Summer is upon us, and with it comes longer days, warmer temperatures, and a jam packed calendar. According to Taoist philosophy, Summer is a Yang time of year, and our activities and physical vitality certainly reflect this as we soak in as much solar energy as possible in this short-lived period. Caught up in the momentum of the season, our bodies work overtime, and with all that we pile on, it’s easy to overheat, and dry up – physically and energetically. This added fire can increase irritability, and lead to imbalance. Alternatively, the humid, dog days of summer can leave us sluggish or lethargic, causing a stagnation of energy. Our organs, though easily overlooked, take the brunt of the load, with the heart, small intestine, stomach, and spleen working hard to circulate the blood, regulate temperature, absorb nutrients and maintain optimal digestion.
If we take our cues from nature, this would be the ideal time to take some of the vigor out of our yoga practice, and invite more cooling and slower paced movements. Yin Yoga, specifically, is an ideal choice as the long-held postures can welcome some much needed grounding, and also stimulate the energy body to promote the flow of stagnant qi.
The intention of the following sequence, aptly titled, Summer Chill Out, is to give a much needed break from the internal and external heat generated this time of year. These postures highlight the lines of the body that correlate with the meridians of the commonly affected organs, and the manner in which they are practiced will hopefully encourage stillness and reflection. Take some time to practice in its entirety, or select a few postures to complement your summertime activities.
How to Practice
There are four main principles of Yin Yoga. First, we come into a shape and go to the first point of resistance, and from that mild “edge” of sensation, observe what is being felt. Sensation should be no more than a mild, dull ache, and not gravitate toward anything sharp, stabbing or burning.
The second principle is to relax the target area. With the muscles relatively relaxed, the stress will transfer to the denser connective tissues. You may find that that there are multiple target areas within one pose, and that’s completely normal. It may change and shift throughout the duration of the hold.
Third, one remains relatively still for relatively longer periods of time. Postures can be held anywhere from three to even 20 minutes, but start with a time frame that makes sense for you, honoring the foregoing tenets. Keep in mind, you are not fixed in a single spot for the duration of the pose. Do be sure to change the angle of the pose to accommodate for any release, or to back away from sensation that becomes too intense.
Lastly, be sure to release each pose with care. There will likely be a sense of fragility in the body as the tissues respond to the stress. Move slowly and mindfully as you transition.
Practice the postures sequentially as listed, allowing for 3-6 minutes in each pose. The postures that are suggested to be practiced in a series can be held for less time if needed. Be certain to honor the tenets of the practice, and release sooner or change the angle of the pose in the event pain or sharp sensation arises. Get creative with how you navigate your experience, and be sure to give yourself at least 1-2 minutes between postures to rest in a prone or supine savasana, observing the effects. Static, muscular holds and even some slow, controlled dynamic movement are also appropriate ways to transition. It is normal to feel some fragility as you exit a posture, and that sensation may stay present for a minute or two.
Photos by Cindy Giovagnoli
Disclaimer: Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Always consult your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The information provided in this blog is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.
1. Broken Wing. Lying face down, extend the right arm out to the side, palm facing down. Place the left hand under the left shoulder to gently roll to the outer right hip to target the inner line of the arm and the chest. Legs may be bent, or the foot of the top leg can rest on the floor.
2. Cat Tail. Lie on your right side, supporting your head in your hand. Draw your left leg up, like you’re hanging out reading a magazine. Reach behind you with your left hand and catch ahold of your right foot, targeting the quadricep of the back leg. Stay on your side, or roll back (as shown in the photo), to invite a twist to the spine.
3. Squat. Sit low, sinking the hips, and let the upper body relax forward. Add whatever you may need for support under the heels or hips if the deep flexion in the the knees causes too much strain. To release, lean forward and place the hands on the floor or block, raising the hips and straightening the legs.
4. Dangle. Directly after squat, raise the hips and allow the body to fold over the legs. Keep any amount of bend in the knees and let the upper body be completely relaxed.
5. Inside Dragon. Step the right foot forward, planting the hands inside the right leg on the floor or on blocks to target the hip flexor of the back leg, and possibly the groin/inner thigh of the left leg. Hands can be placed on the inside of the right foot, and the foot walked out wide to allow for sensation in the right groin.
6. Geko. From Inside Dragon, take the front foot forward so the ankle is beyond the knee to increase the sensation in the hamstring. The foot may be brought as far forward as necessary, resembling a splits pose, and the hand may stay inside or frame the front leg.
6a. Runners Lunge. OPTION To minimize the sensation in the back leg hip flexor, but still target the front leg hamstring, draw the hips back so the back thigh is vertical as shown. Straighten the front leg to increase what is felt in the hamstring. Hands can be placed on the floor or on blocks.
7. Sleeping Swan. This pose is to target the outer hip. Take the right knee forward, allowing for an external rotation of the thigh. Experiment with the angle of the front leg shin and use support for the outer hip if necessary. Fold forward to whatever degree you can.
7a. Swan with twist/bind. OPTION From Sleeping Swan, upright the torso, and walk the arms forward. Thread the right arm under the left, allow the right deltoid to rest on the floor, head on floor or block and wrap the left arm around the body, rest the hand on the low back or hold the left foot.
8. Sphinx. Place the elbows under the shoulders, keeping the legs relaxed. Head may be kept in a neutral position, fall forward, or rest on a block.
8a. Seal. OPTION Begin on the forearms in Sphinx pose, and from there, transition to Seal by fully extending the arms, moving the hands toward the body any amount that allows for an appropriate amount of sensation to the lumbar spine. Hands my turn in or out.
9. Saddle. Sitting on the hips, or on a block as shown, lean the upper body back, resting the elbows on a bolster to target the front line of the body, and extend the spine. Taking the pose farther back will work for some bodies, either with a prop (as shown) or without a prop. Play with taking the thighs wider, and be sure to avoid this pose if any pain is felt in the knees.
10. Dragonfly. From a seated position, take the legs wide, and fold forward, resting the palms, forearms or torso on the floor. Sensation may be felt along the inner lines of the legs or along the back line of the body.
11. Full Stirrup. Collect both feet or knees, drawing the thighs away from the midline. Keep the spine long on the floor. Sensation in the inner thighs and outer hips may be experienced.
12. Easy Twist. Lie on your left side, with the knees pulled up toward the hips. Lift the right arm to peel open the upper body, allowing for an easy spinal twist. Arrange the arms however it feels best.