In the Ancient traditions such as Yoga (and its sister science Ayurveda) and Taoism (Traditional Chinese Medicine), as well as current, earth-focused Indigenous traditions, there is much emphasis placed on our integration with the cycles of the earth and in particular the seasons. In the ‘West’, through our capabilities in controlling the environment around us (think air-con, shipping fruit and vegetables long distances, food preservation), we may not feel so connected with the subtle changes in nature around us and its effects on us.
Yoga offers us a wonderful tool to turn our attention in to our own bodies and minds and see them from the same model as the earth that sustains us, The concepts of Yin and Yang (borrowed from Taoism) are really useful to help us understand this model. You can read a bit more about these concepts in one of my previous articles or check out this video.
Summer is most Yang of the seasons (hot, light, active, expansive) and energetically is a time to harness the sun’s power. We see this with the ripening of fruit on trees and in our gardens. We feel the heat of the sun warming up the ground, air and water and on our skin. Sometimes if we spend too much time in the sun, particularly when the mercury hits 40 degrees plus as it has up here in North East Victoria this week, we start to feel a little out of balance and burned out (or just plain burned!).
In nature we can see that after the creative and detoxifying period of spring, as seeds expand from their dormant Yin energy and the viable ones grow, summer is the time for giving those plants the energy to expand. In Chinese Medicine the season of summer relates to the element of Fire and the organs of the Heart and Small Intestine.
Our yoga practice can support and work with the energy of this season. Through knowledge of yogic anatomy, which maps not only the physical body but also more subtle layers of the body that connect the mind and body, we know that in order to find more expansion in our postures or in meditation we must first focus on our foundations of support. We plant our feet on the earth and use the energy of the earth to support our bodies.
The Solar Plexus area is a key energy centre of the body (Navel chakra/Manipura) which enables us to lift this energy up in order for the Heart at the Cardiac Pleux (Heart chakra / Anahata) to be expansive, mobile and open. Emotionally this might resonate for us in that in order for us to be vulnerable, open hearted, trusting and compassionate to ourselves and others (heart chakra concepts) we need to have self-belief, confidence and personal power (navel chakra concepts).
A Firey Summer Yoga Practice
In our physical practice we can build awareness of the fire energy in the body through practices that ignite our core support. Postures such as full and forearm planks and side planks, Pilates style core isolation exercises in supine or prone positions, plus slow dynamic transitions through postures including standing balances, can really help to get the core firing and increase activity in the neaural pathways to work those muscles that support us. Ardha Pincha Mayurasana/Dolphin pose (pictured at the top) is also great for working the core and accessing shoulder stability (as well as providing a wonderful refreshing and cooling inversion and prep for deeper inverted postures).
Postures that then bring more mobility into the upper spine create space around the heart. Parvritta Utkatasana (Twisted Chair) and prayer twist lunges are great to practice activating the core to support movement in the upper body. Sidebending standing or in lunges helps create space through the side ribs (using the core to lift up rather than crunching to the side). Backbending in poses such as Bhujangasana (Cobra), Upward-facing Dog, Salabhasana (Locust), Ustrasana (Camel) and Setu Bhandasana (Bridge)/Urdhva Dhanarasana (Wheel) are wonderful heart and front body openers and can then be countered with forward folding postures such as Paschimottanasana and Balasana (Childs Pose). When back and forward-bending we always build the pose from the ground up, stabilising and supporting the body to open – using that firey core energy to allow the heart to expand like a summer fruit!
Balancing the Yang with Yin
In the asana (physical) practice we can include more Yin yoga to balance the heating energy of the Yang sequence, particiularly if we start to feel overly tired or burnt out.
A Yin sequence that targets the Heart Meridian is a great addition to the sequence above to slow down yet continue to nourish the Heart. Postures such as Anahatanasana (Melting Heart), Child Pose with Twist, Seal, Snail, Fish and Lying Spinal Twist all work on the Heart and Intestine meridian channels. These poses can be done with blankets, bolsters and blocks to make them more supported if needed.
The breath can also assist with balancing these Yin and Yang energies. Pranayama such as Kapalabhati can help us to connect with the inner fire to support our core practices but can be overly heating. In order to balance the body with more cooling breathwork we can practice Sitali (or Sitkari) breath – breathing through rolled tongue or closed teeth – or Chadhra Shodhana (Single Nostril breathing) – like alternate nostril breath but inhaling only through the left nostril or more Yin side of the body (exhaling through the right).
What we put in our bodies and how we act in our lives can also be adapated to changes with the seasons to help us to ride these cycles with more ease. You may like to invite more of these practices into your life during summer:
- eat local seasonal foods,
- eat foods high in water content that are naturally cooling such as watermelon and cucumber,
- eat light cool foods such as salads,
- stay hydrated by drinking fresh water throughout the day,
- get up early to make the most the light mornings,
- move your body each day,
- diffuse or apply cooling Essential oils such as Peppermint (avoid your eyes), Spearmint, Lavender, Vetiver and Sandalwood,
- drink cooling drinks such as Iced Hibiscus and Lemongrass tea with Mint,
- spend time in nature perhaps in the cool shade of a tree or the cooling waters of a river, lake or ocean.
Let me know how you go with these tools and tips and if you want to join me in person to delve deeper into working with the energy of the seasons check out my Yin Yang Seasonal Workshop series.