10/02/2019 Mind-Body Health
In autumn, Vata reigns with wind, cooler temperatures, and rain. This can upset your natural balance. You can counteract these changes by spending time outdoors; nature will soothe you.
As the fun, sun, and play of summer winds down, it can be easy to fall into the slump of back to school—and back to the couch. But autumn promises cooler temps and plenty of opportunities to embrace the great outdoors. Did your summer include out-of-doors adventures that you wrote postcards about? Did you spend some days swimming in the pool or walking by the ocean? Did your summer consist of some luxurious, long bike rides, or s’mores by the campfire with friends? Or were you committed to working, writing, or researching and missed out on the summertime play? Whether or not your summer included these escapades, there is still plenty of time to enjoy a variety of fall outdoor activities.
Autumn Relates to the Vata Dosha
In the Ayurvedic tradition, each of the seasons is ruled by a primary dosha; autumn is associated with the dosha Vata. Vata is primarily related to the elements of air and space. Vata manifests during autumn with windier days, cooler outdoor temperatures, leaves falling off of deciduous trees, unpredictable or ever-changing weather, and the welcoming of rain. If you are already dominant in Vata energy, or have been traveling or experiencing some big life changes, the transition into autumn can be ungrounding.
For those who are already sensitive to Vata, features such as coldness, lightness, dryness, irregularity, roughness, quickness, and even slight changes, autumn can bring a sense of imbalance. It can certainly be a time to look forward to slowing down and turning inward, but it can also be an emotionally charged season of an overactive mind, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, poor digestion, and insomnia. It is particularly beneficial to balance the excess Vata of autumn with warm foods, warm clothes, light exercise, moisturizing oils, and activities.
Get Ready to Go Outside
Getting outdoors is an excellent way to balance and soothe excess Vata energy! Getting your feet on the ground and connecting to the stability of the earth has many benefits, and not just when you are feeling out of balance. Accessing the wild expanse of the great outdoors, be it a long day hike, a swim in the ocean, or a road trip through farm country, often has a calming effect. Author and speaker Richard Louv writes about the immense benefits and necessity of getting outside. Louv explains that almost everyone is dealing with “nature-deficit disorder,” that is, you are spending less time outdoors and this is influencing your psyche and body.
In the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv defines nature-deficit disorder as, “the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. The disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.” Although not a medical diagnosis, hopefully, the awareness that you likely lack outdoor time can be enough to scoot you right out the door.
Louv’s book The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life: Vitamin N includes 500 ways to enrich your health and happiness—and that of those around you—by incorporating more nature into your life. And you will certainly be rewarded for going outside! Studies show that getting outside in nature improves your concentration, helps you heal faster, increases levels of vitamin D, helps you get more exercise, and elevates your mood.
So making time to go outside this coming autumn can have some big effects on your life. Embracing outdoor activities in the fall has its own specific benefits. You may get to see leaves changing colors, the wind blowing your hair in crazy directions, and different animals coming out to play. Whether you spend time in your local green space, create your own, or prioritize taking a big trip to a big open space, here are five ways to embrace the great outdoors this autumn.
1. Connect with Earth and Water
Because autumn is generally dryer, windier, and cooler than other seasons, connecting to the elements of Earth and Water can be balancing. The great outdoors is brimming things to do in the fall—with beautiful rock formations, winding rivers, gigantic volcanoes, and sparkling lakes wider than the eye can see.
Connect with the Earth in the garden, on a hike or run, on a beach walk, on a bike ride, during an outdoor yoga class, or while taking in the grand vistas on a guided tour. Connect with the Water element by meditating near the ocean, jumping into an alpine lake, dipping your toes into a cool creek, walking beneath a waterfall, sitting outside in the rain, swimming at your local public pool, or drinking warm tea while sitting on the porch.
2. Go Somewhere Magical
Take a retreat to somewhere known for its immersion in nature. If you are looking for an escape from your daily grind, retreat to an area known for its beauty, magnificence, and natural ambiance. Here are some ideas:
- Esalen Institute: Located on the North Coast of California in Big Sur, the Esalen Institute boasts stunning views of the Pacific Ocean; beautiful, tall redwood trees for hiking; natural hot springs for soaking; open grassy areas for lounging; and a farm and garden on the property. Look for a wellness workshop or program that interests you or go for “A Time to Reflect” solo retreat and enjoy simply being. Open year-round.
- Omega Institute: Located in upstate New York in Rhinebeck, the Omega Institute is on acres and acres of open space. Take a stroll through the woods, kayak or canoe on Long Lake, or enjoy your book in a hammock overlooking the property. Take a women’s leadership workshop, learn about sustainability, explore the wide variety of personal growth offerings, or plan a solo R&R retreat. The Omega Institute also has a location in Costa Rica that is open during winter when the Rhinebeck campus is closed.
- Chopra Center: Located on the coast in Carlsbad in Southern California, the Chopra Center offers many spiritual and personal growth retreats and spa services. The Chopra Center is located on the grounds of the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, which offers many options for getting outside, whether it’s walking through the gardens, playing tennis or golf, or heading to the ocean in nearby San Diego. Besides the opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors at the coastal location, the Chopra Center also offers live events around the globe—in Monterey, Santa Fe, Emelia Island, Riviera Maya, and Mont Tremblant.
- Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health: Located in the Berkshires area in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the Kripalu Center sits on over 100 acres of hills, valleys, and woods. Take a walk through the labyrinth, hike through the hills, hang by the beach on Lake Mahkeenac, or enjoy the meditation gardens. Sign up for a yoga teacher training, a weekend workshop, or a solo R&R retreat.
3. Visit a National Park
Visit a national park or go to a state park. Or a county park. Or any protected land! Take a road trip or take a train trip to some of the most stunning and stellar outdoor lands in the country. Millions of acres of wild expanse are protected and preserved. There are many ways to visit, depending on your intentions; these historic parks are designed for recreation, leisure, research, and conserving the most precious natural spaces for all to enjoy.
You can hike to waterfalls, check out wildflowers, or sleep under the stars in U.S. parks. Volunteer to do trail maintenance work or clean up trash in a section of the park. Join a ranger-led talk to learn about the people and plants and animals that live the area. Sign up for a photography class. Join a bird-watching group or a flower-finding group. Bring your dog (check the rules for where they are allowed to play). Go stargazing or take a telescope along and find the craters of the moon. Bring a friend or a group or go it alone. Whether you are traipsing through a national park, state park, or county or city park near you, it can be helpful to have an intention for your trip—otherwise, the grandeur of the wild place can be overwhelming.
4. Find a Local Green Space
If your neighborhood is safe, walk and wander to find your nearest local park or open space. If you are a city dweller, even a small patch of grass with a tree or two will do! If you live near the coast, head toward the cliffs and beach. If you live in the countryside, look for an area where you can find solitude. Can’t find anywhere satisfying? Create your own green space. Use your creativity. Make a garden. Plant a seedling in a pot and watch it grow. Pack a picnic with autumnal foods based on what is in season where you live. Choose foods that are earthy, grounding, and hearty, like root vegetables and soups. Do an online search to find green spaces in your area.
5. Go Camping
The list for things to do in the fall includes a number of options under the heading of “camping.” Take a weekend or weeklong trip to sleep outside. Pack up your trekking poles, sleeping bag, and a cooler of food and head out. You could find trails for hiking, backpacking, or mountain biking. You could find rivers, lakes, or oceans for a kayaking adventure. You can sign up for a guided trip or set out on a vision quest on your own. There are guided trips for families, women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, people who want to go fishing, people who want to lounge in hammocks, and any other specialty group you might think of. Even just one night away can make a world of difference in your perspective.
Take your adventures out of doors this autumn. Experience the magnificence of the great outdoors and find balance, grounding, and inspiration. However you choose to connect with the elements of Earth and Water, you are sure to find peace among the trees and fields. Even in today’s ever-developing world, there are green spaces and open spaces in which to wonder at the wild expanse.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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