On this first day of May, one feels the revitalization that sprouts with tiny croci, early-morning bird calls, and warming rays of sunshine. The sky adjusts its blue to one of permeating vibrancy and hopefulness; the clouds bear no ill will.
While this Silent Sunday resounds with the uplifting notes of Springtime, the day also marks a key time for thoughts of Summer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the prime period to help the body and psycho-spiritual mind prepare for any season is roughly six weeks prior to the advent of that season.
Today’s practice will introduce the Fire element (that which is associated with Summer), while using Spring’s element, Wood, as a foundation. As one would lay kindling for a warming blaze, the routine helps to stoke the systems necessary to optimally enjoy Spring’s energy and seamlessly transition into Summer’s late-June entry.
Special note: For a fun challenge—and to reap the greatest benefit from this upbeat routine—practice every day from today until June 21. The commitment: 7 moves and a simple breath visualization for a total of 10 minutes, each day for six weeks.
First, a quick primer on the Wood and Fire elements: Wood is comprised of the Liver and Gall Bladder organ systems; Fire corresponds with Stomach and Heart energies. From an anatomical standpoint, Wood relates primarily to the inner and outer “seams” of the body. (Think side walls and inner thigh stretches.) Fire meridians run through the arms and front of the torso: Remember the phrase, “fire in the belly.”
With regard to the qualities associated with each element, Wood systems—just like Nature’s activity in Spring—awaken, refresh, and remind the body and mind of possibility. The Fire organs energize and supply the confidence to pursue and achieve goals. As such, Spring’s transitional time is conducive to purposeful contemplation and preparation; Summertime is ripe for activation and manifestation.
While each movement in today’s practice is designed to stimulate either the Wood or Fire element, maintain an awareness of the “unworked” system while focusing on one. For example, when imparting focused energy on the arms, stay attuned to the inherent reverberation through the belly, or the shifting through the legs. In this way, the practice succeeds in uniting the two elements for the greatest all-over benefit.
To begin, lie on the back, eyes closed, for a brief, centering visualization. With your mind’s eye, focus on the left pinky finger. Start your travels at the inner-side tip of the pinky: Inhale to draw the breath up the inside of the arm to just inside the shoulder on the chest. Exhale to the opposite side of the chest, and down the inner right arm to the inner-side tip of the right pinky.
Now, reverse the visualization: Inhale to begin at the right pinky, up the arm to the chest, and then down from the chest through the left arm, ending at the inner edge of the left pinky tip.
Repeat the breath with visualization—up left, down right; up right, down left—two more times.
Next, hug both knees into the torso. Inhale to open the arms onto the floor at shoulder level, as the legs shoot straight out to 45 degrees. Exhale to bring the arms and legs back into the hug. Inhale open, exhale close: Continue for 1 minute.
Still on the back, extend both legs straight into the air, and then let them fall open into a V shape. (The arms rest naturally on the ground by your sides.) Inhale: As you exhale through the nose, bring the legs back together, crossing them at the ankles; inhale to open into the V. Move as quickly as possible, switching the cross of the ankles each time you exhale. Continue for 1 minute.
Then, bend the knees to place the feet flat on the floor in preparation for Bridge Pose. Roll the spine off of the floor into Bridge: interlace the hands under the body, and stretch the arms straight. Press down into the feet, up through the hips, and open the belly as high to the sky as you can muster. Begin Breath of Fire through open, rounded lips. Breathe rapidly, equally, and fiercely through the mouth: The belly should pump powerfully with the breath. Continue for 1 minute.
Now, sit up. Extend the legs forward, and then open into a V on the floor. Extend the arms up and out from the shoulders at an angle of 60 degrees, palms facing each other. Curl the pinky fingers into the palms; hold them down with the thumb.
Begin to twist the torso left and right: Inhale to twist left, exhale to the right. Rise up and out of the spine, stabilizing through the wide-leg base. As the body releases, move a bit more quickly: Inhale left, exhale right for 1 minute.
Release the mudra from the hands, and let the left arm come down. Shift the right arm to extend it now straight up from the shoulder. Inhale, then exhale as you side-bend to the left: Inhale up, exhale stretch. (Use the left hand on the floor for support.)
Complete 8 stretches to the left, and then switch arms: With the left arm extended straight up, side-bend to the right 8 times.
When you are ready, ease back down onto the floor, and turn onto the belly. Let the legs be open wide behind you. Reach the arms forward on the ground, wider than shoulder width. This is the base of the “open Cobra” into which you will rise.
Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the wide-open mouth, tongue extended down, to press up into the wide-leg, wide-arm Cobra. Inhale through the nose to lower, exhale through the mouth when you press up. Move as quickly as you can, aiming to create a pumping up and down of the upper body. Continue this stimulating, cleansing move for 1 minute.
Next, still on the belly, reach the hands back to grasp the feet (or ankles): Hold what you can; lift into Bow. Float the knees up and away from the floor, and rise up through the torso.
Now, begin to rock forward and back on the belly. This may be initially confounding for the body: Typically, it helps to inhale back, exhale forward. Muscle your way into the move, and then let breath and momentum carry you into the Rocking Bow for 1 minute.
When you have finished, shift back into wide-leg Baby Pose, toes together, knees apart. Let the arms stretch forward, palms down. Here, take some deep breaths while repeating the Heart meridian visualization: Inhale the mind’s eye from left pinky up the inner left arm, into the outer chest; exhale from right outer chest, down right inner arm, to inner edge of right pinky tip. Repeat up the right, down the left, and then one more full round.
Then, release into Svasana on your back for as long as you like.