A couple of weeks ago I ran a “summer” cleanse yoga workshop. Then last week we connected to our masculine energy which is all about cultivating our “sun” side – can you spot a theme here?!
Evidently, in the face of our typical British stop-start Summer this year, I have been trying to bring some sunshine, heat and energy in to our yoga practice instead recently!
This week I have decided to address this beautiful season head on, and get us to celebrate the Summer Solstice in our practice. I think this has been timed rather nicely, what with the little heat wave that is descending upon us over the next few days.
The summer solstice happens in the Northern Hemisphere around June 21st and represents the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, and also the International Day of Yoga! During the summer solstice, the sun is at its greatest distance from Earth’s celestial equator. This time of year is symbolic of transitioning from the short days of winter, in to the bright, long days of summer… yay!
The term solstice is derived from the Latin “solstitium”. It is made up of the Latin sol, “the sun,” and sistere, “to make stand/stand still.” We can therefore take inspiration from the sun standing still at this time, and view this as the ideal moment to allow ourselves to come to a halt as well, and check in with where we are at this midpoint of the year. Most of the time our yoga practice encourages us to live in the present moment and to not dwell on the past or project in to the future, but during this summer period it can be good to acknowledge how far we have come this year already, and to notice the achievements we have made, or lessons learned along the way.
What has the first half of the year brought you? Are you still aligned with your goals that you set back in January? Use this time to reinvigorate yourself and your goals/intentions if you need to, and decide what it is that you want the second half of this year to bring.
There are also lots of other ways we can celebrate the Summer Solstice. As yogis, so many of our practices revolve around the sun, including of course, Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar). The origin of “saluting the sun” is not about getting the perfect Chaturagna/Upward-Facing Dog alignment, but about bowing to and taking in the fiery solar energy of the sun, to wake us up, energize us, and start our day. The practice was originally taught to be done in the morning, with the torso facing the sun.
Another traditional way to celebrate the solstice is to take an outdoor yoga class - a chance to reconnect with nature. Expect my classes to be outside as much as possible over the coming months!
Remember a few weeks back we set the intention to be a little bit selfish? Well, this time of year is all about joy, happiness and vibrancy, so come back to your ‘love to do’ list, and see it filled with all of the things you would love to do over the summer months. Get outside and go for long, slow walks. Eat ice-cream (vegan if you like!). Bathe in the sea. Surf. Do Yoga. Spend some time with friends and family. Have a BBQ. Sip a cool beverage in a beer garden! Whatever it is, enjoy it.
If you meditate, then try focusing your awareness on the Manipura chakra, located around the solar plexus. This bright yellow glowing ball of inner sunshine is the centre of our power, energy, will and achievement, and is where all of our power to manifest comes from.
Happy Summer Days Everyone!
"It is not selfish to refill your own cup, so that you can pour into others. It’s not just a luxury. It is essential.”
These last few weeks I have felt as if life has been so busy and chaotic that my feet have barely touched the ground, and I haven’t had much time to gather my thoughts!! Hence I’ve been slacking somewhat on the blog front.
As a result, I have decided to be a little more selfish recently: to not put so much pressure on myself about writing a blog each week, and to just allow myself to write one when I feel inspired to do so; to give some time back to myself to do the things that I love, rather than feeling like I “should” be doing x, y, and z!
This links in nicely with our intention of a couple of weeks ago – letting go of expectations – and also with last week’s intention – prioritising.
When life gets busy, we often feel as if we “should” be prioritising our to-do list in a certain way. We believe that if we do a particular thing before we do something else, then we will get a particular outcome – but as we know from previous experiences, we ultimately have no control over the outcomes of our actions, no matter how much we plan, schedule and prioritise.
Sometimes we can prioritise with the best intentions, but then something goes wrong (like a car breaking down!!), and we end up having to re-structure, re-plan and re-organise our lives. As most of us are creatures of habit, and we almost cannot help but want to have a routine in place in order to help us feel grounded and in control, a spanner-in-the-works scenario can cause feelings of stress, overwhelm and anxiety.
What our yoga practice can give us, is the tools we need to go with the flow a little more, and approach re-organising our lives with a calm, level head. When our energy feels completely scattered and “out there” in the world, our yoga helps us to re-centre and re-connect our energy within.
And we need to be a little bit selfish in order to do this.
As always, this may seem somewhat contradictory to what Yoga is all about – thinking of others, putting other’s needs before our own, and practicing compassion. But again, there are always two sides to everything, and we need to work on ourselves in order to be the best version of ourselves, so that we can be of service to others in an effective, enthusiastic and authentic way.
We need to put in the same amount that we give out: to recharge and take time for ourselves.
Being selfish in this way does not mean that we care less about the important things in our lives – it simply means that sometimes those things have to wait, and our own needs must come first. We seldom do this because it feels indulgent and “selfish” to spend a bit of time on ourselves, and we tend to feel guilty about it. Or we feel that we could be doing other ‘useful’ things instead. So often our own self-care just either doesn’t make it onto our to-do list, or it gets pushed right down to the bottom, making us feel even worse for never getting around to it! We all do it - I am as guilty as anyone, especially when I’m feeling “too busy”. But it is so important to think about what we need on a daily basis to feel whole, centred and balanced.
Only when we are at our best, can we truly give our best to others.
Whether it is five minutes or one hour, self-care will positively impact our lives, and the lives of those around us.
https://www.yogaformodernlife.com/blog/selfcareisnnotselfish has a list of 10 ideas of how to create some small acts of self-care in your life. Remember, it is important to find what works for YOU and really listening to what you need (not what you think you should do, or how you should feel). It could be eating nourishing food, getting enough sleep, having supportive friendships and a community, managing stress, exercising, or simple things that make you feel “good”.
1. Do something every day that brings you joy - It could be something as audacious as going to a spa for 2 hours, or it can be a beautiful simple activity like making and enjoying a hot cup of cocoa! Come up with a list of things you absolutely love to do, and do one each day.
2. Be mindful - Be the observer of your thoughts and actions throughout the day. Continually check in with yourself by simply watching your breath. Whenever you feel your breath get short, shallow, and in your chest, this is an indicator that you are probably tense/stressed/or just not being mindful. So practice taking 10 deep belly breaths throughout the day and feel the difference in yourself physically and mentally.
3. Set boundaries - These can be physical boundaries with certain people, places, or situations that leave you feeling uneasy, or it could also be setting boundaries from work/personal time. Setting boundaries with your energy and who you choose to be in your life is a great way to practice self-care as it protects you from giving too much of yourself to the wrong things.
4. Make compromises, but never compromise your joy – Joy comes from innate needs and wants at our core. Only you know your core beliefs and values, and it is important to stand up for what you need - in relationships, with your life, with your work, etc. So make a list of what things are non-negotiable for you to experience joy, always remember them and never compromise on them.
5. Cultivate your routine or rituals - This goes hand in hand with setting your boundaries and not compromising your joy– what routines or rituals can you develop and stick to that will help you feel loved, centred, and rooted? For example a night time routine where you make a relaxing hot drink and read in bed for 20 minutes before going to sleep – it is a very small thing, it doesn’t cost anything, but it is something that is done completely for yourself. Make a list of things you can incorporate into your routine to keep you on track.
6. Pay attention to yourself, take some time ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ - Finding a regular yoga and/or meditation practice whereby you can slow down and really connect back in with yourself, taking some time to sense what your body and mind need, is a great way to give back to yourself. We are always busy doing this and doing that – but we are human “beings” not human “doings”.
7. Create some time for things you enjoy doing, your interests and hobbies - Too often, it can be easy for these things to fall by the wayside when our energy is spread too thinly. But doing things that you currently love, going back to a long lost interest that brings you joy, or trying out something completely new that you have always wanted to try, is so important for our mental, emotional and physical health. You CAN make time for it, you just have to prioritise a little bit of time for yourself!
8. Community and your tribe - Hang out with people who “get” you, who can respect your boundaries, your wishes and your personality. Are your relationships, community involvement, and friends, people you want in your tribe? Is there a mutual energy exchange? Do you challenge each other for growth or do you feel completely wiped out after being with them/this community? Ask yourself these questions as a way to cultivate an environment of self-love.
9. Let go - Let go of emotional baggage, of people, places, of judging yourself, of life situations that no longer serve you, and of expectations of yourself and others. From an internal standpoint, let go of certain behaviours, ideologies, pressures, comparisons – anything that limits your growth, holds you back and sucks you dry of energy!
10. Live with intention and with a greater purpose – practicing self-care is not actually “selfish” – there is a huge distinction between the two. What a little bit of self-care does is to make sure that we are being loving towards ourselves so that we are able to be present for others in our life, and on a bigger scale; the world – this is far from being selfish. It may seem a bit far-fetched to think that one individual can have that much impact on the world, but each one of us does. And collectively, if we all start to shift into practice self-care and self-love, the more love, care, and compassion we can share to others - and the beautiful cycle continues. Giving back to ourselves is to live with more intention, and to ultimately serve a greater purpose.
I love what I do and I would not change it for the world. I hope that on some level I inspire and motivate people. This is why I also try to write blog posts most weeks, to better explain why I have decided to focus on a particular intention – but ultimately, if I am stressing myself out in the process, then is this not just hypocracy?!