How to See in the Summer Solstice with Yoga

How to See in the Summer Solstice with Yoga

This year the summer solstice falls on Saturday the 20th of June, making it an exciting weekend as it precedes the International Day of Yoga on Sunday the 21st of June.

The summer solstice is when the sun reaches the greatest height in the sky for the Northern hemisphere. Traditionally, it also marks the mid-point in the year, as well as marking the longest hours of daylight.

The etymology of solstice is from the Latin, sol, meaning sun and sistere, to stand still. This is because the sun’s position in the sky at noon doesn’t appear to change around this time. At other times of the year, the sun seems to rise and falls in the sky due to the axis of the earth.

What’s important about it

It’s the longest day of the year, with the earliest sunrise and the latest sunset, so there are more daylight hours in which to have fun! In the ancient Egyptian times, the summer solstice was celebrated as the New year, and there is a sense of a new start about it, as we enter into the second half of the year.

With this year being so heavily impacted by the spread of the Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown, it is a chance to review our feelings about 2020 and turn our negative feelings into positive ways to move forward.

Ayurveda and the Solstice

The traditional way to greet the summer solstice is to wake at dawn and complete 108 sun salutations, facing East. Considering the dawn is at 03:55 am on the 20th, I’m guessing it will just be the die-hard sun worshippers that go for this option.

In fact, according to the Ayurvedic tradition, the summer solstice is a time when the element of pitta, or fire, is at its height. To counteract this, Ayurvedic medicine would suggest practising cooling, calming poses, such as supported forward bends, and all the variations of shoulder stand and its sister pose, Setu bandha.

Solstice in the Chinese Tradition

Coinciding with the Ayurvedic tradition, in ancient China, the summer solstice marked the switch to the ‘yin’ half of the year, from the yang. The summer is when the yang is at its height, but the solstice is the switchover.

Yin yoga is a slower form of yoga that targets your deep connective tissues, like your fascia, as well as the tendons, ligaments, and joints. Poses tend to be held for longer periods of time, which gives the mind time to tune into the body, as well as become more introspective.

Quiet Yoga on the Solstice

With these thoughts in mind, why not set the alarm clock a bit earlier, so that you can practice in a quiet house. To help with this, you could set up your yoga mat and any props you might need the night before, encouraging you to see your solstice practice through. Here’s an idea for a calming, quietening sequence to mark this turning point in the year:

  • Adho Mukha Virasana – Downward-facing Hero pose, or child pose
  • Adho Mukha Svanasana – Downward facing dog – take support for your head to keep the brain quiet
  • Uttanasana – Standing forward fold – again you can use head support to keep the face quiet, have feet hip-width
  • Prasarita Padottanasana – Legs wide apart forward fold
  • Pasvottanasana – Intense side stretch forward  – head down
  • Uttanasana – Standing forward fold – head down, take feet together if you can
  • Sirsasana – Headstand
  • Supta Virasana – Supine Hero pose – to rest the legs
  • Paschimottanasana – Seated forward fold  – feet hip-width, head down if possible
  • Janu Sirsasana – Head to knee forward bend
  • Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana – Three-limbed forward fold
  • Paschimottasana – Seated forward fold  – feet together, head down if possible 
  • Salamba Sarvangasana – Supported Shoulderstand – holding for longer than your headstand
  • Savasana – Corpse pose

Energising Yoga on the Solstice

If, on the other hand, you’re starting to feel flat (not a typo, but you might be feeling bloated too), and lethargic after weeks of not moving as much as you used to, you might want to celebrate the summer solstice this year with an invigorating practice. Here’re some ideas to get you started:

  • Surya Namaskarasana – Sun salutations – do as many as you can, but they tend to go up in groups of three as it’s an auspicious number
  • Jumping poses – Jumping in and out of the standing poses, or into downward dog energises the body and soul
  • Adho Mukha Vrksasana – Handstand
  • Pincha Mayurasana – Forearm balance
  • Arm balances – Start with Tolasana, Eka Hasta Bhujasana and work up to more advanced poses such as Titthibasana
  • Sirsasana and variations – headstand and variations – the twisting variations are especially energising
  • Deep backbends – poses such as dropping back into Urdhva Dhanurasana help you to face your fears
  • Resting poses – make sure you end with shoulderstand and some quiet poses to allow the body to recover

Meditating on the Solstice

If you’ve thought about taking up meditation for a while, but find it hard to fit it in as well as keep up your yoga practice, this could be a perfect opportunity. Choosing a time when you won’t be disturbed, perhaps around sunset (21:21 on the 2oth) sit, or lie in a comfortable position and choose an intention (Sankalpa) for the meditation. It might be that you want to focus on gratitude for your health and the health of your family, or the recovery of a loved one. It might be that you want to make a change in your life prompted by a review of your values in this difficult time.

Or if you’re exhausted or recovering, and meditation feels like too much of a challenge, then try a yoga nidra session to bring peace to body and mind.

Poppy Pickles

Mini-śavāsana – Super Short Stress Reliever

Mini-śavāsana - Super Short Stress Reliever

Every yogi knows how delicious it is to truly relax in śavāsana – that wonderful sensation of calm and serenity as you gently emerge from your mat to engage with the rest of your day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to capture that sensation at other times of the day? Don’t you just want to be able to tap into that feeling of clarity and calm to help you more often. Not just when you have yoga class but every… single… day… forever… and ever. Shall I let you into a secret? You can! Read on and I’ll tell you how.

The Magic of Savāsana

Savāsana, or corpse pose, is one of the most powerful yoga poses we can do. Often it is thought of as ‘just relaxation’ but it is so, so much more. It has incredibly powerful effects upon the body and the way its systems work. These effects are often described as ‘soothing the nervous system’ because of the direct effect upon the parasympathetic (or calming) part of the nervous system. Sometimes called the ‘rest and digest’ response, these effects come from direct stimulation of the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest of the 12 cranial nerves. It runs directly from the brain-stem (the most primitive part of the brain found in the base of the skull) to the heart and all the way on to the intestines. Stimulation of this nerve brings about some amazing changes in the body. It causes reduced heart rate and blood pressure; reduced skeletal muscular tension and increased muscular contractions of the gut which improve digestion; improved blood flow to the skin and reduction in secretion of stress hormones.

These changes are felt by us as calmness and clarity of mind; a feeling of well-being; improved digestion, sleep and often more emotional control. Even more important than making us feel good though, stimulation of the vagus nerve helps to reduce the damaging effects of prolonged stress on the body. It does this by reducing the risk of developing stress-related conditions like diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. It also helps to manage stress-related problems like insomnia, migraines, headaches, muscular aches and joint pains – with some sufferers reporting a really dramatic drop in their symptoms. Result!

The Savāsana Solution

Unfortunately knowing how śavāsana works doesn’t solve the problem of finding time to do it when we are all busy living our lives. But the good news is that you don’t need to relax for 10 or 15 minutes to gain all those benefits – a couple of minutes is enough when you know how. And you don’t even need to lie down: you can do śavāsana sitting down. I have even tried it standing up before, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

Now, may I introduce you to… (drum roll, drum roll…) – the mini-śavāsana. And what is a mini-śavāsana? I hear you cry! Well, a mini-śavāsana is your answer to all those stressed times at work and at home. Maybe the home-schooling is getting fraught or the boss is winding you up. Deadlines are looming and are you short on sleep? You need a mini-śavāsana. It is incredible – a real life-saver at times and SO easy to do.

So How Do I Mini-śavāsana?

Firstly – recognise when you need to mini-śavāsana. Are you feeling wound up? Or low on energy? Maybe you need a boost to get through a meeting. Or you need to clear your head. All of these will be solved by a mini-śavāsana. Have I convinced you yet? I DO hope so.

Next – where should I do it? Ideally somewhere private so you are not disturbed. A quiet room is ideal. You can lie down if you want to or sit if it is more convenient – on the floor or a chair, whichever you prefer. A park bench is great too if you are out and about. I have actually been known to sneak off to the toilet and sit there for a few minutes if there was no where else to go.

And then… close your eyes. Use a trick to help you relax. Maybe a quick body scan from the top of head to the tips of your toes where you consciously ‘let go’ of each part of the body as you move over it. Some folk can leg go of tension in the whole body at the same time and others work a system round arms, legs, trunk in turn. Maybe you’ll find another way to settle into a relaxed state. Have a go and see what works for you.

Once relaxed, focus on the breath or a colour or image that you like to help to still the mind and hold that for a short while. And enjoy …. 1 or 2 minutes really is enough to gain benefit, it is SO quick. You can set a timer if you want to or just see when your body is ready to come out of it naturally. And notice how you feel – I guarantee you’ll feel better. Calmer, cooler and things will be clearer.

Why I Love Mini-śavāsana

As a Tall Ship sailor many years ago, I learned a knack of closing my eyes for just a couple of minutes whenever the broken sleep and rigorous lifestyle got the better of me. I was not asleep – I knew exactly what was going on around me and could ‘snap out of it’ in a second and get back to work. Later in life I took up yoga and realised that all those years ago I had instinctively learned how to  do śavāsana and loved the longer relaxation that I discovered in my yoga classes. But I never let go of my mini-śavāsana’s – they still sustain me through some of life difficult and more challenging times. They are my little ‘fix’ of yoga when I need it to ground me. I do SO love them. And I think you will too. Namaste.

 

 

Sally Schofield

What 2020 Has Taught Us To Do More Of

What 2020 Has Taught Us To Do More Of

2020 has been quite a year so far, and we’re only halfway through.

The year we thought we were going to have has not materialised, and we’ve entered into a strange new world.

As well as the global pandemic that will have far-reaching effects for decades to come, there has been the recent unrest in the States, catalysed by the murder of George Floyd by a cop.

In response to this, there have been social media blackouts, under #blackouttuesday and mass peaceful protests across America, and around the entire world. The scourge of racism, as Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called it, is being called out. In London thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square, in Lewisham and Brixton, chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ – Floyd’s last words.

But is 2020 a write-off? Or can we turn an annus horribilis (as 1992 was for the Queen) into an annus mirabilis, through the sometimes painful lessons this year has taught us?

Take Five More

We’re told to take five when we need to step back from a situation, and lockdown has given us this time. Even if we’re busier than ever working from home, we’re not rushing about anymore – apart from those key workers, who we offer our humble thanks to.

You might not want to admit it, but it might be that these past two months have been a relief. For those with kids, the work, school, social life, extra-curricular balancing act has ground to a halt, and we have found ourselves with our families at home. For those who have been furloughed, it has provided time for self-reflection. Is the life that we’re living the one we actually want? Do we want to rush back to an office job we don’t enjoy? Perhaps it’s time to do something we love – like become a yoga teacher??

We will never spend as much time with our close families again – until the next lockdown anyway! And there has been a simple joy to just being with the ones we love the most. As well as sometimes being driven up the wall, but that’s all part of the fun.

Enjoy nature more

One thing this ‘eased lockdown’ has given us is the pure joy of meeting up with friends in parks, green spaces, gardens and in the countryside. Why weren’t we doing this more before? What could be better than simply walking and talking in nature, or sitting with a picnic in our beautiful London parks? This is something we will definitely keep doing.

Plus all the frantic traveling we’re not doing anymore is making a huge difference to the environment. We can hear birdsong again, the skies over London aren’t clogged with smog, and our children can breathe more freely as we walk the streets.

Let’s remember this before we jump back into our cars and rush back to booking multiple foreign holidays. Do we NEED to use polluting forms of transport? Let’s stop and think.

Love our Local area more

Who has found parts of their local area they never knew existed? Discovered beautiful front gardens, little private roads, local woods? In the height of lockdown, we had only our daily walk to explore the outside world, and it has led us to really get to know and appreciate the detail and depth of our local areas.

Being More Kind

From the outset, the temptation has been to judge others while excusing our own behaviour – “Did you see those people in the park sunbathing?” We gossip about other people flaunting lockdown, but at the same time make excuses for our own slight deviations from the rules.

But it doesn’t help to judge others. We might not understand the context and even if we do it’s only our own behaviour we can change.

Value the sense of Touch more

The sense of touch is an underrated sense. We rely so much on sight and hearing, that the earthy senses of smell, taste, and touch are relegated.

But now we are experiencing a world outside the confines of our home and local park without these three senses. We conduct zoom meetings, virtual art gallery tours, whatsapp video chats. It’s great that we can connect, but we can’t really experience being together.

When we meet up with friends or family for our socially distanced walks we still can’t hug them. For those of us living alone, this is a painful separation. It makes us realise how important that physical connection is. It makes us feel loved.

Be Yourself More

If we can take one thing from 2020 it’s that we’ve learnt to be happier with who we really are. We’ve stopped bothering to wax, wear clothes with tight waistlines – care what other people think. These small steps can be translated into bigger ones.

We don’t have to hide who we are. We can be ourselves. We can tell our stories, share our pain, share our joys without worrying about what people think.

Learn More

We may not be able to physically travel the globe, but we have learnt over these last few months that we are one world, going through one pandemic. Learn about other cultures, other histories to understand the rich tapestry that makes up our brilliant suffering world. With knowledge comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance.

In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have learnt to examine our own behaviour. Have we always done the right thing? Have we owned up to racist behaviour, whether conscious or not? It’s time to own up to not doing enough, and to do the work to be a better person. And if you’re looking to support emerging black artists, thinkers and change-makers, here is a list of US organisations that need your help.

Listen More

We’ve all had enough of zoom, that’s FOR SURE. Socialising on Zoom is not the easiest, nor is it doing anything else for that matter, but it’s a darn sight better than nothing.

But what Zoom has taught us is how to listen more. You can’t interrupt without the software glitching and due to the slight lag, you end up talking at the same time as someone else. But instead, we’ve all gradually learnt to take turns. Not to interrupt but to simply listen to what others have to say. And we’re learning a lot.

Change More

Lockdown has levelised the human race. We are all susceptible, but we’re not all dying at the same rate. The coronavirus is more serious for BAME people and we need to find out why. It is time to change society so that we all have the same potential and opportunities. In the yoga world, we’re not always innocent. Let us become the change we want to see. To quote the poem, ‘What if 2020 isn’t Cancelled’ by Leslie Dwight:

Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.

A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.

 

Poppy Pickles

Lockdown Cheeky Yogi style

Lockdown Cheeky Yogi style

The secret to survive lockdown is have a routine. Learn a new skill. Clear your to-do list. Simple. Yet life in lockdown appears deceptively the same, but in reality something is out there… lurking…

(more…)

How to Build a Yoga Community

How to Build a Yoga Community

One of the worst things about this current crisis and the lockdown, is the loneliness.

Loneliness is one of the number ONE factors in deciding life expectancy and can shorten a person’s life span by around 15 years. This extraordinary fact shows how social interactions are not only pleasurable but essential for life.

Part of our job as yoga teachers is to offer a regular place for people to come together with others who are like-minded; to feel part of a supportive community. And, during this crisis, this role is more important than ever.

Why yoga teachers are well-placed to build community

As we become established yoga teachers, we notice the effect that it has on our yoga students. Hopefully, they will start to cultivate their own home yoga practice. You can see the instructions you give them going deeper, making sense in their bodies and not just their minds.

It also starts to become a more and more important part of their life, as they realise the benefits it brings. They see their yoga classes as a sanctuary, a place where they can be themselves and spend time with like-minded people.

This sense of community is a valuable and beautiful thing to cultivate, and as yoga teachers we are perfectly placed to add a real sense of belonging to our students’ lives.

What is a yoga community?

A community is a group of people that have the same beliefs and needs, or a unified body of individuals. This last definition is a great one, as yoga literally means to join, to unify – and of course, the body is how we do that.

As a yoga teacher there’s a lot we can do to encourage a sense of community and it has many benefits. And while it has many benefits for your students, it is also beneficial to you, because if your students feel like they belong to a community, they’re much more likely to be loyal to you and your class. Building brand loyalty is one of those marketing holy grails!

Practical ways to build community

Let’s start with the basics, the first thing is to know all your students’ names! This can be a real stumbling block for some, but there are memory games you can use to help if you struggle to remember names. And at the moment if you’re teaching on Zoom, you should be able to see everyone’s names on the screen. It might be worth reminding them to make sure they log in with their names, and not ‘iPad’.

When we get back to in-person teaching, there are lots of ways to encourage community. You can encourage students to come to class a little earlier and start a conversation from the front of the class – making sure you include everybody, and drawing everyone in.

This can be applied to online live-stream teaching too. Make sure you’re online in the meeting space in plenty of time and encourage students to be in gallery mode with the microphones on if they want to chat (not if they’re just banging around and ejecting the cat).

Do things together – Karma yoga

This applies more once lockdown is finished and we can get back to in-person teaching. But even then, we don’t know how yoga teaching is going to be. It may well be that we won’t be able to teach in a small space for quite a while. But there are other ways to get together to build your yoga community.

Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless actions. Encourage a sense of giving and shared community within your student body. If you run a yoga studio get them involved in the upkeep of the building, in return for a nice lunch or free lessons.

While we’re still social distancing you could suggest a yoga lesson outside, where it’s safer. You could even suggest a mindfulness ‘yoga walk’ once we’re allowed to meet in larger groups.

Be generous!

There are a lot of yoga teachers out there, and if you want to keep your yoga students loyal to you it’s worth going above and beyond. Plus the more you give, the more you get – that’s just a good old fact of life.

So, what about giving out bespoke home practice sequences to your students? Write a regular blog to help them establish a home practice, and ask them to let you know how their home practice is going.

If you’re confident enough to teach workshops, ask them what workshops they’d like to do, so that they feel included in your decision-making process and to highlight the fact that you’re there to guide them on their yoga journey.

Keep in touch with them over email and if they’re usually a regular student, check in if they miss classes to make sure they’re ok.

Create a supportive community for yourself too

As a yoga teacher you also need a support structure! So make the effort to keep in touch with your own teachers, as well as spend time with other yoga teachers. This is such a great way to discuss issues that you might be struggling with.

Practice with other teachers and make the effort to go to other teacher’s classes, you’ll be surprised at what you might learn. At the moment this could be done on Zoom, or just by practicing at the same time and then having a chat afterwards to share how it went. Did we mention we’re running free Saturday and Sunday sessions at the moment?

Use your social media accounts wisely, follow other yoga teachers who inspire you (but don’t make you feel rubbish about yourself), and reach out online to create a sense of belonging to the wider yoga community.

However…

Remember that there’s a fine line between being someone’s teacher and someone’s friend. Yes, it’s fine to have friends in your classes. But when you’re teaching, you’re the teacher and they’re the student. They come to class to be taught, not to be your friend.

It’s also tempting to give too much as a teacher. You are not their therapist or carer, the primary focus is to be their guide on their path to yoga.

Poppy Pickles
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