This morning, it is hard to imagine that Summer is right around the corner: 45 degrees and gray in mid-May presents a deceptive depiction of Spring, much less predicts the typical hot and humid summertimes here in the Northeast. The warmth will arrive, however, and as it approaches, our internal environments begin to shift, too.
Traditional Chinese Medicine prescribes foods, herbs, bodywork, and qigong exercises that correspond with each season and their associated organ systems and meridians. Most significantly, TCM recommends that practitioners begin seasonal qigong exercises approximately six weeks prior to the official start of their respective season.
In kundalini yoga, as I have discussed in previous posts, 40-day kriyas (exercise sets) may be practiced as a means to instill—or break—a particular habit. As 40 days is roughly six weeks, you may regard these weeks prior to the Summer solstice as a time to instill the discipline of a health–giving practice; simultaneously, you will call forth the specific organ energy needed to sail through Summer.
Fire is the element of Summer, and the associated organ system is the four-meridian team of Heart/Small Intestine and Pericardium/Triple Warmer. Each of these meridians travel through the front and back of the entire arm; thus, most Summer qigong exercises focus on large arm movements to activate the energy.
As Fire revs up with the advent of Summer, Water energy can dry up. The Kidney/Bladder pairing of Water moves through the entire back body and legs. Water’s season, Winter, tends to dilute Fire, which in turn leaves us with an excess of water: However, the cold of Winter can “freeze” the flow of Water energy, which is why our backs and legs can seem stiff and achy in the wintertime.
In order to stimulate Fire energy that cheerfully meets the Summer season, and also to ensure that Water energy remains in balance, I like to add some back-opening poses to the arm and chest openers of Fire qigong exercises. With this coupling of intentions, we will have the active, optimistic energy that corresponds with the sunniness and warmth of Summer. Simultaneously, we will prevent Fire energy from become overactive, which can result in bursts of unwarranted temper: Water keeps that fiery heat in check.
Kundalini heart work focuses on the energy of the anahata, or Fourth, chakra. We can stimulate the area in and around the heart center with movements that draw intention and energy to the chest and upper back.
To begin your practice, stand and move your arms in backward circles: First, circle the right arm back four times, and repeat on the left. Move quickly, so that momentum aids the rotation. Then, alternate left and right arm backward circles, so that you feel as if you are swimming the backstroke; do a total of eight circles. Finally, circle both arms simultaneously, which will really help to open the chest; circle backward eight times.
Repeat the above pattern, moving the arms in forward circles. When you have finished the full round of circling, briskly rub your arms with the palm of the opposite hand; travel from shoulder to hand, and then rub upward. Continue the self-massage by gently squeezing and stroking the ring and pinky fingers, where the end point of the meridians lie. Finally, tap the outer corner of the eye and eyebrow on both sides, which will stimulate the Small Intestine and Triple Warmer meridians.
Now, sit in a cross-legged position. Cross your arms, so that the hands grasp their opposite knee; in this position, gently round your back and pull away from the legs, while still holding the knees. Breath easily and deeply for five breaths. Then, slowly bring your spine upright, and switch the cross of the arms; repeat the back-rounding and -opening, again for five breaths.
From here, extend your legs straight in front of you. Reach both arms over your head as you inhale; exhale to move into a forward bend over the legs. When your back begins to round, lower your arms and hold wherever is comfortable on your legs; thighs, shins, ankles, feet…as long as your spine is long and aligned (i.e., not rounded), you will be gaining a full stretch for the back body.
After you have been in the forward bend for one minute, slowly rise up and spread your legs apart. This movement focuses on the up/down motion of the spine between your legs, rather than the stretching aspect: Spread your legs only as far as your hips and pelvis can still allow for the movement. Again, hold wherever you can on your legs; move with closed eyes focused on the Third Eye.
Bring your awareness to the heart center; create a dialogue between the heart energy and the ground between your legs. With each movement forward and down toward the ground, sense the energy of the earth meeting the heart; as you rise up, feel the heart energy expanding in and around you. Exhale as you move forward and down; inhale as you rise up. Continue the breath and movement pattern for three minutes.
Next, lie on your back with your knees bent, feet about hip width apart. Lift your pelvis to create bridge. Clasp your hands underneath your elevated back, and stretch the hand-hold toward your feet; this will draw the shoulders down, and fully open the chest. Remain in the posture for 5-10 breaths, then slowly release the hands and arms, and roll down through the spine.
To close, hug your knees into the chest, and lift your head as if to bring your now between your knees. If this bothers your neck, of course you may keep your head on the floor. Regardless of your choice, begin Breath of Fire through the nose: Hug the knees tightly to the chest. Continue for 1-3 minutes. Then, allow yourself to have svasana (Corpse, or Rest Pose) for as long as you like.
Special note: If you have yet to practice Breath of Fire, instead stick your tongue out and pant quickly, in and out through the mouth. Eventually, you will discover how to “pant” through your nose, quickly and evenly.
The previous posture and pranayama has a two-fold effect: The breath gives one final burst of energy to the heart center, while the tight squeeze consolidates the Fire energy within the body. Here’s hoping that by the time Summer arrives, your entire system will be ready and rarin’ to enter the season.