I love to celebrate the changing of each season. Marking the shifts in the weather, the daylight, and the foods that are in season are all wonderful ways to reconnect with this amazing planet we inhabit.
But, I have to admit…I dread summer every year.
I am not a fan of hot temperatures (or sweating), so this time of year, I have to make a little extra effort to appreciate the cycles of nature (rather than just curse the Weather Channel forecast). When it’s hot outside, my patience is thinner, my energy is lower, and it’s hard to stay grounded in the present moment when I’m longing for the days of sweatshirts and chai tea lattes. After the 4th of July, I’m seriously ready to skip ahead to Halloween. Please.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things over the years about working with the Elements and Seasons from a Yin Yoga perspective, so I’ll offer some of my favorite practices for handling the sizzling energy of summer.
The Season of Fire Element
First, a little background: Yin Yoga draws upon the energetic principles outlined in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The poses we practice are thought to stimulate the meridian lines that run through the body, making the practice a form of self-acupressure. The meridian lines we take into consideration in Yin Yoga are each connected with an organ in the body, and the organ meridians are divided into Yin and Yang categories. Each Yin organ meridian is paired with a Yang organ meridian that has similar qualities and effects. In addition, each meridian pair is associated with one of the Five Elements and a season of the year. In TCM, summertime is connected with the Heart/Small Intestine meridian pair and the Fire Element.
Each season has its own unique personality, bringing with it certain moods or characteristics. In the winter, rest and hibernation is instinctive, and in the spring, change is in the air, as new habits and ideas start to blossom. The summer season represents the part of the cycle where everything ripens. The heat of fire can purify or burn away old habits, “cooking” our new intentions until the transformation reaches maturity.
Fire energizes, but it also consumes, so it’s crucial to keep this energy in balance – it brings out one’s fiery intellect and passionate emotions. But, on the plus side, Fire Element also highlights our capacity for compassion, joy, and connection. The expansive energy of Fire encourages us to embrace living life to its fullest.
How do we work with these themes in a yoga practice?
According to Chinese Medicine, the Heart and Small Intestine Meridians are related to both circulation and digestion, as well as any inflammation in the body or excess heat (such as hot flashes). Anxiety, nervousness, and overstimulation can also reflect imbalance in these meridians, and in turn their symptoms include disruptions to digestion and heart rate.
Described in broad strokes, the Heart Meridian starts around the chest/armpit and runs down the inner arm, through the wrist and to the pinky finger. The Small Intestine Meridian – perhaps surprisingly – is also located in the upper body, running through the neck, upper back/shoulders, and down the back of the arm.
So, in a Yin Yoga practice, these energy lines would be primarily affected by backbends, forward bends, twists, and wrist/forearm stretches. You can choose poses that open the chest, upper back, neck, and shoulders, and the inner and outer arm from the pinky to the shoulder. Try a restful backbend on a bolster, or add wrist and shoulder stretches to Shoelace Pose (see pictures).
In general, summer can be a good time to turn down the heat and intensity of your asana practice and spend extra time with Yin Yoga and meditation, or simply opening to the emotional aspects of yoga.
Practicing Metta Meditation can be a beautiful way to cultivate the positive attributes of Fire Element – love and compassion – and to soothe your own heart. Metta (or Maitri in Sanskrit), means “loving-kindness” or goodwill, and is a traditional Buddhist meditation practice. This form of meditation is usually taught with a set of four phrases that are repeated silently – “May I/you be safe,” “May I/you be happy,” “May I/you be healthy,” “May I/you live with ease.” You are free to create your own variations of these well-wishes that resonate with you.
If you’re new to Metta Meditation, try this guided practice with Sharon Salzberg. She will guide you through the nuances of sending Metta to yourself and to others.
My good wish for you this season: indulge in some lazy summer days to rest and stay balanced. Enjoy being with friends, live life to the fullest…and stay cool!