The following essay comes from our Spring, 2022 issue of The Path. Join us on The Path for 2023 to receive our bi-monthly journal and become a part of our live, online gatherings and classes. Read more here.
The mornings are crisp and cool, and the field outside suffused in a soft shade of gold, with spatterings of red from the rose hips that hang where petals once grew. It is the spring of 2022, and I am visiting Meghan in Tasmania, where the farmer’s market boasts a vibrant array that includes eggplant, pumpkin, apples, and pears.
Nothing here speaks of spring, and everything boasts of fall.
Honestly, it is a bit disconcerting. Although I really shouldn’t see why. For if I’ve learned anything living in Montana, where winters linger and reappear without warning, it’s that the calendar means nothing. And I have no input into what Nature provides or doesn’t. My only recourse is to simply adapt to whatever conditions I’m being served.
Though the same is true for all of us, no matter where it is you live. For the world is full of shifting energies and forces.
There is the cycle of seasons, of light, of tides and moons, of youth to aged, with each phase a part of a beautiful whole. To adapt is to honor what is present. And by following life’s natural rhythm, we also find our own.
Thus, I find myself falling easily into step with a craving for pumpkin and apples, and making stews using Meghan’s end-of-summer harvest. This is what’s natural. And certainly helps me feel much more at home as Tasmania begins its descent into fall.
Now, if only I were so rooted in the day’s natural rhythm. But even at this very moment, I am sitting in front of a brightly lit screen while the outside world is still dark. Even the birds are not yet awake. And the truth is, I’ll probably still be up long after the sun has gone down. It’s no wonder I feel tired so often. Actually, it’s why many of us do.
Because this constant over-exposure to light interferes with our circadian rhythm, an internal process that regulates our sleep-wake cycle. And the blue light emitted from smartphones can be particularly harmful, as many of us keep by our beds.
You see, our body needs darkness to produce melatonin, a hormone that helps facilitate sleep. In contrast, light triggers cortisol, the hormone that helps us wake up. Without artificial light, our sleep-wake cycle would be much more aligned with the sun’s rising and setting. Even so, it’s why you might notice you sleep more in winter than in summer. And better when it’s dark
Cycles are nature’s way of regulating and balancing, and so the more closely aligned we are to those conditions, the more regulated and balanced we are as well.
The trouble is that most of our lives don’t really allow us a chance to fully engage with life’s ebbs and flows as they happen. Especially in a more linear and goal-oriented culture like ours.
For example, I remember when I still menstruated, I mostly worked around, tried to ignore, and carried on, business as usual. And that included in my yoga practice. There was no turning inwards, no added rest, and no real awareness that either was missing. I stuck to my daily schedule and barely missed a beat.
But also, that was what was expected. And what many women did.
Then along came menopause. The changes were unmistakable — the heavy bleeding, intense headaches, trouble sleeping, and a dramatic shift in energy. Still, I pushed through. Which is less a testament to my willpower than ignorance. I simply had no idea that what I was feeling was what many women endure, though often silently and with little support.
“Menopause is a process that lasts for many years for most women. and it can be a challenging time emotionally as we move from our productive and reproductive years into years of more self–inquiry and seclusion. because we live in an age of “have it all,” there may be anxiety. many women push themselves to the point of exhaustion trying to be the best mom, wife, worker, friend, daughter – and that exhaustion can make this transition particularly difficult as it wreaks havoc on the hormones.”
— Christine Hoar, The Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast
Even worse is that many women often bear a bit of shame during this time, especially in a world so obsessed with productivity, fertility, and youth. The need to slow down can feel like a flaw. And yet, according to Āyurveda, that slowing is intuitive, and, when actually allowed, quite liberating as well.
From an Āyurvedic perspective, everything is energy, defined elementally into three main categories, or doshas: kapha (earth and water), pitta (fire and water), and vata (air and space). These doshas not only make up our own individual constitutions but are constantly at play and in relationship with our environment, including seasons and time.
In fact, even our lives cycle through these stages, reflecting a natural dominance of elements appropriate to our age.
The first stage of life, known as childhood, is kapha, a time for growing strong roots. Children need structure and predictable routines, along with time for exploration, sleep, and lots of nourishment and love.
The second stage of life, known as adulthood, is pitta, which is a time of immense doing. It is during this period we are building our own personhood along with relationships, careers, and families. Thus it would be normal and healthy to be more goal-oriented and actively engaged with the world.
The third stage of life, known as maturity, is vata and a time of liberation. No longer bound by the need to achieve and produce, now is a time for being, with space for contemplation and expansion. But also change. For with air, comes inspiration and the ability to shift directions. And why it is during this time, a person often re-engages with more personal pursuits and interests born of the heart.
Incidentally, vata is also the dosha of autumn. A time of plentiful harvest, colorful change, and a crisp, clear perspective. And while I do love the fiery busyness of summer, it is this exhale into fall that remains my favorite. Particularly, now, as I spend this time with my daughter, puttering in her garden or walking along the beach. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be in this slower yet boundless stage, finally free to enjoy the bounty of my life.
THE PATH 2023: THE NATURE OF YOGA
All life is made of the same five essential elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space/spirit – including us. These same elements that compose all of nature are also present in our own bodies and in our practice. From the grounding of earth, the flow of water, and fire’s transformative energy, to air’s inspiration and the space we need to grow and expand – by reconnecting with nature outside, we come home to our true, inner nature as well.