With the COVID-19 restrictions in place worldwide, many of us are having to stay indoors. Yoga to the rescue! If you can't get out into the natural world, you can bring the natural world into your yoga practice through the use of imagery and visualisation. In this post I'll share with you how you can use Sun imagery in your yoga practice to uplift your mood and create a sense of sunny optimism. (This approach is explored more in my forthcoming book Yoga by the Stars).
The Sun’s energy gives life to the Earth and without it there would be no life on our planet. Its gravity holds everything in the solar system together. The Sun-Earth relationship is what drives the seasons, weather, climate, and ocean currents.
It can be fun to ask the Sun to guide you through a yoga practice. As you step on to your yoga mat ask yourself: If the Sun were leading my yoga practice today, where would it take me? At the start of your session make a heartfelt request: “Sun, please guide me through this yoga practice.”
I find focusing on the Sun during a yoga practice leaves me feeling happy, strong, and confident. What really impresses me is the creativity that you can tap into and harness with the sun as a focus. I find that the moves I come up with when the Sun is my guide, surprise and delight me. Anything feels possible with the Sun as your guide, and poses that you would usually find impossible, you find yourself achieving fearlessly and effortless.
Begin your Sun Yoga practice standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), hands in Prayer Position (Namaste). In your mind’s eye picture the sun rising in the sky. Now picture a warm, glowing sun at your solar plexus, radiating warmth and light, and keep this image in mind as you let the Sun guide you through your yoga session.
Whilst holding standing poses, like the Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), focus on a warm sun at your centre, radiating out. Breathe and focus on radiating sunshine. This is healing, calming, and promotes happiness.
If you don't feel confident enough yet to be guided through a yoga session by the Sun and your intuition, then simply use the Sun imagery in the Salute to the Sun sequence.
See also Solar Powered Breathing,
Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar) is the perfect sequence for a home yoga practice. It's a circular yoga sequence that celebrates the sun. Surya means “sun” and Namaskar means “to bow to.” You can either use it on its own or integrate it into a longer practice. Find this sequence on page 137 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
The sequence will get your circulation going, which boosts your immune system. It’s energising and will help you shake off quarantine lethargy. It boosts your mood and banishes the stay-at-home COVID-19 blues. If you do have access to a garden or local park, it's great to do outside.
You can perform as many rounds of the Salute to the Sun as you wish. You can also play about with varying the speed of the sequence. It can be very soothing if performed slowly and meditatively. Try staying and resting for a few breaths in Downward-Facing Dog Pose, Child’s Pose, and Standing Forward Bend. In this way your Salute to the Sun becomes like a moving prayer.
We begin the sequence by standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), hands in Prayer Position (Namaste). In your mind’s eye picture the sun rising in the sky. Now picture a warm, glowing sun at your solar plexus, radiating warmth and light, and keep this image in mind as you perform the Salute to the Sun. Using sun imagery as you perform the sequence will recharge your batteries, lift a low mood and induce a sense of sunny optimism and vitality.
Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar)
1. Mountain Pose with Sun Visualisation. Picture the sun rising in the sky. Picture a warm, glowing sun at solar plexus.
2. Raise arms above head and come into Standing Forward Bend.
3. Bend knees and arch back, and then come back down into Standing Forward Bend.
4. Step back into Plank Pose, with the whole body in one long line.
5. Swivel into Side Plank. Repeat on other side.
6. Plank Pose. Drop knees to floor and sit back into Child’s Pose.
7. Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog.
8. Downward-Facing Dog. Stay a few breaths.
9. Bring foot forward into Lunge Pose.
10. Bring other foot forward into Standing Forward Bend, and then dip the back.
11. Standing Forward Bend. Stay for a few breaths. Standing up, sweep arms out to side and above head.
12. Mountain Pose with Sun Visualisation. Rest here for a few breaths. Picture a warm, glowing sun at solar plexus and keep image in mind as you perform another round.
The Yoga Journal video below is not exactly the same as my version, but if if you haven't done this sequence before it will give you a feel for it. If you do an online search for Salute to the Sun you will find many different versions, some meditative, some very energetic with jumping from pose to pose. Do a search and find one that suits you. Enjoy!
See also: Solar Powered Breathing, and Sun Powered Yoga
In my next few posts I'll be exploring ways that we can bring sunshine into our lives during the current pandemic, when many of us are isolating at home, and looking for ways to lift our mood and create a sunnier outlook. In this post I'll share with you the technique of Solar-Powered Breathing which is energising and will recharge your batteries. It induces a sense of sunny optimism and vitality. You can find this exercise on page 143 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
This breathing practice can be done lying, sitting, or standing. It can also be used when you hold a yoga pose, imagining that there is a warm sun at your solar plexus radiating rays of sunshine around your body.
Solar Powered Breathing
Find yourself a comfortable position, either sitting, standing, or lying. Imagine that it is a warm, sunny summer’s day. Picture the sun in the sky and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Now imagine that you can locate the sun within your own body. Picture a sun radiating warmth, light, and energy at your solar plexus. If you wish, place your hands on your solar plexus (the area below your breastbone but above your navel).
Imagine that as you inhale you are breathing into the sun at your solar plexus, and as you exhale you are breathing out from there. Repeat for a few breaths.
Now imagine that with each inhale the sun is charged up, and on each exhale the sun expands and glows a little brighter.
Inhale: charge up
After a few breaths of breathing in this way, begin to send the sun’s healing rays of energy all around the body. With each inhale the sun is recharged, and with each exhale the sun is radiating healing rays of light all around the body.
After a few breaths, go back to your normal breathing. Let go of the image of the sun at your solar plexus. Once again imagine that it is a warm, sunny summer’s day. Picture the sun in the sky and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
Now let go of the image of the sunny day and bring your awareness back to your body; notice where your body is in contact with the floor or support. Notice how you are feeling and how you have been affected by the Solar-Powered Breathing. Resolve to take these warm, sunny feelings into your everyday life and the next thing that you do today.
See also Salute to the Sun and Sun Powered Yoga for more ideas on how to bring Sun imagery into your yoga practice.
In many cultures the transition from spring to summer, and its ensuing fertility, was celebrated through dance ritual. During the pandemic, when many of us are looking for ways to exercise at home, this is a good time to incorporate elements of dance into your yoga practice. Dance will boost your happy hormones, shift stuck energy, and give you a sense of connection to the earth.
As spring changes to summer, nature is dancing a sensual dance of creation, and the world is coming into bloom. Dance can be a way of honouring both sensuality and sexuality. In many cultures dance marked the various transition points of life. There were courtship dances; fertility dances; dances to prepare for giving birth. Dance can be a meditation and lead to ecstatic states where the dancer and the dance become one. The dancer is no longer dancing; rather she is being danced. I like to imagine that had yoga been handed down to us over the millennia from mother to daughter, as well as from father to son, it would include some element of sacred dance.
Dance is sensual and can be a great way of getting your creative juices flowing. Yoga and dance combine to make great partners. Try using dance as a warm-up for your yoga practice. Put on your favourite dance music and just allow yourself to be danced. Make this into a dancing meditation by focusing your awareness on the sound of the music, the sensations of your body moving, and the dance of your own breath. Feel those happy hormones soar! Flowing yoga sequences (vinyasa) also have a very dance-like quality. The Salute to the Sun (Surya Namaskar) is a fiery sun-dance, combining wave-like movements with breath awareness. The Dancer Pose (Natarajasana) is of course the perfect asana to include in your dance inspired vinyasa.
At a time when the natural world is coming out of hibernation, we humans, to protect ourselves and others from the virus, are drawing inwards and staying at home. My next few posts will focus on ways that, despite the restrictions imposed on us by the virus, we can still connect with the natural expansive, opening, outward looking, blossoming nature of the season, even as we isolate ourselves from each other and the the virus.
During spring to summer nature’s creations, such as blossom, have a luminescent quality that can inspire our yoga practice, bringing us closer to the yogic state of clarity and light (sattva). This post will share with you the Visualising a Tree in Blossom exercise (page 52 the Yoga Through the Year book). It will help you to connect with the outward, expansive, blossoming quality of the natural world waking up in spring. See also my previous post Blossom With Yoga which includes this visualisation as part of the yoga practice.
Visualising a Tree in Blossom
Focusing on the natural beauty of a tree in blossom has an uplifting effect and will help you to feel a peaceful sense of connection to the natural world. This exercise can be done standing, sitting or lying down.
Picture the beauty of a tree in blossom. Notice its shape, colours, and fragrance. Now imagine that you are a tree in blossom. Feel the space around you, the blue sky above you, and the earth below you. Picture your roots going deep down into the soil; spreading, wrapping around rocks and boulders, giving you strength, nourishment, and stability. Feel yourself receiving energy from the warm sun. Allow yourself to be breathed. You are a tree in blossom breathing. You are part of it all. You are a tree, connected to the earth, the sky, the air, and the sunshine. Stay here for a few more breaths, feeling your connection to the intricate web of life.
When you are ready let go of the image of the tree in blossom. Become aware of where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Become aware of your surroundings. Take this peaceful feeling of connectedness into the next thing that you do today.
The natural world seems blissfully unaware of the COVID-19 crisis that we humans are facing worldwide. Here in the UK the whole world is coming into blossom. This is usually my favourite time of year as the monochrome shades of winter give way to a riot of colour in spring. In my next few posts I'm going to share with you ways that you can connect with the natural, sensual rhythm of the year and harness that open expansive blossoming energy of spring, even if you are quarantined at home to protect yourself from the virus.
For my first post on this theme I'm going to share with you a yoga practice that is inspired by the theme of blossoming. It is the Spring to Summer Yoga Practice on page 46 of the Yoga Through the Year book. I tried the practice out again this morning and I found it really lightened my mood. I loved picturing blossom and this gave a light, calm, sattvic quality to the practice.
Spring to Summer Yoga Practice
As spring changes to summer, the whole world is coming into bloom, and it is the theme of blossoming that has inspired this practice. That sense of opening and flowering is conveyed through expansive poses such as Warrior 1 and Bow Pose.
This is a time associated with dancing and so naturally the Dancer Pose is included. It’s also a time traditionally connected with the flowering of sexuality and the Pelvic Flower exercise has been chosen to reflect this.
This practice is designed to be used during the spring to early summer period, however it’s fine to use it any time of year. It will help you to cultivate an open, expansive attitude. It will enhance your ability to embrace and dance with life. And encourage you to blossom to your full potential.
Allow 20-30 minutes
Spring to Summer Yoga Practice Overview
(full instructions given on page 46 of the Yoga Through the Year book)
1. Standing Like a Tree in Blossom.
2. Knee to chest into Dancer Pose variation × 10 on each side.
3. Dancer Pose variation. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
4. Warrior 1 variation. Inhale: picture blossom opening. Exhale: picture blossom closing back to bud.
5. Dancer Pose. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
6. Puppy Dog Pose. Stay for a few breaths. Rest in Child’s Pose. For a shorter practice, end here.
7. Bow Pose variation × 6. Stay in final pose for a few breaths. For a gentler practice, skip step 8 or repeat this step in its place.
8. Bow Pose. Stay for a few breaths.
9. Child’s Pose. Rest here for a few breaths.
10. Pelvic Flower Exercise in Supine Butterfly Pose. Inhale: picture a flower opening at the pelvic floor. Exhale: picture the flower closing back to bud.
11. Full-Body Stretch. Lengthen tall along floor.
12. Visualisation a Tree in Blossom.
In my next post I'll share with you the Visualising a Tree in Blossom exercise.
Jilly Shipway, sharing seasonal yoga ideas and inspiration with you through the year...
Coronavirus: Finding Peace in Troubled Times
The next few weeks look set to be a challenging time as the world tries to find a way through and out of this coronavirus crisis.
Many of you will be self-isolating at home, so over the next few weeks I will regularly post simple, accessible yoga and mindfulness techniques to help you find your calm place in the midst of the storm. I will also post short, simple yoga practices for you to do at home.
Please consult the expert advice in your own country on keeping yourself safe and well during the pandemic.
Please feel free to share ideas and resources that you find in my blog, but please do acknowledge me and my website as their source. Thanks!
Disclaimer: if you have any concerns about your health or suitability to do yoga, please consult a medical professional before attempting any of the yoga routines in this blog.