Sensing the Seasons: Ayurveda for Aligning with Nature in the Age of Climate Change

The teachings of Ayurveda are designed to help us align with the rhythms of nature—hour by hour, day after day, and from season to season. For example, eating warm foods when it’s cold out, having our biggest meal when the sun is highest, or shifting the intensity of our yoga practice in deference to the midsummer heat.

But, in recent decades, climate change has exponentially increased the unpredictability of our natural environment. How do we sync up with what’s happening in the out-of-doors when we’re constantly surprised by what the weather brings?

According to Ayurvedic practitioners Claudia Welch and Robert E. Svoboda, the answer is both simple and subtle. To attune to the qualities of nature and create internal balance, we must rely on our own five senses—rather than a weather report, what it was like out yesterday, or what we remember from childhood.

“We can’t rely on our memory or past experience of the seasons,” says Claudia. “When we wake up on any given day, we need to rely not on what we think will happen, but what is happening. That means looking at the quality of the light, feeling the quality of the air—is it moist? Is it dry?—really tuning in to the sensory experience of what’s occurring in nature on that day.”

Seasons and Rhythms

The word “season” in Sanskrit is “rtu,” derived from “rtam,” meaning rhythm, Claudia notes. “It refers to the cosmic rhythm that we are all being influenced by, even if we can’t necessarily understand or perceive it directly.”

That rhythm is changeable over days, decades, and eons. “There’s always going to be a kind of a dialogue going on between the parts of the seasons that are more predictable and certain, and the parts that are changeable,” Robert says. There is evidence, he says, that a sort of “pulsing” occurs within nature, independent of human impact, in which weather patterns become more chaotic for a time and then more regular.

Within that chaos, we can find still points with which to align. For example, Robert mentions one thing that isn’t affected by what’s happening on Earth: the movement of the sun and where it is in the sky at each time of year, depending where you live. Thus, “getting up with the dawn encourages your body to align with the season,” he says. “It makes it easier for the organism, in a nonrational way, to align itself with the other parts of the season that are not so predictable.”

Refining the Senses

Since our senses are vital tools for helping us maintain balance, we need to take good care of them. Care of the senses can be broken down into two areas, Claudia says: keeping the physical sensory organs healthy, and refining the sensory experience once the impressions enter the brain.

On the physical level, Ayurveda offers various techniques and practices to improve the health of our sense organs—such as oiling the ears, eyes, mouth, nose, and skin. (Oil is a powerful medicine in Ayurveda, Claudia notes.)

“When we talk about daily routines in a general way, it can sound really boring, like a to-do list,” she says. “But there are actually mysterious, fascinating reasons for why Ayurveda recommends what it does in terms of morning and seasonal routines.”

On an internal level, we can use visualization and meditation to synthesize the wealth of information we receive from our sense organs—helping them “coalesce into a more unified experience,” Claudia says.

We can then use all that data to better understand the qualities within and around us. “Ayurveda is a medical system that focuses extensively on qualities, so the more you know about the qualities of what you eat, and the activities you perform, and what’s going on inside you, the more you will be able to work effectively with whatever is happening in your body,” says Robert.

Nature Is Not on Facebook

One quality that the majority of humans share is distractibility. “We’re trained by screens and other devices to respond very quickly to every stimulus,” Robert says. “The outside world does not have its own Twitter feed and the outside world is not on Facebook, and that’s why people are ignoring it.”

Thus, he says, one of the best things to do is … nothing.

“The most important thing we can do at the beginning of every day is to do a minimum,” he says. “Let the mind be quiet, or simply sit and feel what’s going on in the outside world and allow that to inform you in a nonverbal way. Our job should be to start off the day by actively trying to avoid getting caught up by other information—there will be plenty of opportunities to do that as the day goes on.”

That quiet time, in which you sense what’s happening in both your external and internal environments, can set the tone for the day’s actions and choices. If it’s a dry, windy day, you might want to focus on balancing vata. If you notice that you’re feeling a bit anxious, be aware of taking deep, conscious breaths throughout the day. If you’re feeling overstimulated, you can opt to slow down your pace; if you’re sluggish, you could do some energizing movement.

“That time of just becoming quiet and aware of what’s happening allows us to move through the day with a more effective response to our reality,” Claudia says. And often, she notes, less is more. “The power of the medicine of subtraction is very important to remember. We don’t need to add medicines and remedies and practices so much as we need to take things away.”

Find out about upcoming programs with Claudia Welch and Robert E. Svoboda.

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