Monthly Archives: April 2019

Vanaprashta – the Autumn stage of life

When I first began to move into what Yoga describes as the Vanaprashta or forest dweller stage of life (50-75 years) it was quite confronting to discover that I didn’t have the physical and emotional capacities I once had. I couldn’t even say ‘the mind is willing but the body is weak’, because often the mind wasn’t willing either. As a Pitta/Virgo I had done ‘intense and challenging’ most of my life. You could say it was my second nature. I have come to realise however that it is not my true nature, and so learning to live gently has become both an intention and challenge for me during these autumn years of life.

My first real introduction to taking a gentler approach in life was when I embarked on my first yoga training residential at Mangrove Yoga at the ripe old age of 53. I felt a bit daunted by the undertaking and in my worst moments, I imagined a room filled with younger, more elastic, stronger bodies, with me in the corner needing a nana nap.

There were 38 of us, all ages and shapes, all at different levels of yoga experience, ranging from years of teaching experience to never having sat on a yoga mat. What I loved most was that at some point during our time together those differences were no longer relevant. Together, we slowly put away our preconceptions and past experiences to unpack the depth of the deceptively simple foundational poses that initially seemed ‘boring’ and ‘easy’. For those like me who ‘have to get it right’ or are used to a more strenuous practice, the challenge was in experiencing the subtlety of a gentle wrist or ankle rotation without feeling bored. Gradually, I began to experience the profound healing in gentleness.

I have also been learning how to bring this softer, gentler way to my day to day activities – namely my to do list. This ever-present list used to be my anchor until it became more like the bane of my life. Even if I loved doing something, as soon as it went on my list, it became a ‘should’, and somehow I had reached a point of rebellion in my life where all ‘shoulds’ were to be avoided and procrastinated upon if possible.  This created a dilemma because my daily routine (dinacharya) of practices (sadhanas) that I enjoyed doing, and knew were helping me feel well and happy, had become like chores to be avoided.  What to do?

The advice of one of my Ayurvedic teachers, Dr Claudia Welch, showed me a gentler way, she suggested I to ‘care for the things that care for me’.  Instead of focusing on the ‘to do’ list, to consider the care factor. My daily Sadhana/practices care for me. They support and protect me and add value to my life. In turn, I can ‘care for them’ by valuing, protecting and supporting them so that they remain a part of my life. I know this may sound a bit Zen, but if you sit with it, it is really quite profound. Caring is much softer and gentler than should.

All in all, I am thoroughly enjoying the Vanaprashta classroom. The experience of transitioning into a less busy, more inward focused time of life and discovering a softer, gentler, more allowing way of being in the world.

2WiseWomen retreats and workshops offer you the opportunity and space to rediscover your own authenticity and move towards a more balanced state of mind and body. Our retreats are based on three foundations: The space to pause, the tools and skills to reflect on how you want to be and live, and pathways to reconnect with your own inner wisdom. Upcoming retreats.

Autumn’s Rhythms

Have you noticed how when the rhythm of the music shifts, you automatically begin to shift the way you dance so that you continue to feel ‘in time’ with the music. In the same way, the transition between seasons also requires a shift in rhythm.

As the weather begins to cool we are now well into Autumn, shifting from the upbeat, intensity of Summer to a gentler, lighter rhythm in preparation for the slower, heavier beat of Winter. As that first hint of coolness in the air is felt the effect of the long, hot summer may also begin to show itself in feelings of fatigue, dryer skin, hair loss and maybe some skin flare-ups. That’s why Autumn is also a good time for a gentle cleanse to remove the excess heat  and prepare the body for eating more to ward off the external cold of winter.

The Ayurveda approach to a cleanse can be as simple as eating more light, easy to digest food for a few days and drinking the following cleansing tea to stimulate the digestive fire and clear the gastrointestinal tract of toxins. Make it fresh each day and add a couple of tablespoons to hot water and drink as a tea throughout the day.

Our daily routines may also slip a bit in summer, it’s harder to get to bed early when the sun is still up and there are so many things to do that regularity and routine slip away. So it’s time to reconnect with some simple daily sadhanas (practices) to balance the light, dry, cold, mobile and empty qualities of Vata, the predominate energy during Autumn. This is best depicted by the leaves, as you watch them they dry out, lighten and catch a ride on the wind, it’s helpful to appreciate that the same energy is at play in our BodyMind. Unlike the trees we can balance this energy with some warming, moistening and grounding food and practices such as:

  • Eat more grounding, moistening, warming foods at regular times. This means more cooked food, stewed fruit instead of raw and roast veggies instead of salads. Maybe a bowl of yummy whole sprouted mung soup.
  • As the weather cools down begin to dress more warmly and avoid cold drafts.
  • Allow yourself plenty of rest—an afternoon Yoga Nidra is ideal.
  • Perform 10-15 minutes of alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodana) each day.
  • Minimise stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, TV/computer time), fasting, excess travel (particularly air travel), and loud noise.
  • A cup of warm spiced (pinch of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger) milk before bed.
  • In particular, Autumn or Vata season is the time to look after our ears, gums and skin.
    • Massage one drop of warm Black Seed sesame oil in each ear.
    • Self-massage daily with warm oil in an upward circular motion for 20-30 minutes before bathing.
    • If you are feeling ungrounded, massage some warm oil on the crown of your head and soles of your feet – particularly before bed.
    • For gums hold a mouthful of warm black seed sesame oil or coconut oil – or blend of the 2 – in your mouth for 5-20 minutes then spit it out.

Cleansing Tea

  • 1 tspn each coriander, cumin & fennel seeds.
  • 3-4 slices fresh ginger
  • 1 small handful raisins
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 2 cups water

Simmer until the liquid reduces to 1 cup and strain.  Drink throughout the day as a tea adding 2-3 tablespoons to a cup of hot water.

Enjoy dancing with Autumn.

2WiseWomen retreats and workshops offer the opportunity and space to rediscover your own authenticity and attain a more balanced state of mind and body. he space to pause, the tools and skills to reflect on how you want to be and live, and pathways to reconnect with your inner wisdom.  Upcoming retreats.