The Enkindled Spring
This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green, Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes, Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes. I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration, Faces of people streaming across my gaze. And I, what fountain of fire am I among this leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed about like a shadow buffeted in the throng of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost. D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
On the March 20th vernal equinox, winter’s darkness and summer’s light hung in perfect balance for 24 hours until it tipped over into the longer light of spring. We adjusted clocks accordingly, and now with the April 1st new moon in Aries, we are officially in the swing of spring. Though winter’s chill lingers, we are already seeing what D. H. Lawrence called “bonfires green” all around as well as exuberant humans and animals enjoying the sunshine. While the excitement of waking from winter’s slumber is felt by flora and fauna alike, Lawrence closes the poem by warning of the sun’s dangerous fiery nature.
Buzzing with cabin fever and enticed by the warmer weather, it’s tempting to dive back into a schedule dominated by yang attributes (Masculine, Bright, Active, Heat, Hardness, Dryness, Daytime, Creative Properties, Straight Lines); but, it’s imperative to maintain some calming, quiet rituals for balance. As we dust off our bicycles and pull out our gardening gloves, the wise will carry forth the yin wisdom gleaned over the long dark winter and slowly, mindfully emerge like budding perennials, My take on well-being draws from experience using modern western science to heal and ancient eastern modalities to live well. Elements of Chinese dualism, represented by the black and white yin/yang symbol signifying the two natural, complementary, and contradictory energies present in all forces in the universe – including ourselves, guide my personal wellness routine as well as the foundation for my recommendation for clients whether I’m consulting, teaching, or coaching. When we understand the forces governing a particular season, it makes for a more harmonious way of being when we align our internal energies with the external.
As we collectively move from the east coast’s distinctly yin winter season governed by the following attributes (Unknown, Night, Chaos, Passive, Dark, Soft, Negative Charge, Feminine, The Moon, Indirect, Intuition, Quiet, Rounded Wetness Storage, and Flexibility) and head into the yang spring and summer seasons with the opposite attributes our wellbeing rituals should adjust accordingly.
Ramping up outdoor activities, it’s important to retain some of the slow introspective yin rituals for recovery and balance (just like the white yang wave is anchored by the black yin circle and vice versa). When we are building internal heat doing, creating, talking, making, and moving more in the warmer months of the yang seasons, the need to have regular recovery efforts scheduled becomes more apparent. Take, for instance, when your body communicates that it has had enough sun. Very often in our culture, the cognitive brain overrides the survival brain and we push beyond healthy boundaries. In this case, ignoring the body’s warning signs can result in sunburn plus dehydration immediately, and manifest in graver maladies (skin cancer) over time. The grind culture is literally making us sick. We can stave off most modern maladies if we regularly get quiet, become still, and listen to our body and mind.
The evolutionary adaptation of our cognitive brain, which separates us from the animals, is both a blessing and a curse. It wreaks havoc on both our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems if we don’t manage the internal dialogue. While we can’t control outside forces or our body’s autonomic responses to negative stimuli, we can aid the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) that governs the rest and digest functions and stave off the detrimental effects of chronic stress by incorporating yin rituals.
Hopefully, Over winter, the additional time at home allowed for less movement and some introspective activities like journaling, reading, meditating, sleeping, and practicing mindful movement modalities that soothed the parasympathetic. Being at home with few to no external obligations gave people an opportunity to come to stillness and reevaluate routines big and small. The slow, purposeful indoor activities associated with winter (and covid as it were) not only acted as healing, restorative techniques by mitigating stress, created, in large part, by heat building yang activities and schedules.
As Tenzin Priyadarshi said, “If there is no stillness, there is no silence. If there is no silence, there is no insight. If there is no insight, there is no clarity.” While spring is unequivocally a time for universal celebration around rebirth, Lawrence’s poem warns us of being burnt by spring’s fire rushing headlong into the sunshine. To maintain inner balance as the external world awakens in spring, it behooves us to maintain regular yin activities to temper the fire.
One of my teachers and mentors Muni Natarajan (formerly Natarajnathaswami at the monastery in Kauai) reminded me years ago that meditation, like yoga, is not just practice but a state. That said, meditating can include everything from getting high to listening to music to painting to having sex. Swimming and dancing have historically been the meditations in motion that elevated me to a blissful state of being. In my twenties, I took a deep dive into yoga and meditation to heal from an accident and have continued to use the techniques as mindful maintenance.
While I still try to dance at home as often as possible, my 10yr old Enzo regularly rains on my parade, “Um, I know that’s what you did in the nineties, but please stop.” At 44, as a busy single mom of two, with a couple of knee surgeries under my belt, most cardio activities have been replaced with weights, mindful walks, and meditation. Incorporating more yin activities for stress mitigation has not only drastically reduced anxiety but it supports my parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the rest and digest functions. As a result, I’m in the best shape of my life and sleep like a baby. #Winning.
*Start your day mindfully by taking some deep breaths, stretching, and setting an intention for the day before leaving the bed. Then drink a mug of warm water (maybe with lemon) before consuming anything. (Jumpstarts digestion, melts Ayurvedic “ama” or toxins in the body, and begins the day health focused.)
*Supplement your cardio exercise with stretching, tai chi, restorative yoga, a meditative walk, or just sitting quietly focusing on the sensations of the breath to keep the mental chatter at bay.
*Pause and be grateful for something each time you feel the sun.
*Make an effort to journal this year and/or recite gratitudes at the end of the day (kids love to participate in this exercise).
*Decline some invites and prioritize naps or sleeping in on the weekends.
*Improve sleep hygiene by reducing alcohol and coffee while increasing water, teas, and juices (replacing espresso with MUDWTR 2 years ago has been a game changer for me); replacing screen-time an hour before bed with a bath or book; and consciously releasing stressful scenarios from the day before falling asleep.
*Work. Rest. Create. Rest. Play. Rest. Schedule rest. It’s a necessity not a luxury.
Leslie Keough 200E-RYT, Level II Reiki Practitioner, NBCHWC Health and Wellness Coach (certification pending), public speaker, workplace wellness consultant, instructor, author, adjunct college professor, and Founder/Principal of Meditate Montclair.
Article Written by: Leslie Keough