For the past few days I've been using the Spring Equinox yoga practice, from the Yoga Through the Year book, as my early morning yoga practice. I've found the practice the perfect antidote to the jitters that arise as we prepare, here in the UK, for a gradual emergence from lockdown restrictions, and it's also great for calming the restlessness and agitation brought on by the surge of growing season energy that comes with the changing season.
The Spring Equinox yoga practice has been designed to encapsulate the excitement and anticipation that comes with the arrival of spring. In the practice poses such as the Runner’s Lunge reflect a sense of being poised for action at the start of a race. The magic of leaves unfurling, blossoms opening, and the world waking up after its winter sleep is reflected in the flowing sequence of Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog and back again. The exuberance of spring is expressed through poses such as Downward-Facing Dog with leg lifts. We choose the balancing pose Warrior 3 to mirror day and night being perfectly balanced at the equinox. Stabilizing poses such as Chair Pose help us stay grounded as the energy of the year revs up.
I found the affirmations in the practice therapeutic and perfect for aligning my intentions with the energy of the coming growing season. The three affirmations are:
Spring Equinox Yoga Practice Overview
1. Standing Like a Tree.
2. Warrior 1 × 6 on each side. On final time stay for a few breaths with arms raised.
3a. and 3b. Warrior 3 variation × 4 on each side. On final time stay for a few breaths. Affirmation: I create balance in my life.
4. Chair Pose. Stay a few breaths.
5. Cat to Cow Pose × 6.
6. Runner’s Lunge Pose. Stay for a few breaths. Affirmation: Inner wisdom guides my actions.
7. Downward-Facing Dog Pose with leg lifts × 4 on each side.
8. Child’s Pose to Upward-Facing Dog × 6. Affirmation: I open to new possibilities.
9. Child’s Pose or Knees-to-Chest Pose. Rest for a few breaths. If you are short of time, finish your practice here.
10. Calming Cloud Meditation
The appearance of the first snowdrop reminds us that winter won’t last forever and spring is on its way. Although we haven’t quite shaken off winter this little flower heralds the beginning of the new growth cycle. Below is a piece of writing I wrote following a period of meditation upon a snowdrop.
Meditation upon a Snowdrop
You are the first snowdrop. You bring light into the dark winter landscape and a hint of spring to come. Your love of Earth and Sky has blossomed into a moon-white flower, danced by wind, rain, and snow. Over the winter, your heart, a bulb, is cradled in the womb-like embrace of Mother Earth. Your roots dream into the darkness of the soil; mother and child as one. And then a quickening, something inside of you stirs, a baby kicks inside the womb, and you send up green shoots to meet the light. You are the first snowdrop.
As winter turns to spring the world is waking up and coming back to life again. The Winter to Spring yoga practice, in the Yoga Through the Year book, is inspired by the first spring flowers opening into blossom, heralding the arrival of spring. The practice begins with the Blossoming Hands exercise.
The Blossoming Hands exercise frees up the breathing, establishing a healthy, relaxed breathing pattern. It also helps maintain suppleness and flexibility of the hands. It has a subtle opening effect on the body’s posture and energizes and lifts the mood.
It’s a great way to start a yoga practice. The practice could then be themed around the idea of opening and closing. It can also be used anytime as a standalone practice.
Close your eyes and draw your awareness inward (or if you prefer, keep your eyes open). Begin to gently open and close your fingers. Make a gentle fist, like a flower closing back to bud. Then spread the fingers like a flower opening. Continue to slowly and gently repeat this opening and closing movement.
Once you have established a rhythm to the movement, bring your awareness to the natural flow of your breath. As you observe the breath, notice how it corresponds to the opening and closing movement of the hands.
Next in the practice is Flower Arms:
Stand tall, feet hip width apart. In your mind’s eye picture your favourite spring flower. Now place fingertips on shoulders, elbows out to the side; relax shoulders down away from ears. Inhale and open arms out to the side, like a flower opening. Exhale and bend arms, bringing fingertips back to shoulders, like a flower closing back to bud. Repeat 6 times.
Below is an aide memoire for the rest of the Winter to Spring Yoga Practice, which incorporates a theme of opening and closing to encapsulate that end-of-winter feeling and coming out of hibernation. The yoga flow from Child’s Pose to Upward-Facing Dog reflects this sense of waking up to spring after a long winter sleep.
The full instructions for the Winter to Spring Yoga Practice can be found in chapter nine of the Yoga Through the Year book.
The tree in autumn provides the inspiration for the Autumn Equinox chapter's Yoga Practice, from the Yoga Through the Year book. We can imitate the wisdom of the tree by conserving energy over the coming autumn and winter months and letting go of unnecessary baggage. This process of letting go enables us to create a sense of physical and mental spaciousness in our lives. Letting go is about prioritising what’s important to us and clearing a space, both physical and psychic, to nurture and nourish the things that do matter to us.
Today, I used the Autumn Equinox yoga practice, from the book, as my early morning yoga practice. It felt the perfect way to connect with the change of the season from summer to autumn.
You begin the practice Standing Like a Tree, and picture a tree in all its autumn splendour. Then, later in the practice you evoke the image of the tree again as you hold Tree Pose (Vrksasana). Today, rather than picturing the beauty of autumn leaves, I pictured a tree in fruit. I've recently been walking in the Peak District, so my mind easily filled with images of wild apple and damson trees, and red-berried hawthorns; before I finally settled on the image of a rowan tree, with its rich orange berries, which grows nearer to home, in my back garden.
As autumn arrives and the year winds down, nature takes steps to conserve energy and let go of that which is unnecessary; this yoga practice will enable you to begin that same process of conserving energy and sensory withdrawal (pratyahara). This is reflected in the practice with vinyasas such as Child's Pose (Balasana) flowing into Upward-Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana), which generates that sense of moving from the sunny openness of summer, to the more inward, contemplative focus of the autumn and winter months ahead.
In the practice we also use the Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana), to help us imitate nature's autumn work of letting go. As you hold the forward bend you ask yourself the meditation question: In autumn, as the trees let go of their leaves, what do I wish to let go of?
Today, in preparation for the Seated Forward Bend, I moved dynamically a few times, from Staff Pose (Dandasana) with arms raised into the Seated Forward Bend. As I did so I found myself instinctively using some meditation phrases from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
Breathing in I smile,
breathing out I let go.
I then shortened the phrase to
Exhale: Letting go
Towards the end of the practice, we return to the fruitfulness of the season, repeating the affirmation, I welcome abundance into my life, as we rest in Supine Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana).
Then we conclude the practice in Knees-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana), contemplating upon the meditation question: What do I wish to incubate over the winter, ready to send up green shoots next spring?
Below is an aide memoire for the Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice, full instructions for the practice can be found in the Yoga Through the Year book.
Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice
Autumn Equinox Yoga Practice Overview
1. Standing Like a Tree. Picture a tree in all its autumn splendour.
2. Bend and Straighten Warm-Up. Exhale: bend both knees and lower arms. Inhale: return to starting position. Repeat × 8.
3. Tree Pose. Picture a tree in autumn. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
4. Cat Pose to Cow Pose. Repeat × 8.
5. Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog Pose. Inhale: move from Child’s Pose into Upward-Facing Dog pose; stay one breath. Exhale: sit back into Child’s Pose; stay one breath. Repeat × 6.
6. Seated Forward Bend. Ask: In autumn, as the trees let go of their leaves, what do I wish to let go of?
7. Supine Tree Pose. Stay for a few breaths, picturing a tree in autumn. Repeat on other side.
8. Full-Body Stretch into Curl-Up. Inhale: lengthen tall along the floor. Exhale: curl up. Inhale: return to stretch. Repeat × 4.
9. Supine Butterfly Pose. Affirmation: I welcome abundance into my life.
10. Full-Body Stretch. Lengthen tall along the floor.
11. Knees-to-Chest Pose. Ask: What do I wish to incubate over the winter, ready to send up green shoots next spring?
The Autumn Equinox chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book is packed full of ideas for yoga in autumn, including yoga practices, visualisations, tree wisdom, and meditations.
The Autumn Art of Letting Go
The Placing Thoughts on a Leaf Visualisation
Autumn Equinox Page
It can be a nerve wracking time for those of us emerging from a few months of lock-down as we weigh up risks and benefits and try to establish what the new normal looks like. Naturally, all of us are in a heightened state of alert as we work out what's safe to do and what's not. This constant turning over of worries can create a low-level background anxiety, which isn't very helpful when you're trying to relax into your yoga practice! This was certainly true for me today, as for the first ten minutes or so of my early morning yoga practice my mind just went over and over all the things I might need to do as we come out of lock-down and resume normal life again. Fortunately, the Bow to the Earth yoga sequence came to my rescue, and after a few rounds of it I felt much calmer, more grounded, and centred. It helped me to let go and relax into the support of the earth beneath my feet, and to remember all that I have to be grateful to the earth for.
Traditionally, Bow to the Earth Bhumi Pranam, is done before and after every performance of Indian classical dance. The translation of pranam is "to bow before or make an offering to" bhumi, the Earth.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are approaching the period of first harvest, and it's a good time to remember to say thank you to Mother Earth, as without her there is no harvest. The Bow to the Earth sequence is a beautiful way to show our appreciation and gratitude to the Earth for all the bounty and beauty that she spreads before us at harvest.
Bow to the Earth (Bhumi Pranam)
Stand tall, feet hip width apart, hands in Prayer Pose (Namaste). Stay here for a few breaths focusing on the heart chakra (anahata). Keeping hands together raise arms above the head: stay here a few breaths, focusing on the space above the crown of the head, the crown chakra (sahasrara). Lower the prayer hands to the third eye Chakra (ajna) and then the throat chakra (vishuddha). Bend the knees deeply (thighs parallel to the floor) and bring the prayer hands to touch the floor. Stay here for a few breaths, silently repeating, “I thank the earth for supporting me”. Inhale: come back up to standing, taking prayer hands above the head. Exhale: lower prayer hands back to heart. Repeat 4 times.
The Bow to Earth Sequence can be found in the Summer Turns to Autumn chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book.
I really enjoyed using the Summer Solstice Yoga practice, from my Yoga Through the Year book, as my early morning yoga practice this morning. I found it very soothing and it really quietened my mind. It is the go-to cooling practice for hot summer days when you don’t want to do anything too energetic. Perfect for the heatwave we are having here in the UK.
Summer Solstice Yoga Practice
Summer Solstice Yoga Practice Overview
1. Mantra Ma and Arm Movements. Inhale: take arms out to the side. Exhale: bring hands back to the belly, chanting Ma. Stay for one breath with hands resting on belly. Repeat × 6.
2. Ma-Om Kneeling Sequence. Chanting Ma come into Child’s Pose from tall kneeling. Chanting Om sit back into Child’s Pose from all fours. Repeat × 4–6.
3. Seated Forward Bend. Inhale: raise both arms. Exhale: fold forward. Inhale: return to starting position. Repeat × 6, staying for a few breaths the final time.
4. Tortoise Pose. Affirmation: I find peace within. Stay here for a few breaths, drawing your awareness inward. Skip this pose for a gentler sequence.
5. Bridge Pose with arm movements. Inhale: Open heart. Exhale: Blue-sky mind. Repeat × 6, staying for a few breaths the final time.
6a. Bridge Pose. Clasp hands under body and stay for a few breaths.
6b. Bridge Pose with leg raise. Stay for a few breaths. Repeat on other side.
7. Full-Body Stretch into Curl-Up. Inhale: lengthen tall along floor. Exhale: curl up. Repeat × 6.
8. Modified Supine Twist. Exhale: lower both knees toward floor on left, turn head right. Inhale: come back to centre. Repeat × 6, alternating sides, and then stay for a few breaths in each pose on each side.
9. Knees-to-Chest Pose. Rest for a few breaths.
10. Waterfall Breathing.
Around the Summer Solstice, when the earth is at her most fertile, many traditions celebrate and honour motherhood and the mother aspects of the Goddess. At times of crisis self-care is so important, and now is a great time to practice the skill of parenting yourself. Learning how to “mother” ourselves well is an essential part of our spiritual practice. Of course, we must also remember that nurturing, nourishing, and caring skills are not exclusive to one gender. If we are to be good enough parents, to our children and our grown-up children, then it's essential that we learn to model good self-care to them.
In this post I'll show you how you can use the mantra Ma to nurture and nourish yourself. I will also show you a simple way to incorporate it into your yoga practice. Ma is the basic mother syllable of Indo-European languages. In the Far East Ma represents the “spark of life” and was often defined as intelligence. Chanting the mantra Ma is a wonderful way to induce a sense of peaceful contentment.
Many of you are quarantined at home at present, balancing working from home with home schooling your kids. Respect! You have got a lot on your plate! The beauty of the mantra Ma is that it takes only a few moments to do, it's exhilarating, freeing, a great stress-buster...and...your kids will have great fun joining in!
Mantra Ma Practice
The sequences below are from the Summer Solstice chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book.
1. Mantra Ma and Arm Movements. Find a comfortable seated position. Rest your hands on your belly. Inhale and take your arms out to the side. Exhale and bring your hands back to the belly, chanting the mantra Ma. Stay for one breath, with the hands resting on the belly. Repeat 6 times. If you are short of time end your practice here.
2. Ma-Om Kneeling Sequence. Chanting Ma come into Child’s Pose from tall kneeling. Chanting Om sit back into Child’s Pose from all fours. Repeat × 4–6 times.
You'll find more nurturing, nourishing summer yoga practices in the Summer Solstice chapter of the Yoga Through the Year book.
If you are looking for yoga practices to boost your mood, energise, and calm your system, then try these two yoga practices from my archives that I designed for the month of May (although it's fine to use them anytime of year!). They are short and simple, so perfect for a home yoga practice. Enjoy!
May Yoga Practice 1
May Yoga Practice 2
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.
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...
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.