Like any transition, the transition from summer to fall presents challenges. The days have been getting shorter, the evenings have been getting colder. It’s impossible not to notice that withered leaves are crunching under my feet as I take one last walk in my flip-flops before retiring them until next summer. It’s back to school time, but already, the stores are switching their school supply displays for jack-o’-lanterns and candy corn. The end of summer vacation means an increase in rush-hour traffic and a push to catch up on work we put off to go to the beach.
But it’s not a matter of simple inconvenience. The transition from summer to autumn cuts deeper. As the first frost approaches, promising to decimate a summer’s worth of flowers in one cruel night, as the trees begin to take on a skeletal appearance, we are forced to contemplate and process some highly primal dualities: life and death; hope and regret; desire and fear.
Across the globe, across virtually all (if not all cultures), we take comfort from the stress of transitions by engaging in ritual. We may feel ambivalent about growing older, but nevertheless, we mark our birthdays with cards and gifts and cakes. The prospect of what lies ahead after we finish school might be frightening, yet when we do, we don ceremonial caps and gowns and call it “commencement,” rather than “graduation.” When a loved one dies, there are the rituals (funeral, visitation, etc.) to ease the transition for those left behind.
The transition from summer to autumn is at its height at the autumnal equinox, which “falls” (sorry, couldn’t resist) this year on Sunday, September 22. At the autumnal equinox, daylight and nighttime are of equal length, but immediately thereafter, daylight hours will diminish each day until we reach the shortest day of the year: winter solstice. As darkness increases, so does the cold. The lush green of summer goes dormant (and in the case of “annual” summer flowers that live their entire life in one season and do not come back the next year, it is the end of life). But as much as the autumnal equinox is about the yielding of warmth and light to cold and darkness, it is also about balance: it is one of two days of the year when day and night are of equal length (the other is the vernal equinox in March).
And it is balance that I will contemplate as I perform my yoga practice of 108 Sun Salutations.
But, why 108 Sun Salutations?
The number “108” is an auspicious number across many cultures. A Sun Salutation is a set-sequence of poses that flow rhythmically from one to the next, each movement corresponding to a particular breath. The sequence that I utilize contains nine poses, which when multiplied by 12, equals that auspicious number, 108. The rhythmic nature is soothing, and the body easily remembers what comes next. The sequence is nearly symmetrical, beginning and ending in Tadasana (simply stated: standing with feet together, arms by the sides) and including one vinyasa (a three-pose sequence consisting of chatturanga, upward-facing dog pose and downward-facing dog pose, all of which together take the spine through nearly its entire repertoire of motion: neutral, backward bending, forward bending).
It has been said that the “Sun Salutation” contains the entire practice of yoga within it. This makes sense to me in that the Sun Salutation is conducive to meditation, it contains forward bending poses, backward bending poses, balancing postures both on feet and hands and it is both energizing and energy-centering. As far as practicing 108 Sun Salutations at Solstice, it is perfect.
However, for the autumnal equinox, I believe that the balance of light and dark that distinguishes the equinox calls for a practice that focuses on balance. How to accomplish that? Simple: I will divide the 108 Sun Salutations into 10 sets of 10 and a final set of eight. After each set of 10, I will perform one balancing pose such as those shown here. And to address the lack of poses within the Sun Salutation that twist the spine, immediately following the final set of eight, I will perform one twisting pose (on each side), such as those shown
Ideally, to celebrate the balance inherent in the autumnal equinox, the 108 Sun Salutations should be practiced at sunrise or at sunset on the day of the autumnal equinox. But it would be equally fine to practice 54 Sun Salutations at sunrise and 54 at sunset. But if you can’t practice at all on September 22, that’s fine too — practice when you can. And if you can’t manage to do all 108? That’s fine too. This is yoga, after all. There’s no prize. We set an intention and we do what our bodies allow us on that day, whatever day you choose.
But see what you can do. Give it a try. It’s a simple nine-step process:
Come to the front of your mat and stand in tadasana. Mouth is closed, breathe through the nose. Set your intention of being fully in the moment of each breath, each posture, no distractions.
1. Inhale — as you sweep arms up overhead until palms touch. Look up.
2. Exhale — as you fold forward at the hips to bring your hands to the floor. Relax your head straight down.
3. Inhale — as you look up, raising your head, neck, shoulders and whatever you can of your torso.
4. Exhale — as you shift your weight into your hands and step or jump your feet back until you are at the bottom of a push-up — your elbows at right angles and close to the ribs. Weight is equally distributed across hands and feet.
5. Inhale — as you shift your weight back into your hands, lifting the balls of your feet off the ground and turning your feet over so that your toenails face down. With toes pointed back and legs strong, look up and curl your chest up. Upward-facing dog pose.
6. Exhale — into downward-facing dog pose by using your abdominal muscles to lift your buttocks upward until your body makes the shape of an upside down “V,” your weight evenly distributed through the soles of your feet and your palms, your eyes seeking your navel.
Pause for five full breaths here.
7. Inhale — and jump or step your feet back to where your hands are planted — straightening your legs and looking up (as in Step 3).
8. Exhale — into the same posture as Step 2.
9. Inhale — into the same posture as Step 1.
Your exhale breath will bring you back to tadasana.
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Periods of creative blockage can be frustrating, but you don’t have to sit around and wait for the muses to strike you with inspiration again. Simply being aware of what might be hindering your creativity can help you move past any blockages.
Here are five things that could be killing your creativity — and surefire ways to remedy them.
You’re afraid to fail.
Perfectionism and fear of failure often go hand in hand, and they can both keep you from fully engaging with a creative project or even starting it in the first place. When we seek perfection, we’re less likely to take risks and more likely to procrastinate — which can stifle creativity and innovation.
“[Perfectionism] is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid—negative evaluation,” Hara Estroff Marano writes in a Psychology Today blog. “Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation—reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.”
To combat perfectionistic tendencies and a fear of failure, try adopting these habits of highly resilient people — starting with an acceptance of failure as an inescapable fact of life.
You’re thinking too big.
Thinking about the big picture is important to the creative process — but if you’re too focused on the big picture, you may have trouble coming up with good ideas. Lifehacker puts it this way: Try thinking of 10 cities. Then, try to think of 10 cities near your hometown. Chances are, narrowing the scope of your inquiry made it easier to come up with the names quickly.
“When we use constraints we trigger more ideas, and come up with more solutions,” Lifehacker explains. “Even when there aren’t any constrains people tend to create them. When most people are asked to name 10 cities they’ll use some kind of connection between them — capital cities, cities I visited this year, etc.”
You’re too busy.
Stress and excessive busyness are common causes of creative dry-spells — so try slowing down! Giving your mind the freedom to wander is essential to fostering creativity and innovative thinking, according to Gary Klein, author of “Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights.” Recent neuroscience research confirms that daydreaming involves the same brain processes that spark imagination and creativity.
“I worry about people who spend all their empty time when they’re not in conversations listening to music or podcasts or things like that, and not leaving any space to just daydream,” Klein told The Huffington Post.
When you’re feeling stressed or over-booked, making a little time in your schedule to simply do nothing can actually boost productivity — an innovation secret favored by LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner.
You’re sitting at your desk.
If you’re sitting at your desk at work waiting for inspiration to strike, you could be waiting for a long time. And pressuring yourself to come up with a solution to a problem can prevent the free flow of ideas.
“Leaving your personal space for just a few minutes can make a huge difference in generating new ideas,” Emily Heyward writes in a Fast Company article, “Desks, Where Creativity Goes To Die.” “So don’t underestimate the power of a change in scenery.”
Artists have long sought new and different environments to get their creative juices flowing. Woody Allen, for instance, says that inspiration tends to strike him while he’s taking a long, hot shower.
You’re too pessimistic.
Pessimism and cynicism can be lethal to the imagination, creating a “toxic mindset,” “Who Killed Creativity?” authors Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant write in Fast Company.
“Pessimists tend to blame themselves when things go wrong, becoming more reluctant to try again with each negative experience,” the authors write, explaining that reframing negative situations and trying new things can help combat a bad attitude.
Pessimism is associated with self-defeating behaviors and attitudes, like undermining your own efforts and assuming that setbacks will have wide-reaching and long-term consequences. And in contrast, research has linked positive emotions like happiness and optimism with optimal creativity.
Johnny tells Rev. Bacon he recently divorced and has two beautiful daughters. “I lost my home during foreclosure and then I lost my job. And really, my question coming here today is about, will I find my center again? Will I find my happiness again?”
“What’s the answer?” Rev. Bacon asks him.
“Yes!” Johnny says, as Rev. Bacon laughs and gives him a high five.
Though Johnny has a positive outlook, he says he’s not just asking the question for himself. “Because I know that I’m not the only one struggling,” Johnny says
“Precisely,” Rev. Bacon agrees. “I mean, my contribution to the conversation that you’re having with yourself is, of course you’re going to find your center again. And it’s important to understand that it’s not going to be the center you had. You are not going to return to the life you had, being married, a family of four with that particular job, da da dah. It’s gone. It’s history.”
“Your kids need to see a father who’s moving forward,” Rev. Bacon says as Johnny nods. “Because the way they will learn to move forward in their lives is because they have a dad who doesn’t preach that to them, but who embodies it. And they need to see that despite all of these compounded problems that you named, that by God — you are moving forward.”
“Moving forward is one of the keys to life,” Rev. Bacon continues. “If you don’t stay functional and keep moving forward, persevering with hope, then you will deprive yourself of the energy and also the creativity that you need to imagine your future.”
“I know that you can trust that your life is going to be even more beautiful than it has been in the past.” Rev. Bacon says. “So stay with it, my friend.”