana I, II & III – Warrior I, II & III) for longer than you would in the other seasons. During this time choose restorative postures (Reclined Badhakonasana – reclined butterfly pose, Balasana – child's pose, Bhujangasana – cobra pose, Kapotanasana – pigeon pose, Viparita Karani – legs to the wall pose), which allow your inner organs to prepare for their winter rest and rejuvenation. Feel free to use bolsters and cushions and make any adjustment in order to facilitate a warm, cosy and relaxing practice, helping you feel more connected to the earth. Great for this time of year is also yin and restorative practice, as well as maintaining your daily routine. Like in spring, it is important to keep the temperature of your room warm, while adjusting the humidity according to your type (lower for Kapha and Pitta and higher for Vata).
Breath: Autumn is the best time of year to practice pranayama and connect to your breath as well as your inner self. Whatever you do, observe your breath and intend to keep it deep, slow, and flowing naturally. Slow paced alternative nostril breathing or simply breathing through your right nostril (stimulated by lying down on your left side) are both very calming and soothing. Great for balancing the mind and preparing for deep relaxation is Bhramari or bee-sound pranayama.
Relaxation and aromatherapy: Take time for long and cosy (use bolsters and blankets) relaxation sessions. Autumn is the perfect time to practice yoga nidra or the yogic deep sleep technique as it allows your mind to stand still, while at the same time allowing your inner organs to rejuvenate ready for spring. Use warming scents such as basil, patchouli, cinnamon, vanilla, vetiver, geranium.
Cold and dry winter days continue to aggravate Vata. Then during late winter, the cold and damp also increase Kapha. Pitta is the only type that feels good and satisfied in winter! It is therefore important that Kapha and Vata types carry out the recommended practices below in order to prevent unnecessary colds, flu and infectious diseases.
The best way to enhance your well-being and health during winter is through active practice and lots of movement! However, if it is a dry winter, make sure your movement is slow, gentle and strengthening (walking, tai-chi, or gentle yoga). If it is a dull, cloudy, snowy and wet winter, then focus on invigorating, warming, fast-paced, intense and long-lasting practices (hiking, snow shoe walking, or skiing). Once again the best time for your practice is early morning or early evening.
Yoga: Allow your practice to build your strength and stamina during the cold winter months. Warming and dynamic postures that will make you sweat are ideal - e.g dynamic sun salutations, followed by as many standing postures as possible (Tadasana – mountain pose, Vriksasana – tree pose, Trikonasana – triangle pose, Virabhadrasana I, II & III – Warrior I, II & III), as well as postures to encourage your core strength and metabolism (Bhujangasana – cobra pose, Dhanurasana – bow pose, Navasana – boat, Dwi Pada Uttanapadasan – leg lifts). Once your arms, shoulders and core are strong enough, you can even start introducing arm balancing, headstands and inversions to invigorate and boost your immune system. Doing chest opening postures or backbends on dull and grey days will instantly energise you and fill you with positivity. The same postures can be applied in different weather conditions but you will need to adapt them accordingly. In dry weather, make sure your practice is slow and gentle and in wet weather, make it faster, hotter and your breathing more rapid. During your practice try to keep your eyes open and if you are Vata please use a diffuser (central heating can dry out Vata).
Breath: Breathing through your right nostril, or simply lying down on your left side will stimulate your metabolism and keep you warm, while Uyajje (ocean breath) and Kapalabhati (breath of fire) will keep your digestive fire high. Bhastrika or bellows breath will cleanse any mucus and free your lungs. This is a wonderful season to start practising and deepening your practice of full yogic breath and eventually incorporating it into your daily life. In case of excessive dryness and Vata dis-balances, practice slow, alternate nostril breathing and focus on long exhalations.
Winter is the perfect time to meditate and reflect on the past year. While meditating have your eyes open and focus on a particular point or a candle flame, as this will bring more fire and light into your heart and body. If meditation makes you depressed or stagnant, then meditate standing.
Relaxation and aromatherapy: Depending on your type and the weather conditions, your final relaxation will be either long or short during winter. If you are Kapha or the weather is wet and dull, then you should engage in a short and supported final relaxation, as this will rejuvenate you. Great rejuvenating scents are black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and ginger.
On the other hand, if you are Vata or the weather is dry, you should engage in a warm, cosy and long final relaxation (20-30 minutes), or practice yogic deep sleep at least twice a week. Appeasing and warming scents for this occasion are patchouli, vanilla, cinnamon, geranium and vetiver.
NEW AND FULL MOON
Not only do the different seasons affect the earth's energy but the cycles of the moon also have a big impact. The full moon brings energy and expansion and is perfect for intense practice and any outward oriented action. Whereas the new moon represents the complete opposite, energy is downward oriented, grounding, dense and calm. If your doshas are perfectly balanced then this is the best time to turn within and reflect upon your past. Simply open your hips in Reclining butterfly position, let go of all that no longer serves you, connect deeply with your soul, listen to your inner voice and allow yourself to just be. The new moon energy is perfect for engaging in new creative projects or setting new intentions.
If you suffer from doshic dis-balances then the full moon might aggravate your Vata, causing restlessness and procrastination. Whereas the new moon aggravates Kapha and might leave you feeling vulnerable, sad and melancholic. If this is the case, practice stillness and a gentle, soothing practice during the full moon and a more active practice during the new moon.
Interestingly, the ancient yogis, who were deeply connected with nature, would solely meditate and reflect during both the new moon and the full moon. Through their observations, they learnt that the best time to plant a seed is during the new moon, as this is when the rooting force is at its strongest. They also learnt that the most nutritious harvest is reaped during the full moon when the flowering force is at its strongest. Therefore, there is the belief that when we allow ourselves to stand still and surrender to the natural forces of nature (when they are at their peak), we can easily attain the goal of yoga (the union with our inner being and the entire universe).
Inspired by: Frawley, David and Sandra Summerfield Kozak (2001) Yoga for your Type. Lotus Press: USA.