This week marked the official beginning of the season of spring. I think it's probably my favorite time of year (minus the pollen). It's a time of awakening for plants as well as people as we all begin to come out of our winter hibernation and start to embrace the outdoors and a more active life once again.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spring season is associated with the Liver (yin) and Gallbladder (yang) organs. The liver meridian starts in the big toe, comes through the inner ankle, and runs up the inside of the leg above the kidney meridian. The liver chi running through this meridian is said to be responsible for the overall flow of energy through the body and for inner detoxification. It's good to stimulate the liver meridian during this time of year as it helps us be better prepared to change and adapt with the season.
Yin poses that stimulate the liver meridian are ones like dragonfly pose (see description in the previous blog on the winter season) and reclining butterfly pose where we lay flat and bring the soles of the feet together. It's also good to do overstepping dragon (low lunge) to help remove any blockages in the ankles which would prevent the body's ability to absorb energy from the earth through the liver meridian.
Tips for Spring
In my last blog, I wrote about the beginning of the Yin season where things start to change. Now that the winter solstice has passed we are in what is considered to be full yin season where the days are all short and the weather stays colder. It's a time where we turn inward instead of outward; a time for reflection instead of activity.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the kidneys are the yin organ associated with the season of winter. It is important to take care of our kidneys as they are considered the seat of all health and energy. Practicing yin poses like dragonfly and saddle can stimulate the kidney meridian. In dragonfly, the legs are spread as wide as is comfortable in a seated position and then the upper body folds as far forward as it can. If forward folding is challenging to your body, try the pose with your legs up the wall instead. It will have the same effect on the kidney meridian.
Tips for the Season
This past Friday marked the first day of Autumn; the beginning of the Yin season. A time when we begin to slow down a little after all the activities of the summer, or Yang, season. The days start to get a little shorter and the temperature a little cooler; both characteristics of the Yin season. For some, the ending of the summer season can bring on a sense of sadness. It makes sense then that the season is associated with a sense of 'letting go' in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine also associates the season with the lung/large intestine organ pair; with the lungs being the Yin organ of the pair and the skin being considered the third lung. If you notice a rash or a cold coming on it's possible that your lung Chi is out of balance. A Yin routine that incorporates some back-bending poses (Sphinx/Seal, Camel, Fish) is a good way to stimulate your lung Chi.
With temperatures varying from day to day, even hour to hour some days, it's a good idea to carry a sweater to protect us from the instability of the season. It's also a good idea to watch how much dairy we consume as dairy is known to cause excess phlegm in the lungs. In addition, we can use a Netti pot to clear out our nose; the opening to the lungs. It's important to take care of ourselves during this time of transition so our bodies are prepared for the winter season.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are five seasons instead of the four we recognize here in the West. The additional season is known as late summer and begins in the third week of August. It is a transition time between the busy (yang) summer season and the slower fall (more yin like) season. It is a time to rest and relax after all the activities of summer. Child's pose and reclining Butterfly pose are good ways to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system which then triggers the relaxation response. In Child's pose, we are on our knees with our hips to the heels and the forehead to the floor in front of the knees with the arms either extended in front of you or by your sides. In reclining Butterfly, we are lying on our backs with the soles of the feet together and perhaps a pillow under each knee with our arms by our sides.
The organs associated with the late summer season are the spleen/stomach pair; both of which are associated with our ability to digest food and use it for the health of our physical bodies. Poses that are good to do to stimulate these meridians are Dragon pose or low lunge for the stomach meridian and Dragonfly for the spleen. In Dragonfly pose, we sit with the legs spread as far apart as is comfortable and fold forward keeping the spine relaxed.
The season is also a good time to go barefoot outside and try to connect and absorb the energy from the earth. Perhaps also consider incorporating a walking meditation into your day; focusing on the earth beneath you while you walk and repeating a mantra as you go. Meditation and mild exercise are two other great ways to stimulate the relaxation response.
In addition to stretching the connective tissue, Yin yoga asanas (poses) also help to stimulate the flow of chi energy through the meridians of the body; similar to acupuncture. Since Yin yoga focuses on the lower, or yin, half of the body (from the waist down), the asanas work to stimulate the lower body meridians - liver, kidney, stomach, urinary bladder, and gallbladder. By stimulating the meridians in this way, we can help to take care of their associated organ. The most important of these, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, are the kidneys as they are the source of all health.
To help stimulate the kidney meridian try dragonfly pose. Sit with your legs spread apart and fold forward. The spine can round as it needs to and the hands can be wherever is most comfortable. Keep the muscles in the legs relaxed and try to hold the pose for at least three minutes. Focus on the breath and try to direct it to any areas that feel particularly tight or restricted.
Yin Yoga stretches the body in ways that other forms of yoga do not. Most other forms of yoga are focused on stretching the muscles of the body. Yin Yoga works to stretch the connective tissues of the body that are found in the joints and surrounding the muscles; particularly the joints of the spine. Just like muscles, if you do not use the joints of the body you will lose them; they will become fixated and immobile. What does this mean for you? It means that as you reach old age, you may find yourself unable to stand up straight; you may become hunched over because you have lost the ability to use the joints in the low back.
A great pose to start to counter this affect is with Caterpillar pose (seated forward bend). Just sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and fold the upper body forward keeping the muscles relaxed so the joints can take the stretch. If you find that folding forward is a challenge, you can also do this pose standing up by dangling the top half of the body forward, like you were trying to touch your toes. The key is to hold the pose for at least two minutes; more if you comfortably can.