Yin Yoga for Autumn Anxiety: 5 Poses for Finding Calm in Chaos
It seems like everyone loves autumn. Pumpkin spice everything, curling up under a blanket with a book, brightly colored leaves, and cozy sweaters are all over my Instagram feed.
But, as so often happens on social media, it seems that behind the façade of coziness lurks a mental health monster, and its name is Anxiety.
If you suffer from autumn anxiety, you're not alone. Psychologists agree that anxiety seems to spike for many people around this time of year.
But why do so many of us experience heightened anxiety during fall?
In this article, I'll explore the phenomenon of autumn anxiety from the perspectives of both psychology and Ayurveda. Then, I'll offer a soothing Yin Yoga practice to calm your rattled nerves.
Let's dive in.
Is Autumn Anxiety Real?
While autumn anxiety is not a recognized condition, psychologists agree that there is a tendency for people to experience higher levels of anxiety during fall.
Welsh psychologist Ginny Scully coined the term in 2005 when she noticed a spike in patients coming to her with anxiety as the summer came to an end and autumn set in.
There are several factors that can contribute to heightened feelings of anxiety during the autumn months, including the shorter days, back-to-school stress, being less physically active, and the looming holiday season.
However, Ayurveda — the sister science of yoga — offers us another perspective on autumn anxiety.
Autumn and Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, each season corresponds to one of three types of prakriti, or constitutions, known as doshas.
Fall corresponds to Vata dosha, whose element is air and whose qualities are dry, light, cold, windy, rough, and erratic.
People who have a lot of Vata in their prakriti tend to be flighty, highly-strung, and anxiety-prone. But, during Vata season, this energy intensifies and affects people of all constitutions — leading to autumn anxiety.
Other common complaints that occur during Vata season include dry skin, insomnia, high blood pressure, and arthritis.
To balance Vata during autumn, Ayurvedic practitioners recommend eating warming, grounding foods such as root vegetables (think delicious, hearty soups and stews), using oil on the skin, and maintaining a stable routine that keeps you grounded and balanced.
Self-care is an essential part of that routine. Autumn is a great time to start a Yin Yoga practice (if you haven't already) that can help reduce your anxiety and balance your Vata, bringing you peace in both body and mind.
What Is Yin Yoga?
Paulie Zink, a Kung Fu master, created Yin Yoga in the 1970s by fusing Hatha Yoga with Taoism.
In Taoism, the terms Yin and Yang refer to the two opposing forces of the Universe. Yang is masculine, active, hot, and bright, while Yin is feminine, passive, cool, and dark.
Yin Yoga embodies these qualities. As such, it is the perfect antidote to our mostly-Yang lives, and even your Yang yoga practice, if you practice dynamic yoga styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa.
Holding the poses for longer than usual gives your body time to relax and open on a deeper level. On a physical level, the connective tissue, known as fascia, begins to release tension. This can only happen when the muscles are relaxed rather than engaged, and therefore cannot be achieved through dynamic yoga practices.
On an energetic level, the long holds and deep relaxation help unblock meridians (energy lines), allowing Chi (energy) to flow freely through your body. Different meridians correspond to different organs and emotions, so you can work on specific ones by targeting the corresponding meridians through your Yin Yoga practice.
A Yin Yoga Practice for Autumn Anxiety
In Taoism, each season is associated with two organs — one Yin and one Yang. Autumn is associated with the Lungs (Yin) and Large Intestine (Yang).
Both meridians run through the arms and torso, which are stimulated by this sequence, unblocking stagnant energy and helping to restore physical and emotional balance.
As you move through your practice, hold each pose for 3-5 minutes (set a timer on your phone if you need to).
Breathe in and out through your mouth, making a gentle "Ha" sound on the exhalation, and allowing your muscles to relax even deeper.
These poses should take you to your comfortable edge, but not beyond. Be gentle with your body and give it time to gently open without forcing it.
Start by taking a few minutes to sit in silence and connect with your breath and the present moment.
When you are ready, open your eyes and move into the first pose.
Melting Heart Pose
Come into Tabletop pose on hands and knees, with your hips stacked directly over your knees (place a cushion or blanket under them if this is uncomfortable).
Walk your hands forward, dropping your chest down and placing your forehead on the floor.
Keep your arms shoulder-width apart, or separate your hands into a V-shape if you feel compression in your shoulders.
Hold for 3-5 minutes, then move into Child's pose for a few moments.
Broken Wing Pose
Slide forward from Child's Pose and lie on your belly.
Extend your right arm at shoulder level with the palm of the hand facing down. For less intensity, bring your arm closer to your body. For greater intensity, bend the elbow to 90 degrees.
Supporting yourself with your left hand, gently start to roll onto your right side.
Bend your left leg and place your left foot behind your right leg, intensifying the stretch through the shoulder and coming into a twist.
After 3-4 minutes, gently release and repeat on the other side.
Move to lie down on your back and reach your arms up overhead and clasp your hands or elbows. Start to walk both feet toward the right side of your mat, keeping your left hip on the floor.
Then, move your arms toward the right, creating a banana shape stretch through your left side body.
First, find your edge and allow your body to open with the breath. If you want extra intensity, cross your left ankle over your right.
Hold for 3-5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
Once you release the pose, you may want to hug your knees into your chest or take any other spontaneous, organic movement that feels good in your body.
Inhaling, bring your right knee in toward your chest, keeping your left leg straight. Open your arms into a "T" shape. As you exhale, gently draw your right knee across the left side of your body.
Turn your head toward your right arm and try to keep your right shoulder on the floor. You can keep the arms where they are or place the left hand on the right knee.
Hold for 3-5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
This is the final resting pose. Lie on your back with your arms slightly away from your body and your palms facing up. Tuck your chin slightly toward your chest to lengthen through the back of your neck.
Use pillows and blankets to make yourself as cozy and comfy as possible (as pictured here). I like to put one pillow under my knees and another under my head.
Stay here for at least five minutes, or longer if possible. You may want to put on some relaxing music or a guided meditation.
After Your Practice
Keep a journal nearby in case you want to write about any emotions or insights that came up during your practice.
Although simple, this practice moves a lot of energy, so make sure you drink plenty of water for the rest of the day to keep the toxins and old energy moving out of you.
I hope you enjoy this Yin Yoga sequence and that it brings you relief from your autumn anxiety.
Let me know in the comments, and share it with a friend or loved one who may benefit from it.
Love & Blessings,