with Jan Denecke
Align and adjust your life, yoga and meditation practice with the seasonal changes by tuning in with the intrinsic powers of the 5 element system used in Taoist practices.
We, human beings, are a biochemical formation of atoms, molecules, and cells. Within the deepest fibres of our body we share the same atomic footprint as our surrounding nature. Ancient Chinese philosophy expresses this with the 5 elements cycle where each element mirrors our inner landscape with our surrounding nature. It forms a wonderful cycle for physical, mental and emotional support, growth and reflection as each elements corresponds with a season of the year. Like a garden, this cycle is organic, energetic, and constant changing with moments of sprouting, maturing, ripening, harvesting and composting. This landscape is designed and aimed to support proper flow and maturation of energy, called Chi. Each element correlates with a pair of organs and their related meridians, a network of rivers that nourishes Chi. Yoga can support these elements by adjusting your practice to the season. How? By applying yoga and meditation practices that reflect the tendency of a season with specific asanas and intentions.
5 element system according to seasons
Wood – Spring – expansion
Spring is characterised by rebirth, sudden growth and rapid expansion. What has been dormant and patiently waiting throughout winter is bursting to come out. It is a time to shake the dark cold stagnant winter off and clear away any left over layers from winter. This season the liver and gallbladder are in charge of storing, releasing and moving Chi through blood, into the body. Any delay, obstruction or resistance will inhibit smooth flow and easy transition. Spring is the ideal season for detox by avoiding alcohol, caffeine and fatty foods and incorporating lots of green coloured foods such as leafy greens and green tea. A spring yoga practice invites to slowly increase movement and develop flexibility. Stiffer and tighter muscles from winter long to be warmed and stretched. Especially the outer hips, gluts, legs, sides of the body and inner legs where the related wood meridians of liver and gallbladder run through.
Asanas to incorporate in spring and hold loner are eagle pose, pigeon, chair pose, funky/open chair, side stretches like reversed warrior, side angle, triangle, tree pose.
Fire – Summer – expression
The radiant, outgoing warmth of Summer is the season where nature reaches full potential and fulfilment. Like the sun, the heart shines, permeates and reaches each and every cell of the body providing consciousness, sensations and feelings as it pushes Chi through the body. This is reflected in our personality and our ability to express ourself. Distributed well it provides wakefulness and the development of wisdom and compassion.
Summer is a period of living day by day and adjusting ourselves to the movement and heat of the sun. Practice yoga at dawn or sunset and not when sun is too hot. The heart is the flower of our consciousness which blooms best with practices that give the chest and heart room for expression. Focus in asanas that stretch, release and open the chest, inner and outer arms. Asanas to incorporate and refine in Summer are bridge pose, full wheel, humble warrior, eagle arms, cow face arms, and wild thing.
Adapt a diet that is easy to digest, provides hydration and is not too hot or too cold.
Heart stimulating foods are red foods such as berries, cherries, watermelon, chilli, tomato, red beans, and goji berry.
Earth – Late Summer – pause
Birth, growth and decline are absent as nature comes to a still point. It is a period of nourishment and stability through the resources given to us from by the earth. All that has grown and matured in Summer has ripened and is ready for harvest. Like mother earth, the spleen is our nourishing resource that gathers, transforms and transports energy and nutrients from our foods into our body as Chi. Late summer is a period for self-care by eating regularly, reducing mental and physical stresses and deepening calming grounded practices. It prepares us for a transforming period out of growth, prosperity and outer action to decline, stillness and inward attention.
Develop a strong grounding yoga practice with standing poses such as warriors and focus on calm and deep abdominal breathing. Stretch and strengthen quadriceps, hip flexors and abdomen areas where earth meridians spleen and stomach run through.
Asanas to incorporate are upward dog, camel, bridge, hero pose, and more passive poses such as legs up the wall, supported bridge, viparita karani. Spend extra time in shavasana and let the stillness of the pose help you connect with the earthing energies and discover your natural nourishing ability to hold the space and pause.
Metal – Autumn – reduction
Autumn is a season of shedding and decomposing. It is a time where once luscious foliage sheds and form a protective barrier for the earth. Where once blooming flowers and ripe fruits leave nothing behind but the seeds that help to create new life. This process of surrender and gratitude is to distill all that is good and pure.
In Autumn the lungs govern the barrier between the outer environment and the inner environment. The lungs absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide. A balanced distribution is essential for our physical, mental and emotional health. It is a period of setting limits, and protecting barriers to let only the pure and good come in. In yoga concentrate on incorporating more pranayama practices that calm the nervous system, provide clarity and support the release of mental and emotional attachments. Pranayama such as kapalabathi, Nadi Shodana, (alternated nostril breathing) Sheetali pranayama (cooling breath), Bhramari pranayama (humming bee breath).
Water – Winter – dormant
The hibernation of winter inspires us to ignite our inner light, face our fears, and build up courage. Winter preserves all that is essential with Chi provided by the kidney. With less sun and less movement we warm ourselves from within with comforting foods that are nutrient dense, provide long standing energy and strengthen us. In winter we celebrate our deeper soul by creating an environment that warms and delights us physically, mentally and emotionally. We take time to replenish and rest with space for introspection and enquiring questions that help us form realistic plans. So when spring arrives we can expand with great self-confident and a deeper understanding of ourselves and our grow process. In yoga concentrate on deeper introspection and stillness with restorative and meditative yin poses that stretch the whole back of the body and compress the kidneys in the lower back. Poses such as child pose, seated forward pose, butterfly pose, and sphinx pose.