There is something special about June 21st. This day marks the Summer solstice and is thereby the year’s longest day in Northern countries of the world. From a yogic point of view, the Summer solstice denotes the transition to dakshinayana (a Sanskrit term for the six-month period between Summer solstice and Winter solstice). This day is known as a special time of the year in which sadhanas (spiritual practices) receive extra support from Mother Earth. It is also International Yoga Day, which aims to raise awareness worldwide of the benefits Yoga. On June 21st, large Yoga events around the world are open and free to everybody. This year, Father’s Day also falls on June 21st. To top it off, there is a New Moon and a solar eclipse on this day. So much happening in just this one day! Now, having mentioned the extra special things about this day, this article is going to be focused on embracing the summer season from a yogic perspective. You will learn about specific yoga practices you can do, gain some insights from an Ayurvedic perspective, including changes you can bring to your diet during the warmer summer days, and also get some tips about things and activities you can consider implementing in your lifestyle.
As the seasons change at a macrocosmic level, our being also goes through the seasons at a microcosmic level. Our bodies adapt naturally. As above, so below. Still, there are things we can do to attune our microcosm to the macrocosm in order to bring harmonious balance.
SUMMER YOGA PRACTICE
In the summer season, it is ideal to do slower, calming practices, as well as practices that support your body’s self-regulation processes. With the days getting hotter, consider practicing gentle yoga flows with deep breathing, and yin yoga practices which you can really sink into and relax. Some yin yoga poses you can consider practicing in the summer are for example: anahatasana (the melting heart pose), lying down twists and shoulder stretches, and tadpole pose with twist. Because of the contemplative nature of yin yoga, the practice will give you an opportunity for introspection and surrendering your heart into full presence.
Grounding poses which are literally close to the ground are ideal, as the earth provides a cooling energy and stability. An example of such poses are: paschimottanasana (the seated forward fold), child’s pose (balasana), and kurmasana (turtle pose, which is a semi wide-legged forward fold).
Twists help to purify and flush out excess heat and tension from the entire abdominal area.
Twists such as ardha matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist) and reverse warrior poses or lunges with twists are great for cleansing the liver, keeping the digestive system healthy and the spine flexible – all particularly helpful if you have gone out partying 😉
Backbends are great for opening up the entire area after possibly being physically in a more inverted, crunched in the previous colder months of the year. Ustrasana (camel pose) is also great for opening up the chest and shoulders, and it also helps to regulate body temperature, along with bhujangasana (cobra pose) and matsyasana (fish pose). Chakrasana is a strong backbend will send a shot of energy through your entire being, and open your heart, readying you up for a great day out. Also. gomukhasana (cow face pose) is a shoulder opening pose which helps to increase your lung capacity and also open up the chest.
Inversions calm the mind and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which creates calm feelings. Inversions such as sarvangasana (shoulder stand) vrischikasana (scorpion pose), and sirsasana (headstand) will challenge you into a new perspective and vitalize your body.
And remember always of course, about savasana in your garden, at the park, or the beach 😉
Sitali pranayama (the cooling breath) is particularly cooling, as reflected in its name. This is because the air (and prana, life force) is cooled down by the tongue through the technique employed in the practice. To practice this breathing exercise, you stick your tongue out and curl it in a semi tube-like form. Then, inhale slowly through the mouth keeping the tongue curled, and exhale through the nose.
In Yoga, the left side of the body is yin (passive, feminine, cold), and the right side of the body is yang (active, masculine, warm). Since in the summer the energy gets hot, we want to balance it out by engaging in cooling practices. Since the left nostril corresponds to the left, cooling side (and the left subtle energetic channel called ida nadi) breathing through this can decrease inner heat and be refreshing. Basically, to practice this, you close off the right nostril and breathe in and out through the left nostril for a count of 5-20 breaths. Chandra Bhedana pranayama (“the moon passing through” breath) is another breathing exercise which also activates ida nadi, and is more balanced than the one previously described. To practice it, inhale through your left nostril and exhale through the right one. You can do this for a few minutes. Start slow and gentle!
Sitkarin pranayama (the sipping or hissing breath) has similar effects to that of sitali pranayama. The effects are different in that it is not as cooling as sitali and the effects are deeper on your subtle body. To practice this breathing exercise, instead of curling the tongue, you let it float in your mouth, having the teeth lightly touch, so that when you inhale through the mouth you create a hissing sound. Exhale through the nose.
Also, with so much happening in the summer – family get togethers, parties, and other adventures, remember to meditate regularly to stay centered and connected to that peaceful place in your heart throughout it all.
SUMMER & AYURVEDA
The summer season corresponds to pitta (fire) dosha in Ayurveda (the other two being vata and kapha), because it is driven by the energy of the Sun, which is strongest in the summer. Pitta is characterized by heat and dryness, and it is responsible for your digestion and metabolism. When the temperatures rise, pitta can aggravate. Examples of how this is commonly manifested are: heartburn, ulcers, indigestion, skin rashes, sunburns, dehydration, hot-tempered attitudes, frustration and irritation. So, we want to balance this out by bringing in more cooling, calming energy, realizing that the aggravated pitta creates not only physical imbalance, but can also mentally and emotionally make us “fired up.” How to do this? Besides bringing adaptations to our yoga practice, we can implement changes into our diet and seasonal lifestyle.
In regards to your diet, it is recommended to eat lots of watery fruits and vegetables such as watermelons, melons, cucumbers, and fresh raw salads filled with leafy greens. To stay hydrated, consider drinking coconut water, aloe vera drinks, or electrolyte-filled water. Cooling and refreshing teas are a good idea, however it is best to avoid drinking ice-cold drinks as they disturb your digestion. Also, herbs that decrease pitta like mint, coriander, fennel, and cilantro, are some which you could consider making teas with, or adding to your salads. Three additional cooling elements to add are: cleansing bitters such as asparagus, kale, and rocket (which make the heart and small intestine stronger, as well as purify and cool your blood), astringents (which have a toning function and support the absorption of fluids), and healthy, natural sweets such as fruits (which balance the fire in your digestion). Have a big breakfast to energize you for the day, and keep dinner small and light. Avoid hot, spicy foods which are likely to aggravate your digestive fire. It is also best to avoid alcohol, vinegar, and fried foods. The main idea to follow is to eat light, easily digestible water-rich foods to keep you hydrated and cool.
LIFESTYLE & ACTIVITY
Although many people feel called to work out intensely to “get that beach body,” it is best to exercise in a way that you do not overhear and deplete yourself. If you are a runner, choose to run in the cooler times of the day such as the early morning. To avoid overheating and sunburns, it’s best to not overexpose yourself to the Sun between 10AM and 2PM. In terms of clothing, wearing organic and cooling materials such as cotton, silk, and hemp will help keep your body cool – think: “breathable” clothing. Because the nighttime is cooler, during the summer it is all right for your wellbeing to go to bed after 11 pm, and if you can, sleep with the windows open. Using a natural moisturizer on your skin before you go to bed and in the morning to keep your skin hydrated. Overall, make sure to stay hydrated, and slow down.
Essential oils carry a certain energy, and during the summer season, rose oils can be your best friend because they are very soothing. You could consider using a rose massage oil, and include self-care massage sessions (abhyanga) to your routine, as massages will have a very calming effect on your whole being. Other sweet-smelling oils like jasmine, lavender, chamomile, and honeysuckle help to relax and balance pitta. Coconut and sunflower oils will also serve the purpose if it’s what’s available for you.
There’s more you can do. You can listen to gentle ambient music which feels soothing to your soul. You can also listen to or chant mantras. You can also spend quality time in nature, particularly near water (beach, river, canal, creek, lake etc.). Relax, and take it all in: the sound of the breeze, birds, or the crashing of the ocean waves on the shores, the pastel-coloured sky during sunset, and the cooling feel of the late-evening summer breeze.
EMBRACING SUMMER JOY
Remember that the key to balance is moderation. Summer is typically a holiday season meant for having fun, relaxing, and enjoying yourself. It can work against us to get too fired up, so remember to stay cool – not only physically, keep also your mind, emotions, and spirit cool! Knowing that the intensity of the hot summer season can trigger our moods and make us short-tempered, easily dehydrated, and fired up, in this post I hope to have served you this summer by sharing a myriad of ways in which you can stay cool, healthy, balanced and joyful this summer. The summer solstice is a transition into the remainder of the year, with the Sun shining its light upon it, reminding us of the eternal light within our very selves. So let us remember, and celebrate this light within our hearts!
Thank you for tuning in, and may you all have a beautiful summer season.