Harvest: The Practice

Here in Santa Fe fall has arrived! This is a delicious time of harvest that beckons deeper inquiry than Hallmark cards with fallen leaves and children’s pumpkin paintings.  After the heat of summer, days get shorter, the evenings cooler, and life can seem to settle down before the frenzy of holiday activity.  Without attuning to the rhythm of seasons, autumn can also get mistaken for a time of melancholy and nostalgia.  Yet, it is a period ripe for harvest.

Fall is ushered in at the autumnal equinox (typically September 21 or 22) when there is equal day and night.  Like a beautiful moment in Tree Pose, we are held in the balance of opposites for 24 hours. Then, we begin the descent into an external darkness, like an inevitable collapse out of that graceful pose.  We are sometimes left feeling awkward or disappointed (especially in a large yoga class).  We wonder: what happened to the strong, enticing posture of poise and stamina?   We may attempt to jump right back into it, or bound into the next posture.   However, in rejecting the in-between nature of falling out of balance, we simply misunderstand the potency of the moment.  The descent is a natural ebb that complements the ascending and peak flow of our natural rhythms.  And when we can pause to examine the time in between, resisting the pull for cultural distraction to jump into “what’s next,” there is an abundance of succulent nutrients available.

What we have grown over the previous spring and summer is ripe for picking.  We examine what has grown in abundance, what has shriveled, what is edible, what still needs cultivating.  It can be a time of disappointment and surprise.  Sometimes we are heartbroken when what we planned didn’t produce nearly what we had hoped, or we lost an entire crop to weather, diseases or distraction.  Other times we are amused and delighted to find “volunteer” vegetables we hadn’t intended to plant growing abundantly from compost, or an unexpected endeavor created more life than we could have hoped. 

As we begin to turn inward, the period of harvest allows us time to self-reflect and make choices about what we want to plant next spring.   This frees us from clinging to expectations or trapped in shame, blame and loss.  In this way, even the biggest heartbreaks and failures can be laid down and turned over during the winter to become fertile soil for the next spring’s dreams.  In this release, we are better prepared to hunker down and simply receive what the next season brings.

When it comes to our yoga practice, this time of harvest allows us to explore the state of our bodies, minds and hearts with curious equanimity and cultivation.  We can choose to reflect on our health practices of the past two seasons.  It is a time to also purposefully release striving for strength or achievement in the core-strengthening postures and begin to relish the nurturing postures that lend themselves to introspection: forward folds, hip-openers and twists.  Meditation becomes more easeful and our breathing deeper.  If we dedicate time and regular participation, our yoga practice can provide a container to discover and embrace our rich, inner landscape.