Autumnal Equinox and the season of Earth
The Autumnal Equinox is upon us. As we transition from Summer towards Autumn we pass through the TCM (& thence Zen Shiatsu) season of “Late Summer”, powered by the energies of the Spleen (Yin) and Stomach (Yang) meridians. This is where we are right NOW.
As distinct from the Fire of Summer (or the Metal of Autumn), Late Summer is the season of Earth and Damp. It is the season of pulling together, centering and of equilibrium. It is the season of stillness before change
[NOTE: Earth season re-appears briefly a few times in the course of the year – at the Spring Equinox and at the two Solstices.]
My Summer focus has been on the Heart energy and particularly on yoga that builds awareness, openness and strength in the Heart. In moving out of Summer, it’s important to maintain this. Earth yoga, however, demands that we develop our focus and consciously build a different kind of energy: in our centre and, in this first instance, along the Spleen meridian (inside leg) to the inner arch and big toe. Positive Spleen energy is crucial if we are to feel balanced, centered and grounded in our walk through life.
Equinox Yoga #1: Extending, centering and grounding the open Heart.
Be aware that this is activated, breath charged dynamic yoga. You can begin by simply working on maintaining the start position and develop it in stages. Add in just the arm movement. Try, in isolation, the easier of the leg movement variations. Combine it with the arms. Then repeat this over with the more difficult leg movement.
The breathing pattern is very simple and, if done with focus, will support you very strongly in the movement.
Inhale to start: expand the lower belly and back
Exhale: work through your core** to maintain the lower back expansion as you extend your limbs away from the torso.
Inhale: maintain the pelvic floor lift and expand the lower belly and back as you move back in to the starting position.
The starting position is essentially a combination of supta baddha konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) with the now very familiar Prayer Pose – hands hovering above the sternum. It is important to establish and maintain good pressure between (1) the two palms and (2) the soles of the two feet.
Be careful to have your coxys long and your lower back released against the floor. **Use your breathing and core strength to keep it in place: pull up through the pelvic floor and compress from front to back through the lower abdomen with every exhalation. At the same time, allow the chest, upper back, legs and arms to be relatively relaxed.
- The arm movement involves sliding the hands, parallel with the floor, so that they move beyond your head and the arms extend. Be careful to keep your elbows wide so that your Heart zone (sternum & upper chest) stays open and relaxed. Be sure to maintain contact between the hands – particularly the pinky fingers so that you can feel the line down into the armpit.
- On inhalation, bring the arms back to float just above the Heart zone.
- The leg movement mirrors the arm movement, creating a beautiful energetic and visual balance.
As you take the feet horizontally away from the buttocks and extend the legs, keep a firm contact between the two feet. It’s a good idea to keep the big toes pressed together and pointing slightly towards the floor so that the knees stay wide and the inside leg opens.
- There are two variations on the leg extension movement. It can be done with the feet either (1) skimming along the floor, or, a little more difficult, (2) held 5 – 10 cm above the floor
- On inhalation, bring the feet back towards the groin. Keep the knees wide and maintain the pressure between the soles of the feet (& big toes). This allows you to better feel the line of contraction up the inside leg, groin and into the abdomen.
- Be careful to keep your effort centered in your core with strong awareness of the lines out through the limbs to the pinky fingers and the big toes. Use your breathing to support you as you move.
Equinox Yoga #2: Incorporating the Stomach meridian
Ustrasana, Camel pose, is another beautifully balanced, “Equinoxal” Fire / Earth yoga combination. It extends and tonifies the full length of the Stomach meridian which runs down the front of the face, throat, torso and legs. In so doing, the pose simultaneously lifts the Heart from the thoracic spine through to the sternum. If you can, place your palms over your heel pads and reach your fingertips into the “palm” of your feet. In this way you connect with your plantar Heart zones to complete the Earth circle.
I would suggest a little caution with Ustrasana as it operates very strongly to open both the Heart and Throat Chakras – domains that are usually kept quite well protected. Take it easy and breathe steadily. Keep yourself stable and centered. Remember, the Equinox is time for balance. Take note of how you are feeling in the pose and only go as far as you are comfortable with.
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