This last week has brought the feel of autumn to the landscape and our gardens, and maybe to us too. We've also had some beautiful sunshine to compensate for the cooler temperatures and it's a good time therefore to think about opportunities to use our breathing practice as we go about daily life as well as when we start or finish a yoga practice or meditation. Whilst walking we can observe how our breath is linked to our stride, perhaps breathe a little more deeply taking the chance to inhale the scents of autumn in the air and appreciate the beauty autumn brings even as summer finally slips away.
Practising Nadi Shodana, alternate nostril breathing at this time of year can be especially beneficial. Nadi is the Sanskrit word for 'channel' or 'flow' and Shodana can be translated as purification, so this form of breathing technique is designed to purify and clear the subtle energy channels bringing things into balance. To practise Nadi Shodana first sit comfortably and rest your left hand on your knee or in your lap. Breathe naturally just noting how your breath feels. Sit tall. Create a Mudra with your right hand folding the second and third fingers in towards the palm and resting them on the base of the thumb. Exhale fully, then use the thumb to gently close the right nostril, breathe in through the left nostril. Then, release the right nostril and at the same time gently close the left nostril with the ring finger and exhale through the right nostril. Keeping the ring finger in place inhale through the right nostril, then release the ring finger and at the same time close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left nostril. This inhale through left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left whilst alternating the closing of the nostrils makes one round. Try practising 6 rounds at first and then let your breathing return to its normal rhythm and take a few moments to observe whether the alternate nostril breathing has changed anything. In autumn I like to think of this purification as a letting go of anything that no longer serves my wellbeing in the same way that the trees are letting go as their leaves fall.
There is a feel of letting go in a wonderful poem called 'Equinox' by Barbara Crooker that I was introduced to last year by a dear friend. Here it is:
Another October. The maples have done their slick trick
of turning yellow almost overnight; summer’s hazy skies
are cobalt blue. My friend has come in from the West,
where it’s been a year of no mercy: chemotherapy, bone
marrow transplant, more chemotherapy, and her hair
came out in fistfuls, twice. Bald as a pumpkin.
And then, the surgeon’s knife.
But she’s come through it all, annealed by fire,
calm settled in her bones like the morning mist in valleys
and low places, and her hair’s returned, glossy
as a horse chestnut kept in a shirt pocket.
Today a red fox ran down through the corn stubble;
he vanished like smoke. I want to praise things
that cannot last. The scarlet and orange leaves
are already gone, blown down by a cold rain,
crushed and trampled. They rise again in leaf meal
and wood smoke. The Great Blue Heron’s returned to the pond,
settles in the reeds like a steady flame.
Geese cut a wedge out of the sky, drag the gray days
behind them like a skein of old wool.
I want to praise everything brief and finite.
Overhead, the Pleiades fall into place; Orion rises.
Great Horned Owls muffle the night with their calls;
night falls swiftly, tucking us in her black velvet robe,
the stitches showing through, all those little lights,
our little lives, rising and falling.
by Barbara Crooker