Autumn encourages Letting Go.

According to Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science of medicine, all of nature—including us—is bound by the relationships among the three doshas (primal energies). Vata dosha is associated with the elements air and ether; it governs creativity and change, and tends to wax and wane. Governed by fire and water, Pitta dosha is the energy of transformation, achievement, and metabolism. Kapha dosha is associated with earth and water; it suggests groundedness, stability, and growth.

Each of us contains a unique mix of the three doshas, although we tend to be dominated by one at any given time. The seasons are also governed by doshic activity. According to Ayurveda, by the time autumn rolls around, we have accumulated plenty of heat in our tissues from the summer—that fiery pitta dosha. As the leaves dry up and the wind begins to blow, vata dosha begins to take over—the one governed by air and marked by change, instability, and anxiety. Metaphorically speaking, when random blasts of air are added to a fire it burns even brighter. Ayurvedic consultant Scott Blossom says that when the accumulated heat of pitta is fanned by vata, it can lead to mental and physical burnout, stressing our adrenals and nervous system and putting some of the body’s natural detoxification processes on hold.

The toxins our body cannot process have a name in Ayurveda: ama (Sanskrit for “that which harms or weakens”). Ayurvedic physician Robert Svoboda characterizes ama not only as a kind of physical sludge, but also as a psychosomatic sludge that pollutes the mind. Accumulated ama is the basis for much disease and emotional malaise—and from a physical standpoint, it creates an appealing host environment for cold and flu viruses that blow in on autumn’s winds.

Specific yoga poses encourage the elimination of ama and assist the detoxification process. Heating and twisting poses can help move toxins from the tissues through the lymphatic and digestive systems so that they can be eliminated from the body. Ideally done with a restorative approach, these poses also help to relax the nervous system and mind and help settle the body—which is especially important during autumnal detoxification. If we look at autumn’s influence on the natural world, we see that the leaves are gracefully falling from the trees. Harvest is over, and it’s time to clear out. It’s an opportunity to till the soil and prepare for the next harvest. We must do this for our bodies and minds as well in order to provide healthy ground for the garden of our lives.

To protect our health year round, but particularly during the fall, Ayurveda encourages slowing down, supporting our liver’s natural ability to remove toxins from the body, and taking stock of the influences that we allow into our lives—from the kind of food we eat to the amount of time we spend in front of electronic devices (computer, cell phone, TV-all are Vata).

Autumn is the invitation to let go of that which is no longer needed. Just as the trusting trees release their leaves and allow themselves to be exposed, we too must have the courage to relinquish that which may no longer serve us…clearing the way for us to see more vividly that which does.