The wisdom of the seasons
A brief guide to the wisdom of the seasons and how this can support our health and wellbeing. By Julie Hanson
My first piece of deep wisdom came to me on a freezing cold mountainside as I contemplated my potential mortality. On February 26, 1981 at 9pm on a freezing cold night, the four-seater light aircraft I was in collided with the side of a mountain in the Ochil Hills of Scotland. The aircraft ignited on impact, bursting into flames, but luckily all four passengers survived and were plucked off the hillside by a rescue team 12 hours later.
I escaped with a serious case of hypothermia, eight broken ribs, a cracked sternum, a few burns and bruises and a profound feeling that my life had been spared for a reason. I made up my mind during that long night that if I survived, I would dedicate my life to helping other people to cherish this precious life that I so nearly lost.
Things fell into place when I met the fabulous Sue Woodd in the mid-90s, who had had her own similarly life-changing experience and introduced me to the wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). These teachings all felt so intuitive and I was inspired by how much there was to be gained by living in harmony with the natural rhythms of the seasons.
Seasonal Yoga (originally named Energy in Season) was born, co-authored by Sue and myself. It outlines ways you can change your energy, intentions, lifestyle and your thoughts cyclicly, according to the seasons, in order to embrace the unique energy of each time.
In this short introduction, we will share with you some of our tips for living in harmony with the wisdom of nature and the seasons. Like true wisdom though, you need to try it to discover the truth in it for yourself.
Late Summer is for returning to and operating from, a strong sense of centre and self-worth. Like the soil feeding us and the ground locating us in space, the Earth element imparts stability, the power to think, nurture and sustain.
Time to: Get grounded and return to centre.
It's all about: You. Make time for yourself and your personal interests. Nourish yourself and plant ideas and principles for the future.
Ideal practice: Poses that improve core strength, balance and help you feel earthed. Navasana (boat pose) is perfect for this time of year.
Meditation: Sound vibration
Food: Eat naturally sweet, seasonal vegetables and fruits like butternut squash, pumpkin and peaches. Avoid too much refined sugar. Enjoy more spices to keep up the internal temperature.
Work on: Overcoming self-limiting beliefs.
Watch out for: Low self-worth; overeating (especially sweet stuff!).
Autumn is a time of consolidation; keeping hold of values and letting go of what’s no longer needed. A time to shape/refine with high principles, values and expectations.
Time to: Hold onto your principles, express yourself and resolve any grief and sadness.
It's all about: The breath. The quality of your breath affects your movements, experiences, thoughts and moods.
Ideal practice: Slow down with a focus on the breath. Poses that move the rib cage thorax area. Ujjayi breath and Pranayama.
Meditation: Counting the breath and space between breaths.
Food: Flora-enhancing foods such as yogurt, miso and sauerkraut. Cut down on dairy.
Work on: Clearing the clutter in your space and mind.
Watch out for: Harbouring unresolved issues and grief.
Winter is a time to withdraw, repair, rejuvenate, concentrate, conserve and listen. It gives us time to discover our hidden depths and the source of our inherited intelligence.
Time to: Use your imagination, give yourself time to think and reflect.
It's all about: Sleep and rest. Add an hour to your sleep time. Avoid the tendency to overdo things and become totally exhausted.
Ideal practice: Develop spine flexibility, flow through each vertebra of the entire back. Introduce restful practices such as Yoga Nidra.
Meditate: Take up meditation at least once a day for 10 minutes: space and a still mind are the greatest catalyst for change and creativity.
Food: Plenty of hot, homemade soups and stews to keep the body temperature high. Be mindful of your liquid intake and avoid anything iced.
Work on: New ideas. Life/work balance. Review life and contemplate what you really want for the next coming year (but not implementing things until spring).
Watch out for: Overdoing it and not sleeping enough.
Like sap rising, the energy of Spring is fresh, forceful and determined to rise and move forward. Like a tree bending in the wind, secured by its strong roots, it is a time to be supple and flexible in life whilst remaining rooted.
Time to: Have visions, feel inspired, make decisions.
It’s all about: Making plans. Picture how you would like to live. Does your reality correspond to that picture? Practice visualising what you would like to welcome into your life.
It’s also all about: Spring cleaning, in your home and your life, to make space for the new. The mind interprets your environment and its information to the cells, so a tidy room fosters a tidy mind.
Ideal Practice: Focus on creating good foundations in poses. Use twists and side-bending postures as a major focus at this time as they are good for the liver and detoxification.
Meditation: Use visualisations in your meditation and introduce mantra.
Food: Eating fresh, natural foods and lots of chlorophyll-rich green leaves. Try to detox from caffeine, alcohol and highly-processed foods. Choose foods with high natural water content.
Work on: Goal setting. This is the time of year to reflect on last year's successes, put the failures to bed forever and work on your plans for this year.
Watch out for: Anger, frustration and feeling stuck.
Early Summer is about connection, connective tissue and connecting. The secondary part of the Fire element, considered to be more preparation for the full potential of Summer.
Time to: Become more flexible; a rigid body equals a rigid mind.
It’s all about: Community, reconnecting with yourself and your friends, making sure the space around you is comfortable and makes you feel relaxed and happy.
Ideal practice: Treat your body like a big lump of Play-Doh, massaging it well so it becomes flexible to improve quality of stretching. Make sure you work with two anchors (origin and insertion) to get the best mindful stretch.
Meditation: The space around you and the space above your head.
Food: Start juicing when the weather is warm enough. In the garden/balcony, plant rocket and spinach in tubs ready to pick next month.
Work on: Re-connecting with friends regularly.
Watch out for: Feeling isolated and a cluttered mind.
With the energy of Fire, Summer likes to be spontaneous, vibrant, active, and expressive. It loves to communicate and disperse its energy and is a time of maximisation.
Time to: Temper your desire to say 'Yes’ with the occasional 'No'.
It's all about: Love. Cultivate the ability to give and receive warmth. List the things that open your heart, inspire you and develop appreciation.
Ideal practice: Make your practice more cardiovascular. Sweat more. Practice your sun salutes every day. Get outside.
Meditation: Try Trataka, focusing on the flame of a candle.
Food: Eat little and often. Fresh berries for breakfast: blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. Pick and eat some freshly grown leaves. Eat to cleanse and not clog.
Work on: Creating change, burning away old habits and creating new ones. Find and look at your life values.
Watch out for: Low energy, sadness, depression, feeling unloved and disconnected.
Julie Hanson (500 ERYT Yoga Alliance) is co-author of three books, and offers online courses and ‘find your niche’ one-to-one sessions (juliehanson.com)
Sue Woodd (500 ERYT Yoga alliance) is the co-author of two books and offers in-person and online trainings (suewoodd.com)
Photos: Jessica Kettle illustration
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.