Imagine yourself floating, as if weightless, through calm waters. Now imagine you’re suspended somewhere in that place of conscious recognition just before you fall asleep – that sensation of complete physical surrender and of total relaxation is what Yoga Nidra is all about.
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.
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…
If you’re one of the multitudes of people who have booked holidays this summer, you’ll be wondering if you should just cancel it now, or wait and see. But the truth is, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely we’ll be jetting off to foreign climes for holidays in 2020.
The official line from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is that the FCO advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. There is no end date to this advice. We just don’t know when we’ll be allowed to travel again. At the moment, the furthest we can travel is to a park to exercise.
So what about our travel plans? For most of us, instead of a holiday, all we have is the headache of trying to get our money back.
But we don’t have to leave the country, or even leave the house to create a sense of sanctuary and solace. What about creating our own little at-home, mini weekend retreat? Here are some ideas for how you can plan your very own mini-retreat so that you still have something to look forward to.
Have a think about what it is that you’d most look forward to on a retreat holiday. Is it the fact that you don’t have to think about all the dull domestic stuff? Is it the break from technology? Is it being pampered with treatments? Is it looking after body and soul with yoga and meditation? Or is it just lounging around with a book in the sun? Or perhaps a combination of ALL of the above.
You can also set an intention for the retreat; to reduce anxiety, to detox body and mind, to give yourself some compassion. Once you’ve decided on your aim, write it down so that you can remind yourself why you’re taking this time for yourself.
Once you’ve decided on the focus of your retreat you’ll need to do a bit of preparation. Spend the week before doing a bit of a spring clean – change the sheets, empty all the bins, and do a bit of a tidy. If you can get the house back to square one then you won’t be distracted by housework while on your ‘retreat’.
It’s also worth making sure you’ve got a little bit ahead with work if you can, so you’re not tempted to ‘just do a little bit’ over the weekend. Now that we’re working from home, the lines between work and home are blurred and it’s harder to switch off. To help with this, try to literally switch off – phones, PCs, iPads, etc. Put them in a drawer for a day and let the outside world recede.
Plan your Menu
Make the most of your mini-retreat by planning your meals in advance. Most retreats offer nourishing, fresh food that’s good for body and mind, such as those in line with the seasons, or an Ayurvedic diet.
You could do overnight-soaked oats for breakfast with a fresh fruit coulis, a ‘buddha bowl’ style lunch with quinoa, avocado, sprouting seeds, and anything else you fancy, and then after all that healthy food, you could buy some nice-quality ready meal, or splash out on a takeaway for dinner.
Time on your own
This might be a laughable idea if you’re the parent of young children in lockdown. You can only dream of going to the loo on your own, let alone a whole weekend of quiet solo time. But being a parent is a full-time job with no let up that can leave you feeling exhausted and on a short fuse. Could you carve out a couple of hours? Your partner could take the kids to the park, or keep them entertained elsewhere in the house while you have a long, leisurely bath, or watch a movie under a duvet, or do an online yoga class. Whatever means mini-break to you!
Immersion in nature
Now that we’re allowed out for exercise more than once a day, as well as travel to get some exercise, you could venture further afield than the nearest park and maybe even take a picnic and a thermos of tea. Take in the frothy May blossom, the fresh green of Spring, and allow Mother Nature to soothe your soul.
Do some yoga
There are more and more opportunities to do classes with some amazing teachers. Quite a few are offering weekend workshops, with two classes over one weekend. Why not tie this is to a whole weekend retreat? You could structure your day around the workshops, and in the evening go for a quiet walk to look at the sunset, or practice pranayama or meditation outside in the garden. We’re also offering an online Yoga Foundations course at the end of the month – like a mini retreat over the weekend, and it even counts toward your 200-hr yoga teacher training, should you wish to continue your journey further!
Try out Meditation
If this isn’t something you’re used to doing, then why not use your weekend retreat as a way to try it for yourself, especially if the current situation has you feeling anxious about the future. There are lots of ways to get into meditation using apps (see our article on Wellbeing during Coronavirus), but there’s also a free Monday meditation series with Ali Mortimer, founder of the ‘Heal yourself Happy’ method, sponsored by Marks & Spencers.
If you’re the kind of person that loves doing arty stuff, but it feels like you just don’t have the time at the moment, why not spend a weekend on a creative project that will give you joy. Rather than DIY, which most of us seem to be doing more of at the moment, try something that is for the sake of being creative, rather than just getting a job done. For example, you could set up a still life and try to depict it using lots of different mediums; pencil, ink, chalks, watercolour, even acrylics if you have them.
Okay, it’s not as exciting as a Spa day, but there are plenty of ways you can pamper yourself at home. Do a head-to-toe of treatments, starting with a pedicure, getting rid of all that gnarly skin on your feet, which you’ve been ignoring, because, you know, lockdown. Exfoliate, slather yourself in healthy oils which help to rejuvenate the skin, such as coconut oil, almond oil, or extra virgin olive oil, and you could even try an Ayurvedic self-massage (called Abhyanga) for the full relaxing effect.
In these strange times, many of us are struggling with navigating our normal lives. Everyday things have changed; shops have closed, exercise is limited, we can’t hug our parents or friends – and we can’t go to yoga classes.
As the weeks go by we have started to adapt, but every now and then the loneliness, uncertainty, and financial worries can hit home.
So here are some ways that we can look after our wellbeing during Coronavirus.
Limit your news intake
Be intentional in the way that you consume the news at the moment. If you have a news app on your phone, turn off the notifications. One news story can lead us to another, and before we know it, we’ve been pulled down into a dark spiral of fear-inducing news.
Yes, the world is dealing with a pandemic and, of course, there are things to be frightened of. But stoking our fear doesn’t help. It just increases our stress levels, which in turn reduces the strength of our immune system.
Connect with your body
As yogis, we know this. Doing a considered yoga practice when we’re stressed calms us down, brings us back from anxiety. But it’s easy to know this, sometimes less easy to do. If you’re working from home, as well as home-schooling young children, then fitting in a yoga practice will seem laughable.
But it doesn’t have to be a whole hour of practice. It can be as simple as sitting straight and tall on your chair; feeling the sitting bones and backs of the thighs on the seat of the chair, pressing the feet down, then stretching the arms up towards the ceiling.
This simple exercise will connect you to the earth, open the lungs and heart, and bring the mind into the body.
Think about others
This is a cliché, but a true one. The more we think about others, and consider how other people might be feeling, the less we focus on ourselves and how we’re coping, or not.
If you’re feeling at a loose end and it’s driving you mad, there’s plenty of ways to be useful. Check out nextdoor.com to see if you’ve got any elderly or vulnerable neighbours that need medication or shopping picked up and delivered. Or give your elderly relative a call every day to have a chat and see how they’re doing.
Get to know your family
If this situation has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t usually spend much time with our family unit. In a normal week, my husband and I have about 20 minutes a day to have a proper chat. Weekends were usually just as busy with yoga and work commitments, time away, kids’ activities, and so on.
Without all this frenetic activity, we are turning to look at each other, and now have the time and space to have proper conversations. On the daily walks there is a chance to really connect with our children and partners, with no distractions such as popping into shops or grabbing a coffee.
If you feel like you’re still more annoyed than connected to them, then try this exercise. Taking around 45 minutes, ask your partner these questions, and see how many surprises you get.
Do a daily meditation
Meditation has been proven to relieve stress and anxiety, calm the nerves, slow the heart rate, and increase feelings of contentment and well-being. If you already have a yoga practice, adding in a ten-minute meditation every day will come easier to you, as your body will be more receptive to sitting or lying still.
Why not choose a subject to meditate on? You can set an intention for your meditation, such as focusing on compassion for others, acknowledging your resilience, and being grateful for health, home, family, and friends.
If you’re not sure you’d know what to do, or might not have the motivation to do it on your own, there are plenty of apps out there, such as calm, headspace, Aura, and Smiling Mind – and we’re currently holding a free guided meditation on Friday morning, so why not join us?
We all take books on holiday, but as soon as we’re at home, we find we don’t have time to read anymore. With the uncertainty of how much longer we will be in lockdown, now is the perfect time to get back into that pile of books. Rather than buying a whole load more, check your bookshelves first. I found at least three books that I thought I’d read, but actually hadn’t – free books!
It could also be a time to release your inner yoga geek and do a bit of yoga philosophy reading. There is a vast wealth of knowledge out there, which deepens your yoga practice.
Write things down
I always think the word ‘journaling’ is really smug and slightly intimidating. You don’t have to keep up a relentless daily diary to do a bit of writing – of course, if you do, well done. But we all have a spare notepad somewhere, dig it out and start a lockdown diary. It doesn’t have to be every day. It could be just one sentence. Or you could keep a yoga practice notepad, and write how you felt before and after your practice.
If you’re struggling with your emotions, you can try ‘expressive writing‘, which is a safe way to express your feelings, and see them objectively.
Try not to compare
We all do it all the time, and it’s never good for any of us. But right now there seems to be some sort of ‘who can do lockdown life the best’ competition on social media – especially Instagram. Some people seem to be baking, gardening, doing DIY jobs, homeschooling, setting up new businesses, and making floral wreaths, all at the same time.
This sets up a feeling that we’re not making the most of this time and can trigger all sorts of self-criticism. But it’s important to remember that everyone who posts on social media is only posting the edited highlights, and that they too are having days when they feel scared, stressed, or angry.
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s easy to forget to be compassionate and kind to ourselves. We are in an unprecedented time within living memory, and it will inevitably affect, shape and change all of our lives. Well-known author Matt Haig has a note to himself in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive‘, which includes these sentences that feel very apt:
Keep allowing yourself the human privilege of mistakes. Keep a space that is you and put a fence around it. Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep your phone at arm’s length. Keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. Keep breathing. Keep inhaling life itself.