Summertime Love - Fire Element
I am a huge fan of the sunshine, the warm air on my skin feels like an embrace, the light warming my bones, which makes me shine from the inside out. In summer my spirit radiates, and I am dazzled by the luminance of life that exudes bright and bold colours. Summertime is my joy time, and this is partly why is live in South Africa, a place of sunshine. I joke that if I were to immigrate it would be closer to the equator and not further from it. And this Yang time of year, we need a little Yin to balance its dynamism.
Here in Cape Town our summertime falls over the festivities of Christmas and New Year our time of outward movement and the mayhem of holiday festivities as the sun shines bright and the days are long, it feels free and light, albeit hot. It is our most gregarious time of year, a time of social connection. In Summer the upward and outward growth of spring finds it full expression as we move into the world, forging forth dynamically and expressively, towards our own full potential. In TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine), an essential element of yin yoga, Summer belongs initially to the fire element and later transitions to the earth element as summer reaches its peak.
In Springtime we emerge from the winter recluse and lay the seeds of growth and it is through the dynamic fiery summer months, that we can really bloom to our full potential, full expression, it is a time of inner abundance and maturation where we self-sufficiency and independence and able to form healthy relationships with self and others. Fire governs the heart, pericardium (Yin) and small intestine and triple heater organ systems (yang) which run along the inside and outside of our arms respectively, linking hands to heart, and heart to digestion. Fire is also concerned with circulation, sexual function and lubrication allowing us to slide, glide, digest, and love with warm and depth smoothly, when working harmoniously. The fire element co-ordinates all activity, physical, mental, and spiritual, connected to the heart it is related to love and joy and houses our shen (spirit), joining not only the heart and mind, but also how we process the world around us, integrating our inner thoughts and feelings with our understanding of the external world and thereby clarifying our own perception.
Fire is about alchemy, inner alchemy as our flame dances and flickers, burning bright. In South Africa this period falls over both the end of a year and the start of a new one, beautifully signifying how this outward expansion lays the ground for what is to come. It is also the time of holiday festivities and traditionally a time for family and friends to gather in celebration, expressing the space of deep connection and joy. This yang time of year beckons us out of our shell and into the world, lighting up our desire to mobilise and play. Late summer sees the harvesting of our efforts and becomes a more neutralizing time as we prepare for the autumn to come.
If our fire is deficient, depression, withdrawal, a lack of joy and compassion, equally in excess we might be manic and overwhelming (every heart needs a little protection). A simmering fire allows for mature relationships where there is passion and co-creation and interdependence.
As we move through the peak of summer still immersed and beckoned by the summery glow of the world, often finding the sun too hot. How do we support and nurture our own inner fire so that it neither rages, nor dims but dances with grace and light? Walk in nature (remember to wear a hat!), swim in the sea, rivers, and pools (wear ocean-friendly sunscreen!), dance and sing and play. Find things you are passionate about that bring you joy. Forgive. Practice gratitude and nurture relationships with warmhearted, kind, and receptive folk. Laugh, love, and bask in the summery glow, but equally find ways to cool and know when your time in the sunshine has been enough. And of course, practice yoga and meditation, it will see you through all the seasons to come.
Yin Yoga is by its very nature a beautiful counterpart for this yang season, its cooling, contemplative yin nature can help offset the heat of this time of year. For the very principle of TCM and nature itself is balance. The harmony of yin and yang. So, if you find yourself becoming too warm or too wild use this to help yourself simmer, to cool.
Below is a Yin Sequence working with both the fire element and the water element as a way of balancing both yin and yang. Enjoy.
Fire/Water Yin Yoga Sequence
No pose effects a single meridian or pair of meridians alone, but rather has multiple lines of pull, however we frequently focus our energy on isolated pathways as a method of directing energy. This sequence attends primarily to the Kidney/Urinary Bladder and Heart/Small Intestine; Pericardium/Triple Heater.
This very glamorous breath requires you to stick your tongue out, much like pooches do when they get hot, but you will curl your tongue to create a straw like shape. This is not genetically possible for all people and curling the tongue up onto the roof of the mouth might be a better option. We are all made differently. Take a slow 3-5 count inbreath though the tongue, briefly pause at the top, feel for the cooling effect, then draw your tongue into your mouth and slowly exhale through your nose. Repeat 5-10 times.
Standing up, take a moment to explore where your feet should be, the conscious placement that feels most supportive for you. Spread all ten of your toes. Roll down into a forward fold, you might choose to bend your legs a lot, a little or not at all. Find what shape that feels most appropriate for you then commit to stillness. This shape should create a pull along the backline of the body and subsequently the Urinary bladder organ system which runs down the backline from your eyebrows to your little toes.
Play with your foot placement, but usually wider is easier. You might choose to sit on a block for support. I like to have my feet grounded, but if you are battling to do this, roll up your mat or place thin cushioning under your heels. We are all made differently. For the first half of this shape, press your palms together to work into the flexors of the hands and for the second half press the backs of the hands together to work into the extensors. The Fire meridians run up the front and back of the hands and arms, so here is an opportunity to work with these lines in this pose. The Kidney runs from the little toe up the leg and though the inner groin of the hip, up the torso.
From Seated extend one leg out diagonally and bend the other. Place a block on the outside of the extended leg. For the first half of this shape, laterally bend toward the extended leg. You can use a block for support and might chose to reach your arm overhead, bend it, or slide your hand behind your waist/shoulders. For the rest of the time, forward fold between your legs, this is sometimes a bit of a play to find your center. Repeat on the other side.
Place your forearms ever so slightly forward of your shoulders, head can be hanging (or supported by a block) or perfectly perched on top of your spine. Slide one leg out, externally rotating and adding a pull on the tissues of the inner leg, to an already powerful pose. It activates the kidney meridian and compresses into the lower spine while working into the tissues of the chest. Slide your leg further down and the arms further forward if this version is too intense.
Supine Butterfly with block
Lower slowly onto a block either placing it underneath the shoulder blades or onto them. Your head should rest easy on the floor. You can rest your arms alongside your torso on the earth or slide them up overhead or any space in between. This should not be breathtaking, but rather allow for the free flow of breath, encouraging the tissues of the chest and spine to soften.
Supine Twist (twisted root)
You can choose any twist that feels right to assist with soothing the spine and easing tension throughout. It stimulates the urinary bladder in the spinal rotation and heart and pericardium through the line of the arms and expansion of the chest. Allowing the arms to fall further up alongside the ears will intensify this, but always take care and find what right for you. If you experience pins and needles in the hands lower the arms down.
ALWAYS complete your practice with savasana. It gives the tissues time to restore and a offers a period of supported ease for your body, mind and spirit before you move forth into your day/night.