Late summer yoga

Late summer and time to take care as this season can be tricksy.  Imbalances around the stomach and spleen meridians can lead to feelings of poor self-esteem and a sense of not being supported.  So our late summer yoga practice will aim to bring them gently back to balance.  This sequence was designed by Dainei Tracy for my new book, Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living (Kyle Books).

If you do nothing else from this practice, do try the last move – the very simple yet restorative Legs up the Wall.

We start by focusing on our root chakra, muladhara chakra.   We’re going to practice mula bhanda, the root lock.
Find mula bhanda by gently tuning into the area between the anus and the genitals.  It’s located around the perineum but crucially, above it, deep into the middle of the pelvis.  Once mastered it is possible to actually direct energy internally to areas of imbalance and need.

Imagine mula as a central physical location.  Play with this, find out what works for you.  There’s no need to over squeeze or strain – be gentle and simply cultivate a continued awareness of pulling up and pulling in.  Aim for a consistency of awareness, so that as your mind naturally drifts, and the lock dissipates because of this, you bring your awareness back to the point and re-engage.  Don’t worry about the drifting – it will happen a lot until you get used to focusing mind and body together.

Stomach and spleen meridian imbalances are associated with poor concentration and forgetfulness so this kind of meditative practice will really help.  You can practice mula bhanda anywhere, any time, in any posture (standing waiting for the bus, sitting watching television, whatever).  However, don’t overdo it.  Keep your effort at around the 30 percent mark and be sure to relax properly between times, or you will set up too much tension in your pelvic girdle. After a while you will notice that it isn’t so much about a muscular effort.  You will also find that it’s a great way of generating energy.

Now it’s time to get on the mat.  We’re going to practice mula bandha in Mountain pose (Tadasana), the most grounding posture in yoga.
– Start by standing with your feet parallel to each other under your hips, pointing directly ahead.  Use your second toe as your marker.
– Activate the arches of your feet. It is worth adjusting your feet even a little, if your natural placement is out.  The effect will continue up through the body and will have a considerable knock-on effect on your balance. Remember our feet are our roots and our contact with our planet and the earth element.
–  Raise your toes and bounce around a little on the balls of your feet then lower the toes and firmly press into the ground with all four corners of each foot.
– Press your knees back slightly and then release so they are soft. Check your pelvis is not tilted too far forward or back – the sacrum usually has around a natural 45 degree angle.  You want the natural curvature of the spine, but check if some of your curves have become too exaggerated.  You can self-correct using a mirror or consult a postural practitioner or yoga teacher if you are at all unsure.
– Lift the heart area into a gentle back bend on an in breath, and drop your upper body back a little, extending your arms wide.  Then, as you breathe out, bring the arms back down to the sides, palms facing the body, fingers pointing at the ground along the midline of the body.
– Take a deep grounded belly breath in and.  Bring your chin to your chest on the out breath. Then lift your chin back to a neutral position.  Imagine an egg tucked rip right under your chin, getting the sense of lift through the neck and down into the spine.
– Now tune in to your mula bandha. Spend some time here settling in. Become familiar with all the points of this posture and see if you can foster a sense of complete balance between maintaining your gentle root lock, your physical posture and your body/mind connection. Breathe into the belly as deeply as is comfortable. Find your centre and stay there. At first it might not be for very long but that’s fine – as with all our yoga, this is a work in progress. When you are satisfied that you have stretched yourself far enough, bring your feet together so that they are touching.

Now we are going to move from this position into Chair pose (Utkasana). Inhale deep into the belly and, hinging at the hips, knees and ankles, bend your knees into a downward movement, as if you were sitting in a chair.
– Engage mula bandha and your abdominal muscles.  Our focus is particularly on the transverse abdominal muscle – visualise drawing your hip bones towards each other.
– Have all your abdominals moving toward your spine.  Now place your hands into Prayer position (Pranamasana), at the level of the heart.
– Take a couple of belly breaths here while you settle into a solid sense of balance.
– On an out breath, gently rotate just your upper body to the left, hooking your right elbow on the outside of the left thigh. As you breathe in, come back to centre.  On the next out breath twist to the other side. Repeat a few times if you want. This posture strengthens the whole system and particularly massages the stomach and spleen areas, aiding detoxification and elimination.

Gently come back to standing. We’re going to move into Temple (or Goddess) pose.
– Separate your feet wide and bend your knees. Check that your knees are over your heels.  The angle of your upper legs need to be over your feet. Root your feet into the ground and press your thighs back gently. Allow your hips to come down.
– On an inhale, bring your hands palm down on the top of your thighs.  With a small push shrug your shoulders up to your ears. You will feel space open up in your spine.  Experiment with where you place your palms on your legs.
– Exhale and twist to the right. Keep your arms long – you can use them as leverage to help you lengthen and twist.  Do this gently, being aware of any feelings of strain.  Ease up if anything feels pinched or uncomfortable.  Remember we’re looking for the edge, not to go over it.  Breathe in, come back to centre and on the out breath twist to the other side, shoulders up to ears again.  Repeat a few times, as feels good.

Come back into standing and shake yourself out as loosely as you can.

Lie down on your back on your mat ready to come into Bridge pose ( Setu Bandha Sarvangasana).
– Bend both knees and place your feet flat on the floor about hip width apart. Your arms lie along the sides of your body, palms facing down.
– Press your feet and arms into the floor and, as you inhale, roll the spine upwards off the floor.  Make this move slow and focused, tuning right into  each section of your spine.  Lift the hips up as high as you can, keeping a sustained lift that also lifts your chest. Breathe and hold for four to eight belly breaths.
– Roll back down gently, one vertebra at a time, allowing each section of your spine to meet the floor, opening up the spinal processes.  Feel free to repeat

To end, we are going to deepen into self-nourishment with a wonderful pose called Legs up the Wall pose (Viparita Karani.) It’s a lovely way to end your practice, an alternative to Sivasana.
You will need an open wall space, your mat and maybe a folded blanket or cushions.

– Start seated beside the wall with the side of your body touching it. On an exhale, lie down on your back at the same time as pivoting so the backs of your legs press against the wall.  Your feet are facing the ceiling.  Shift around so your sitting bones press up against the wall as well. If this isn’t available to you, it’s fine to have them slightly away until you are more relaxed. If this is at all uncomfortable use props and cushions.  For example, you could press into the wall with your feet and lift your hips to slide a folded blanket under you. You really do need to be comfortable.
– Now let the back of the body be heavy.  Your neck should softly relax with your head resting in neutral. Feel the support of the earth along your spine. – Your hands can rest on your belly or down by your sides with your palms facing up.   Keep your eyes closed, soft in their sockets and breathe calmly through your nose.
– Stay here for five to 15 minutes.  It is deeply restorative and refreshing. To come out of the position, press your heels against the wall, lifting your hips and rolling carefully to one side. Stay on your side for a few minutes to adjust before returning to sitting and then, gently, standing.

For more seasonal yoga, and other tips and techniques to keep balanced through the year, check out my new book Ancient Wisdom for Modern Wisdom.   

image is by Maggie Cole