As winter starts to shift into spring, we often reflect that change in our own lives, perhaps by cleaning out the kitchen cupboards or packing away warmer clothing, as well, of course, as putting the clocks forward.
At times of transition, it can also be helpful to take a fresh look at your yoga practice. While during the colder months, we often instinctively adopt a gentler, more restorative style of yoga, when the days lengthen and lighten, it can feel natural to step things up a little.
If winter means bolsters, blankets and long, relaxing, supportive poses, then spring spells more energetic, active asanas. Just as the earth's energy starts to stir, so our bodies begin to feel stronger and more energetic.
In Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) – which is often described as the 'sister science' to yoga – spring is when the cold, dry energy of 'Vata' gives way to the warmth and dynamism of fiery 'Pitta'. On the mat, you can cultivate and harness that energy by practising more standing poses and balances, and holding them for longer. Choose poses you might find more difficult, rather than opting for comfortable favourites, and challenge yourself (without being forceful) to build strength and power.
Now is also a good time to introduce more inversions (with the guidance of a teacher, unless you are already experienced). Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), are known respectively as the King and Queen of Asanas for their many benefits, and are perfect for refreshing and energising the body – as well as giving the fresh perspective that comes with literally turning your world view upside-down!
The changes that pattern the year, season to season, are also mirrored in the microcosm of the body. So while spring may lend itself to more dynamic asanas, there may still be times when a quieter practice would benefit you more. For that reason, it's important to cultivate an awareness and understanding of your body and how you're feeling, rather than blindly following a practice plan. Even in a class, it's up to you to find your 'edge', to 'feel out' each pose, and to determine whether or not to move deeper. The teacher's instructions are just to provide guidance; only you can know what is best for you.
Women will discover that their energy tends to ebb and flow with the menstrual cycle. Inversions are discouraged during a period, but, in any case, most women will prefer a gentler practice then, and may also find balancing poses are more difficult at that time of the month. Men too will find that there are times when they simply need to lie in Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose), rather than jump through rounds of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation).
On a larger scale, major transitions such as becoming a parent, starting a new job, moving house, or losing a loved one, all require different types of yoga practice. Do you want the distraction of a challenging pose or would it be better to nourish yourself in restful Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall)? There are no rules. True yoga requires a sensitivity; a tuning into the self that enables you to meet your own needs without judgment. Whether you are tired, ill, stressed, distracted, or full of the proverbial 'joys of spring', bringing yourself to the mat gives you the opportunity to change for the better, over and over again.
Just like the seasons, we are constantly in flux. Let your practice evolve with you, and yoga will provide the support you need along the way.