Our seasonal cycles
Updated: Nov 13, 2021
Things slowed down a little over Summertime here. We were in lust with the sunshine and long days. Making the most of all bodies of water and summer sandals. And suddenly it’s October. My afternoon runs are coloured with red, orange and yellow. There’s been a clear shift in the air, it’s properly fresh now, and it smells of winter on the way, a smell I’ve come to love: cold air and fireplaces combined.
As the seasons shift, I caught up with holistic coach and yoga teacher Caroline Willebois to learn more about how we can become more aware of the seasons, and the ways in which we can tune in with nature’s cycles. I was also curious about the ‘character’ of each season – the traits they exude and how they imprint on and reflect us.
Associated with: New Beginnings
Element: Spirit or Ether
Caroline asked me: in a revolving cycle, which was the season I felt was the 'start'. (“Spring, because it feels like a beginning, after a hibernation or a quieter, darker period.")
“Spring, in the family of seasons, is like an energetic young child. She’s full of hope, there’s this vision of future plans and exciting things ahead. This sense of anticipation.”
In our last story with Caroline, she called Spring the season of rebirth and awakening. “It is the season associated with the element of spirit or ether – a mysterious sort of fifth element that binds all the others and expands and invites us into the unknown. There’s this quality of having faith in the unknown, in what’s ahead. So we plant seeds, and we have faith that they’ll blossom from underground.”
“You also feel Spring in the air, after a time of hibernation in winter, a heaviness, spring has a very expansive energy. You feel it in the people around you too.”
It’s definitely palpable. How can spring energy affect us physically and emotionally?
“When it comes to health and wellbeing, spring is a time of cleansing. Both within yourself, like a spring cleanse, and perhaps in terms of decluttering and cleaning your home or spaces, which can be a very mindful process. Decluttering the house can help declutter the mind.”
“And this doesn’t mean starting a diet or becoming a minimalist. Done in moderation is fine. I often kickstart spring with a week or so of lighter, fresher foods and juices. But it’s very important to listen to your intuition. Listen to your body and what it is after.
"It could also be that you do some of these things unconsciously - craving different foods or fruits as the weather warms up a little, or bringing home fresh flowers and opening the windows, letting stagnant air out and fresh air in. Spring is also a great time for setting intentions.”
L-R via Mathilde Langevin and Jocelyn Morales
Associated with: Letting Go, Letting Loose
“Summer is the happy, hippy, teenage daughter – she’s full of life and light, but has a temperament, she has mood swings. There’s a lot of passion, curiosity and joy. She wants to go out and explore. It’s typically a time with a lot of socialising and activity. And where Spring is more expansive, summer has a very upward energy. And if you look at nature you know things are at their ripest.”
After living in Europe a few years, I notice the shifts between seasons more attentively. And when Summer rolls around I find myself often physically stopping just to feel the sun soak in. Where I grew up we had sun and blue skies a lot of the time, you didn’t think about it so much. But now, here in Norway, it’s like I want to really bask in it and let the warmth under my skin. It feels intensely nourishing.
“Well it is, it’s vitamin D! And I can relate about living in a tropical environment. I grew up in Kenya, where you have more like two seasons, a wet and a dry, like parts of Australia. So I know it can be easy to take the warmth and sun and the transitions between seasons for granted.”
So what about summer rituals?
“I enjoy celebrating the summer solstice. Getting together and having a bonfire. It is actually the transition to the darker months, but you’re celebrating and honouring the light. Celebrating connection and each other.”
I think this idea of celebration is spot on. Just over the summer gone, more than once I would feel very aware of this social, celebratory sensation around me – in the park, hiking, in cafes or restaurants. It felt like peoples’ moods had lifted with the weather, and they were simply cheering to life under the sun.
And after going through a really cold, dark period, I can’t imagine not celebrating! There’s this sense of wanting to dive into life in a way that doesn’t feel so tangible in winter.
“Exactly. And actually that duality between dark and light is key too. When we think of mindful, seasonal rituals, summer is a great time to look into, or use that light to observe ‘your shadow’ – in contrast. So that could mean looking at your limiting beliefs, writing them down and letting them go – mentally or physically in whatever form resonates with you.”
- L-R via Oliver Sjostrom, Gustavo Lanes
Harvest ~ the fifth season ~
Associated with: Savouring, Slowing Down, Preparing
“At the end of summer there is actually a fifth sort of forgotten season, Harvest season. It’s that transition period between Summer and Autumn. It was once when people were literally harvesting corn and apples and preparing for and stocking up for Winter. It’s a time to slow down after the high energy of summer. There’s a sense of grounding and nourishment. And the element here is Earth.”
“As a personality, I would describe the Harvest season as the father of the family, a patient father figure. He has an axe and a basket and he’s doing the work but in a slow, measured way.”
As we have just been through this season, I definitely feel as though there was a sense of ‘coming down’ from Summer. And when you say nourishment, I think that is often associated with food. But I get the sense you mean nourishment beyond that?
“Yes I would say you can also nourish your soul. So for me the harvest time is very much about self care. So taking a bath, body brushing, making yourself a nice tea or golden milk or chai and really sitting with it and enjoying, savouring. The element of mindfulness is very prevalent during the Harvest season.”
“It’s a great time now to get into self care routines, like get up ten minutes earlier to meditate or simply to carry out your morning routine more slowly and purposefully. It is about setting healthy boundaries for yourself."
“During this shift, I often find a lot of people saying they're struggling with finding routines and rhythms again, because with the high energy and pace of Summer, often we let loose and routines relax."
“This overexcited teenager that wants to experience all of life and has so much energy to burn can start to feel a desire for things to settle a little. So this Earth season is so important. And we often overlook it and the mental and physical adjustments we can initiate during.”
- via dynamic wang
Autumn ~ a mirror to spring ~
Associated with: Letting Go, Safe Release
“So Autumn is a very maternal figure to me. It could be a mother, but it can also be an aunt. Someone you’d be comfortable letting your guard down with, showing your emotions with. It tends to be a feminine energy. There’s this sense of seeking a space to sink into and feel safe, feel able to let go. Like cozying into someone’s arms.”
“It’s also a mirror season to Spring. So a time of release. Around us, nature is physically shedding, letting go of its leaves and layers. Compared to Spring, where everything is blooming and unfolding, where we let go and make way for the new, Autumn can be about physical cleansing and letting go, but it is often more of an emotional letting go. People can often say they feel down around this time of year.”
And is that a bad thing? Or is it quite literally like the seasons, natural?
“Yes definitely, it’s natural. When our emotions shift with the seasons, I encourage people to honour those feelings. You can actually enjoy these deeper, heavier emotions. Observe them. But you don’t need to get caught up in the story...because that is what we do right, we attach to a story, and then we see ourselves as a victim and it spirals, for example. But if you can step back and observe, it can be a very therapeutic process.”
"And this is where I really see nature helping immensely. If you are feeling down, go outside, go for a walk or just take in some brisk Autumn air. Pay attention to the wisdom of nature around you. Slow down enough to hear it.”
Do you carry on any rituals or routines in connection to Autumn?
“Dry brushing is great to activate the lymph and I also take cold showers in the morning. I will take my time, warm up some coconut oil, have a cold shower…which helps to activate you in a different way as it’s getting colder outside. And then moisturise with warm coconut oil.”
- L-R via Rizky Subagja, Bejamin Lizardo, Birgit Loit
Associated with: Reflection, Inward Journey Element: Water
“I like to describe Winter as the grandmother who sits in the corner with a cosy quilt. She’s maybe knitting or just resting, she’s content. She’s not interrupting, more so observing. And there’s a sense of deep wisdom and knowing.”
“The element we associate with Winter is water. And the season has a very downward energy. If we think about water on a surface, it always travels downwards. And within ourselves, we feel that through a sort of tendency to retreat a little, to get cosy, hibernate and go into our own depths. We tend to be more reflective during this season, tapping into that tendency and the feeling of inner wisdom.”
And in nature this is reflected too. Leaves completely shedding, trees hibernating in order to revitalise in the future again. It feels like we move around at a different pace in Winter sometimes.
“That’s a good way of putting it. When we see a landscape in Winter we see snow and maybe some trees without leaves, but that’s the surface, underneath at the root level, there’s a lot more going on. The roots are deeper and still very much alive.”
“In the same way, in Winter we cover up in layers and can be indoors a lot, so it can look like not much is happening, but inside we are making fires, baking bread, preparing hearty warm meals. There’s a lot of energy. And then when you look closer at the individual level, when someone is deeply reflecting or meditating for example, it might look like not much is happening, but internally there’s a lot going on.”
I feel like it is a challenging season for many, especially in a place like Norway where it can be very cold and dark. My energy lowers , and while I have figured out ways of moving and eating to feel more energised, I still never feel quite as awakened and inspired as I do in the summer. What do you say to people who feel that way?
“Hibernation can be very beautiful and healthy. But it can become more toxic if you’re just lying inside with Netflix, that isn’t ideal for months on end. So in terms of balance, if you think about yoga, and doing sun salutations – people think that’s for summer, but to help find balance in a cold and dark time, actually doing more intense yoga or movement for example, where you are flowing or activating your muscles and mind can help bring you out of that feeling of stagnation.”
“Sometimes, therapeutically, the thing we don’t want to do is the thing that we really need to do.”
“So while you may feel like laying low, sitting in a restful pose or taking a meandering walk, I’d encourage you to balance out those actions and ‘keep the ‘water flowing’. In other words, if water is our Winter element, we want to keep it moving, and Summer’s element of fire heats us up. Ultimately it’s balance that we need.”
- via Birgit Loit