Happy first day of autumn! Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox happened today, Friday September 22, at 4:02pm EDT. This turning point between summer and fall is a natural time of transition. The weather is changing, the leaves are changing, the pace of our lives is changing as we return back to school, back to work, back to our normal routines.
The equinox represents a midpoint between summer and winter. On the summer and winter solstices (around June 21 and December 21 respectively), the sun reaches its most southerly or most northerly point relative to the equator. At these solstices, the sun appears to briefly come to a standstill; it seems to pause before reversing its direction.
So the equinox is the midpoint between these two extremes of the solstices. Today we flow through this midpoint between the radiating heat of summer and the frigid cold of winter; between the longest days and longest nights; between the lush greenery of summer and the bare branches of winter.
This autumnal time of change can sometimes breed feelings of instability, imbalance, unsteadiness, or restlessness. It can be difficult to feel grounded when everything around us is in a state of flux.
But when are we not in flux, really? Even the times of the solstices, those ends of the spectrum, those moments of apparent stillness, are merely an illusion. The sun appears to pause at its highest or lowest point in the sky and then reverse direction – but in reality, the sun never stands still. It’s in constant motion, as is the earth, which continually orbits around the sun. It’s only because of the shifting tilt of the earth’s axis that the sun ever seems to stand still.
The earth’s motion is constant; the sun’s motion is constant; our entire solar system is constantly in motion. All of us on this earth are continually moving, ever changing, ever shifting from one season, one phase, one moment to the next.
I find each turn of the season a welcome reminder of this. It’s also a reminder that amidst this perpetual motion, I need to stay connected to what helps me feel grounded, that which stabilizes and steadies me amidst the constantly swirling winds of change.
For me, my yoga practice is what grounds me. Setting aside time each day to turn my attention inward, to connect with that part of myself that is timeless, unchanging, eternal – that’s what helps me to feel steady and sure even in times of transition.
Because if I look really closely – if I take the time and make the effort to be quiet, to be still, and to look deep within myself - I find something that’s not moving or shifting or changing. I find the part of me that never loses or gains weight. It doesn’t have abs that get stronger or weaker. Fine lines don’t appear on its face and its skin doesn’t sag as time marches on. It’s something way beyond all of that.
When I practice yoga, I connect with the part of myself that is timeless, eternal – the deepest part of myself that always was and always will be.
Yoga philosophy identifies this part as Atman, a Sanskrit word that means “inner self” or “soul.” Some people think of it as the God within, or a divine spark, or light, or maybe just the energy that makes up everything.
All the practices of yoga – the poses, breath work, concentration, meditation – have this as their ultimate intention: to unveil this Atman, this unchanging essence at our cores. They help us to realize that this unchanging essence is not just in us, but in everyone and everything around us, and that this oneness unites us with everything else in the Universe.
The literal translation of the word “yoga” is "union". It is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj," meaning "to join" or "to unite."
Among all the other benefits which yoga touts, from stronger arms to more flexible hamstrings to greater peace of mind, at its core the practice is intended to reveal this union. It empowers us to feel, to actually experience the connection between ourselves and every other thing in the Universe – so we can recognize that there is no separation, that we are all one, and that this oneness has always been and always will be.
Now, this is no easy task! But even on those days when this union, this connection, feels miles away from my grasp, I’m still grateful that I can turn to my yoga practice as a place of calm amidst the storm, as a resting place, as my still point in this ever-changing universe.
I hope that your yoga practice allows you to find your still point too. As always, I’m here to help, in whatever way I can.
Christine Malossi is a yoga teacher and writer based in Manhattan.