Here comes summer, a time to kick off your shoes, open windows and savor the taste of fresh berries and other delectable garden edibles. The change of seasons shifts the way we do things ranging from how we dress to how we recreate and socialize. Altering yoga practice for those hazy, lazy days of summer can add variety and enhance the yoga experience as well. A few tips make summer yoga powerful.
In general, less time is needed to warm up in class or in your at home practice. With warmer temperatures, your body will be naturally more supple. Longer hours of sunlight may offer time for an early morning practice or class. Practicing outside can be delightful, but avoiding direct sunlight is best so as not to overheat the body's inner core. This may be the opportunity to try a sunrise practice for warming the body or a sunset practice for cooling down. Other options might be to make one session more asana based and the other more meditative or a pranayama (breath control) practice.
Yoga is a terrific compliment to any exercising activity like gardening, walking, kayaking, bicycling, golf, etc. Yoga asanas and relaxation practices bring balance to all the muscle groups in the body and help restore full range of motion. If you are more active in summer than winter, yoga asanas will prepare your body for increased activity and you'll be less likely to encounter injury, especially if you engage in a repetitive movement game such as golf or tennis. Create a well rounded practice for yourself including dog, staff pose, standing postures, back-bends, forward bends, twists and inversions. Never forget the integrating power of savasana!
Just Keeping Cool
Warm weather makes a lot of people feel terrific and they long for activities that push them and build more heat. They love to sweat. Others have body thermostats that run warm by nature and may need a more cooling practice. Adjust your practice to your true physical nature and your true self will emerge. Remember standing poses and flowing sequences will make you warmer. Supine and seated poses will cool you down.
Frequent travelers need to unravel the tightness that comes from being on the go in cars, trains, planes, and even on bicycles or roller blades. The psoas (marching muscles) is said to become tight from being in a chair and car driven culture. Actually, psoas muscles aren't as tight as they are just plain exhausted! Whenever possible use poses of elongation and expansion. For recovery after travel, be sure to try reclined cobbler, thigh stretch, lunge poses, standing bow and camel. Take a mat wherever you travel if possible. Consistency is more important than how long you practice.
Sneeze. sneeze! Allergies sometimes exacerbate in spring and summer. A little yoga can help keep allergies at bay. A chest opener a day makes the allergies drop away. Focus on expanding the chest cavity. Try twisting poses and restoratives that open the body's breathing center. Resting on a pranayama pillow (a long narrow bolster up the back with hips on the floor) or a towel, rolled lengthwise for ten minutes each day can relax the chest cavity and open the lungs for better breathing. Keeping the spine long and getting the chest to open in crisis times will keep the breath flowing.
Enjoying pranayama practice outdoors in fresh air is heavenly. Sit comfortably, being sure hips are well elevated for maintaining the natural curve of your spine. Draw your awareness inward. Be present to the moment by maintaining a focus on the breath. Notice the soft touch of the air as it enters and leaves the nostrils. Listen to the sound of summer birds, the breeze, the quiet. If you are a more experienced student, using pranayama practices such as Nadi Sodhana right and left nostril breathing, or other more advanced practices help maintain balance in the brain and the over all body physiology. If you've not practiced longer periods of silence, the magic of summer and being out-of-doors provides an ideal sacred space, a perfect place to begin.
This summer, have fun with yoga and incorporate this ancient art into your every day.
HAIL TO THE SUN! A Great Summer Practice
Surya Namaskar is an invigorating flow suitable for all healthy, mobile practitioners. This traditional greeting to the sun works all muscle groups, builds a healthy digestive fire, brings balance to the endocrine system, and helps develop flexibility. Move slowly through the flow for warming or developing strength. Pick up the pace as you master the movements for more of a vinyasa (interlocking of postures and breath). Insert other poses when you want a longer practice.
Begin in Mountain Pose. Inhale, extend arms up overhead and exhale with arms out to the sides moving into forward bend. Inhale, step the right leg back into right legged lunge. Inhale, lower the right knee to the floor and gently arch the upper spine, drawing back the heads of the shoulders, and letting eyes gaze between the brow. Exhale, straighten the right back leg and step the left leg back alongside the right leg into plank pose. Lower your body to the floor in grasshopper pose by dropping knees, keeping seat in the air, and placing the heart on the floor between the hands, chin touching the floor, elbows bent close into the sides. (From the side view, you'll look like a grasshopper!) Inhale and transform into cobra pose by lifting upward through the chest and extending the legs long behind, again keeping the elbows next to the body. Exhale, moving up and back into downward dog stretch. Inhale, step the right leg forward into lunge, lowering the left knee to the floor and arching upward. Exhale, step the left leg along side the right coming into forward bend. Inhale, extend through the trunk, taking the arms out to the sides and come back to Mountain Pose. Repeat, beginning with the left leg going back.
Libby Robold, MA, RYT, is a yoga teacher and therapist who trademarked Breathercise in 1992, a relaxation therapy system for children and adults. She co-directs Yoga for Health Education, Center for Conscious Living in Traverse City, MI. 231-922-YOGA (9642); www.yogaforhealthtc.com.