Even though summer doesn't technically start until the Solstice on June 21, in Florida (where I live) it's already here: the sky has swollen with clouds and humidity, giving us intervals of thrashing rain and intense heat (but hey, it's better than shoveling snow). Last week, in between storms, I went outside to practice yoga and felt the sun press its rays on my shoulders, felt the soggy grass beneath my bare feet. I couldn't help but be reminded of Ayurveda, which is a full system of health and often referred to as the 'sister science' of yoga.
Ayurveda understands that all matter is composed of the same essential elemental forces: earth, water, fire, air, and space/ether.
To paraphrase my brilliant teacher, Larissa Carlson, we all contain these fundamental ingredients, but each in our own unique recipe.
My prakriti, or primary constitution, is Pitta, which is composed of fire & water. Lo and behold, the same ingredients that arrive in full force over the summer months!
Summer is known as the Pitta season, which can aggravate my Pitta qualities if I don't mindfully bring balance into my life. Summer for a Pitta-dominated nature is like sprinkling cayenne pepper on a campfire (or dumping gasoline on said campfire). Fire is powerful: it spreads, it consumes. It gives light but it can burn things down. It can give rise to ambition, but also aggression. At turns passionate and hot-tempered, a Pitta constitution can be exacerbated during a hot summer. Yet no matter what your primary constitution, our globalized modern society is dominated by Pitta qualities: we're driven to "succeed and achieve," we're chronically stressed and suffer from the disease of "busyness" -- which often leads to burnout (a very Pitta term).
Luckily, though the wisdom of Ayurveda and Yoga, we can create more harmony and balance in our lives by understanding how these energies operate within us. We are always in relationship to our surroundings and the rhythms of nature, no matter how disconnected we may seem from the natural world.
Yin Yoga can help balance fiery Pitta qualities, since Yin is a grounding, calming, and quiet style of yoga. Think about it: is hot power yoga really the best option to harmonize someone who's already stressed from a demanding job, an over-active schedule, or a feisty personality?
On the other hand, Yin Yoga is a beautiful antidote to the pace of modern life. Enjoy this Cooling + Calming Yin Yoga sequence, perfect for summer or any time of year.
By keeping the limbs open you can create more space to release heat on physical, mental, emotional, and energetic levels.
Melissa, The Yoga Writer
PS: If you're a Yoga Teacher in the Tampa Bay area, I'm leading a a Yin Yoga Training June 14-16, 2019 at the beautiful Lotus Pond Yoga Center (15 Yoga Alliance credit hours).
Reclining Butterfly with Bolster: Arm Variation
To begin, lie back lengthwise on a bolster (for a little more restorative variation that fully supports the lower back, snuggle your tailbone all the way to the bolster, or for a little more positive pressure on the lumbar region, keep a space as pictured)
Bring the soles of your feet together as the knees splay outward
Arms can either float by your sides on the floor like wings, or lift them overhead and grasp for opposite elbows, as pictured
Notice the rhythm of your breath. On the inhalation, imagine a cooling sensation in the tip of your nose. Perhaps imagine this cooling breath as a light blue color or a soothing stream of awareness that circulates through you. Hold for 2-5 minutes.
Sitting up, keep a nice wide stance with the soles of the feet together and knees bent.
Can remain sitting up (as pictured) if working with herniated disks, or can gently fold over the legs, releasing effort.
Practice soft belly breathing in this posture. Hold for 2-5 minutes.
Remember the Yin approach to yoga is not about effort: it's not about how deep you get into any of these positions, but how gentle and still you can remain within the shapes. When the mind wanders, bring it back to the breath.
Extend the legs out wide to V and let the feet relax.
If there's a lot of rounding in the lower back or strain in this pose, especially around the hips, elevate your hips by sitting on a rolled blanket or two.
Walk the hands gently in front, pause, and breathe. It can feel good to use props here as well to support the weight of the neck and head, by placing a bolster and/or blocks under the torso and/or forehead.
Don't worry about going as deep as you can. When your body sends you feedback, pause and take a slow, deep breath. Hold for 2-5 minutes.
Dragonfly Pose with Side Bend
Walk your torso over to the right, over your extended leg. Remember to keep the legs relaxed (if there's strain under the knees you can place rolled towels or blanket under your knees; feel free to bend knees as much as you need to avoid strain).
Stretch your left arm up and overhead: since Yin poses are held for much longer than in Hatha or Vinyasa styles, it's helpful to bend the left elbow and rest your left hand behind your head or at the base of your neck, as if you were giving yourself a pat on the back. Gaze can be downward, at the horizon, or up; just keep the neck elongated yet relaxed, in a natural extension of your spine. Essentially the back of your head will be in line with your tailbone.
You could prop up the right arm with a bolster for comfort. Hold for 2-5 minutes, then move to the other side.
Before moving to the Half Frog pose, it can feel great at this point in the yoga sequence to bend your knees and hug your legs together. Feel free to groan with sweet relief. ;)
Half Frog Pose with Side Bend
With right leg extended, bend left knee with left heel close to the left glutes. Of course, if this variation is not suitable for your knees or hips (or anywhere), then adjust as you need to: yoga is not about forcing, especially Yin Yoga. Instead, bring the sole of the left foot to the inside of the right thigh, as in head-to-knee pose/Janu Sirsasana.
Bend the torso over your right leg, either resting your right arm on a prop or not (as pictured above for Dragonfly pose with side bend).
Can bend left elbow as in Dragonfly pose as well.
Keep your gaze soft or close your eyes to keep your attention drawn inward. Release any strain or extraneous effort in your neck.
Hold for 2-5 minutes, then move to the other side.
Child's Pose with Knees Wide
Coming to hands and knees on the mat, sink the hips back to your heels and bring your knees wide.
Rest forehead on the mat or a block if the forehead doesn't comfortably come to the mat.
Sense into the qualities of being grounded and centered here. Enjoy slow, deep belly breaths. Hold at least one minute.
From child's pose, rise up to tabletop. Then extend forward, as you lengthen your legs out on the mat and bring your elbows down.
Keep shoulders stacked over your elbows, or wiggle your elbows a little farther in front of your shoulders.
Observe where you're engaging here and explore softening -- relax your quads, your feet, and even your shoulders. In the Yin approach, it's actually ok if your shoulders draw up close to your ears (though you'll NEVER hear me say that in a muscular Hatha or Vinyasa approach to asana).
Keeping the head and neck upright may cause tension, so feel free to rest your forehead on a couple of stacked blocks.
Hold here for at least one minute.
Sphinx Pose with Props Variation
In this variation, place a bolster or folded blanket beneath the pelvis, which can help reduce the arch in the lower back.
You can also place a folded blanket or bolster beneath the elbows for comfort, lightly grasping opposite elbows.
After holding this pose for at least one minute, return to tabletop and feel free to enjoy some cow and cat stretches to release these long, passive holds. Then return to child's pose for at least ten deep breaths.
Yin Supported Bridge
Lying back, bend knees with feet hip distance apart (make sure your feet aren't together on the floor).
Place a block at the very base of your spine so your tailbone is supported (if the block is a bit too high you'll have to expend effort and engage muscles to stay lifted, which is not the goal here; plus, it will probably feel uncomfortable on your back).
Allow gravity to assist you as you relax your weight into the support of the block and the ground beneath you.
Yin Supported Bridge Pose, Variation
Walk feet out and lengthen legs; however, if this puts extraneous pressure on your lower back then keep your knees bent.
Option to float arms overhead and lightly grasp for opposite elbows/forearms.
This pose creates a deep release in the hip flexors,
psoas, and quadriceps. It's an open yet grounded posture.
Thread the Needle Against the Wall
Keep left leg extended; then, bend right knee toward your chest.
Cross your right outer ankle to your left thigh. This may certainly be enough. You might feel sensation in your right outer hip and thigh.
Slowly, and only if it feels ok, bend your left knee while gently sliding your left heel a little closer toward your left hip. Again, there's no need to push or struggle. There are no extra pints for wrangling yourself into a pretzel, especially if it costs you your sense of presence.
It's preferable to have your mat perpendicular to the wall to fully cushion the back and back of the head, not parallel to the wall (as shown)
Legs Up the Wall
If the hips aren't exactly pressed up to the wall that's ok, as long as you don't feel discomfort.
You can also extend legs into a wide V (Dragonflly variation), which creates more cooling throughout the system.
Use the wall and the floor to fully support you as you sink deeper without effort.
At this point you may want to enjoy your savasana in legs-up-the-wall, or lie back fully on the earth. Allow the palms to turn upward in a cooling and receptive gesture. Allow the breath to be soft yet deep and refreshing. Allow all effort to drop away. Give yourself the gift of rest for at least 7 minutes.
I hope this sequence leaves you and/or your yoga students feeling more grounded, relaxed, and refreshed.
Want more Yin Yoga sequences and resources? Check 'em out here.
Curious to learn more about Yin Yoga for your yoga students? If you live in the Tampa Bay area I'm leading a Yin Yoga Certification June 14-19 at The Lotus Pond Yoga Center in Tampa, FL.