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Yoga Haven

— Photo by Alison Shaw

Shorter days, cooler nights, kids are back to school; it’s time to fetch some cozy socks and boots and take a long walk and a deep exhale. Ahhhhhhh, autumn has arrived. … We count these crisp and still sunny days — enjoying the perfect “fall” from summer crazy:  The surf’s up at Squibby, your favorite restaurant is still open (for another week or so), and the sun holds strong enough for short sleeves midday. Behold, the beauty of the “Vineyarders summer,” this short and well-deserved reprise of autumn.

Yet there’s something else blowing in the air that makes us a little uneasy — a looming of winter upon us. Folks seem a little scattered, as some rush to make their winter travel plans and others prepare for the long Vineyard winter. Cords of wood begin to pile up in the backyard. Bank accounts are examined.

In the sister science to yoga called Ayurveda, which focuses on the wellness of our physical, mental, and emotional body, it’s known just how acutely our health is influenced by the seasons. Like a finely tuned machine, we are manipulated by the changes in nature. The air dries a little; so does the moisture in the body, affecting our joints and our digestion. As the temperatures cool, so does our mood. As the winds blow around the dead leaves, our minds circle and spin, pondering our purpose.

Autumn is the time when the element of air/wind/space, called “vata,” is most prevalent in nature and in ourselves. Vata has “behavior” that is quick, dry, moving, and inconsistent, leading our bodies and minds to feel a little unsettled. Our internal vata governs all movement in the body and our nervous system. With an excess of vata outside and inside in the next few months, we can tend to be more impatient, scattered, agitated, and confused, as well as to have physical symptoms like dizziness, digestive problems, and irritation due to dryness of the skin and joint tension.

How do we keep our vata balanced so that we can master seasonal sanity during these blowing winds of fall?

1: Stay in the moment. There’s nothing like keeping the mind worry-free despite the changing times. The best way is to remain present and aware of our exact reality during the moments when anxiety creeps up. If we allow ourselves to land in the present and breathe, we become grounded in what is versus stressing about what isn’t. Simplify by asking yourself, quite literally, three simple questions:

Who am I?  (I”m Sherry Sidoti)

Where am? (on the deck at Yoga Haven)

What am I doing? (writing on my computer)

Take a deep breath in as you ask yourself each question; let a long breath out as you answer the question. Studies show that one breath can turn our nervous system from the sympathetic (the fight/flight/freeze response) to the parasympathetic (the “everything’s gonna be all right” response). So breathe!

2. Keep the body warm and lubricated. Eat foods that are warm and a little more dense, like soups to keep you grounded (or if you prefer salads, add avocados, cheese, or nuts). Add natural oils, such as olive, avocado, or almond to your skin daily. They will help keep your joints juicy and prevent your skin from drying out. Add some fluid movement to your daily routine that is smooth and not jarring on the body: Try a vinyasa yoga class, cycling, or a massage, or get your groove on and dance. And if you have a wood stove, make sure to keep a pot of water on it as a natural humidifier for your home (it can be extra nice to drop a dab of lavender oil into the water for fragrance.)

3. Align your life clock to the changing daylight hours. Wake up early, go to sleep earlier. Spend quality time with those who keep you centered. Go out into nature as much as you can during sunlit hours. Soak up the  vitamin D while you can!

Here’s to a grounded and cozy fall!

Sherry Sidoti is the creator, director and lead teacher of FLY Yoga School, the Vineyard’s first-ever 200-hour Certified Yoga Teacher Training Program. Additionally, she is the owner of Yoga Haven, which offers daily classes, continuing education for yoga teachers and practitioners, and special workshops in the spirit of healing, harmony, and balance for the greater good of all. For more information, visit flyyogamv.com.

'Tis the season of the big inhale. — Photo by Alison Shaw

Sherry Sidoti is the owner of Yoga Haven Martha’s Vineyard, and the Director and Lead Teacher at FLY Yoga School, MV’s first ever Certified Yoga Teacher Training program. “Seasonal Sanity” will feature her thoughts on how to shift into each coming season.

Despite the still-snowflakes and chilly days, it’s spring on Martha’s Vineyard! Time to take a BIG breath in, shed our winter “coat” and lighten up from the inside out for the busy summer ahead. So, what have you planted and what would you like to see grow in 2014? Like the soil, we too need to be tilled, sifted, and fertilized for our seeds of intention to grow.

Through the yoga perspective, we live an entire four seasons with every breath we take. Spring season is like a huge inhale, taking in new life, new ideas, and gearing our minds and lives for summer, which is, as most of us know it, like holding the breath at the top of an inhale—often so full to the point of pressure. Just as an exhale represents autumn — a sort of dropping down, releasing — think leaves falling, to the pause of holding out breath at the bottom of the exhale, which represents winter — an emptying of sorts, a hibernation.

IMG_1168This tendency to hibernate in winter asks that we collect, absorb and hold on to excess in attempts to stay warm. As we move out of the colder months and into the spring, it is important that we take on practices to help us shed our “winter weight”- in our mental, emotional, energetic and physical bodies.  Winter is one of the harder months to exit, as it’s the longest season here in New England, with a very dense energy, so it’s difficult to “shake”. Turn up the heat! Do some spring cleaning! Make space for new growth!

Below are some suggestions for shedding winter and preparing your earth for planting the new seeds of Spring.

Centering with ourselves in nature: the simplest way to bring ourselves into balance is to connect to the earth and connect to our center. This simple reminder to ground and center reminds us of who we are, because at our very essence, we too are organic creatures of nature, with our own inner earth to boot. Noticing our connection to earth does for us the same as a little child reaching up for his mother’s hand to hold when feeling lost; it brings us back to home base.

Suggestions

1. Place a hand on, sit or lie down, or notice your feet touching the ground, outdoors if possible. Notice the connection of you to earth. Remind yourself that the earth is beginning to warm up again, even if it still feels cold, and new beginnings are sprouting underground. If you feel “stuck,” stressed or off balance, remind yourself that everything in nature is preparing to sprout again. Consciously let go of something that feels old, or cold, or no longer relevant to your new season — mentally repeat “I release____” three times.

2. Practice Ujjaii breathing, better known as “Darth Vader” breathing. Gently close off your throat from the inside so that when you take a breath in and out it makes a audible sound, similar to the ocean. Inhale to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 4. This is a cleansing and centering breath that creates internal heat. As you hear your breath imagine the waves of the ocean coming in and out, cleansing all winter stagnation.

3. Twists: All twisted postures assist us in letting go of the past and embracing the new. They are like a spring cleaning of the body. Twists help to ignite our digestive system and wring out the “old” residue in our organs, and our energy body. Simple twist: lay on your back with arms spread out from shoulders on the floor. Hug knees into chest. Drop both knees to the right, keeping arms outstretched, stay for 5 breaths. Come back through center, hugs knees in again, and drop them over to the left. Stay for 5 breaths.

Turn up the Inner Heat: Come out of the cold with these heating practices to lighten up for new growth.

1. Add more spicy foods which tend to heat up our digestion AND add more raw foods into the diet to lighten some of the winter sluggishness.

2. Stretch out the inhales in your breathing patterns to make them longer than the exhale, which offers us a warming effect on the body and activates a focused mind.

3. Add an occasional outdoor run or bike ride or more Sun Salutations, core work or other heat generating exercises to your physical routine. Take a walk or spend some time outdoors during peak sun hours (with sunscreen:), and make sure to catch some Vitamin D.

In love & light,

Sherry Sidoti