Piedmont Yoga Studio News September 2010: Auspicious Time to Recommit to Your Yoga Practice | iHanuman


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Piedmont Yoga Studio News September 2010: Auspicious Time to Recommit to Your Yoga Practice

Hanging in my office's south-facing window is a prism, a flat plate of glass about four inches in diameter. For half the year, in the spring and summer, the Sun is high in the sky and the angle of its rays too steep to filter through the glass and into my room. Effectively out of sight then, as the old adage has it, it's also usually out of mind, though occasionally, when nudged by a breeze blowing through the open window, it taps against the pane ... clack, clack, clack ... and reminds me it's still hanging around. This morning though when I opened the slatted blinds that cover the window, a hint of rainbow sprawled across my floor, not nearly the full spectrum, just a long uneven smudge of red. Still it's enough of a sign that the Sun, moving south from its northernmost venture for the summer solstice, has now reached a point low enough in the sky where its rays can again begin to peek through the prism. Every year for as long as I've had this office and the prism, maybe 10 or 12 now, the arrival of this incipient rainbow is my cue that summer is winding down and fall is right around the corner.
The passage from summer to fall in the Bay Area, with its predominantly Mediterranean climate, is fairly tame. The days get shorter and the nights longer, the leaves dutifully fall off the trees, the daily average Fahrenheit dips a couple of degrees, and we get our first spattering of rain since April or May, but that's about it. This is a far cry from India, where each of the seasons is distinct from its mates. The custom in our neck of the woods in to count four seasons-even though we really only have two, wet and dry, in these parts-but the Indians mark six, spring, summer, rains, autumn, winter, and cool, each lasting about two months. The Sanskrit word for season is "rtu" (that initial "r" is actually a kind of vowel and the word is pronounced for convenience sake as "ER-TU"), which also means "any settled point of time, fixed time, time appointed for any action (especially for sacrifices and other regular worship), right or fit time." Etymologically, rtu is closely related to "rta" (ER-TA), a word used from olden days to name the inherent order of the universe. Literally it means "proper, right, fit, apt, suitable, able, brave, honest; true; enlightened, luminous; fixed or settled order, law, rule (especially in religion); sacred or pious action or custom, divine law, faith, divine truth." The similarity of the words for "season" and universal "law" symbolically link the cyclical round of the seasons with the orderly arrangement and advance of the universe. This principle of correspondences between different levels of existence is found throughout Hindu philosophy and yoga, as well as in the esoteric teachings of the West. Each of us and the world we inhabit are conceived as mirror images of the infinitely vast universe, so to "know yourself" is tantamount knowing all there is to know about all existence.
Two of the six seasons are considered more felicitous or auspicious than the other four: vasanta ("brilliant," possibly a comment on the quality of daylight during that time), the two months from mid-March to mid-May, and sharada (the "time of ripening") from mid-September to mid-November, roughly our spring and fall respectively. Both were favored by the old yoga books as the "fit time" of the year to initiate a yoga practice. "The Yogi should begin practice (samachara) in spring or autumn," instructs the late seventeenth century Gheranda Compendium (5.15), "if he wants to easily gain success." On a practical level these two seasons make for good beginnings because the weather in India is more temperate than at other times of the year. Much like our spring and fall, the days are neither debilitatingly hot nor raining shvanas and marjaris, so great projects can be comfortably started. Spring and fall are also said to be energetically auspicious for yoga because of the relative balance between the hours of day and night, or light and dark, which leads up to and follows the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. The old yogis believed that this outer balance of complementary energies induced the same in the energy pairs that sustain our body-mind, an ideal internal environment for the cultivation of yoga. And just as the universal order is reflected in the order of the seasons, so the belief in auspicious times of the year that cluster around changes in the ambient light is reflected in the yogi's daily practice. The old yogis practiced four times a day at critical junctures (sandhi) in the light: at sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight. Just think about that the next time you feel like skipping your weekly yoga class.
So as the fall approaches it's a good time for all of us yoga veterans to recommit to our practice, to start out fresh with a "beginner's mind" and open ourselves to new ideas and possibilities. It's also a good time for those friends and co-workers of ours, the ones who've been saying for months or years they want to "get into yoga," to take a class. All they need is our encouragement to get off the couch and assurance that by diving in now at this propitious juncture of the year they're almost guaranteed to have a successful practice ... almost.
It won't be long now before the Sun, continuing its second-half-of-the-year journey southward toward the winter solstice, sinks low enough in the sky to shine fully through the prism, filling my office with all the glorious colors of the rainbow. Unfortunately, though I've looked again and again, there doesn't seem to be a pot of gold at the end of any of them.

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