The first part of summer is ruled by the fire element in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The weather warms up and our schedules get full as we try to squeeze in as much fun during summer holidays as we can.
When this element is in balance, there is a sense of joy and creativity. When out of balance, we might struggle with anxiety, or feel impatient or unanchored. Though all of this extroverted activity can be fun and enlivening, it can also lead to fatigue, stress, and sensory overload.
That’s why this time of year is the perfect time to chill out with restorative practices to balance our minds, bodies, and hearts.
Near the end of August, though, we start to shift to the earth element, where we have burned off the heat and energy of summer and we begin to slow down, ground down, and prepare for the change of season, the cooler weather, and the more-structured fall schedules.
The fire element feeds and creates the earth element—fire turns to ash which turns to earth. In this way, elements nourish and support each other. Not only can we use restorative practices to cool off during summer, we can use them to slow down and prepare us to reset as we begin to change seasons and routines.
Gentle yoga styles like yin and restorative yoga, quiet and mindful practices like meditation and yoga nidra, and breathwork are all lifesavers to help us chill out. They help us transition into the space we need to stop ‘doing’ so we can rest.
The effects are instant and, when done regularly, can have long-lasting health benefits. Restorative practices help to lower blood pressure, activate the parasympathetic (or the rest and digest) nervous system, can promote good sleep, and can provide the body and mind with restful periods to integrate, regenerate, and heal.
One main by-product of restorative practices is how beneficial they are for the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve (or cranial nerve 10) begins in the brain and innervates the lungs, heart, diaphragm, and digestive tract. This means when we slow down and relax, we are having an impact on many of the systems and organs of the body. This is why I often say in my classes, it might feel like you’re not doing anything but so much is happening underneath the surface while you take time to rest.
There are many reasons to slow down and learn to just be, allow, and surrender. When we take the time to pause in the space between, we create new neural pathways where we learn to pause between stimulus and response, we learn to appreciate the present moment where all life occurs, and we give our nervous systems a chance to recover from our often-busy and overwhelming lives.
Cultivating a habit of rest can help all five facets of well-being all year long:
Physical: When the body can rest and relax, the mind follows. The nervous system softens and can recalibrate to its regulated resiliency zone. You awaken with renewed energy with a foundation of calm and steadiness.
Emotional: When we take time to slow down and infuse rest into our schedules, we find a sense of harmony, allowing us to move through life aware of our emotions and able to acknowledge, accept, and listen to them. Then the reactive energy of emotions can dissipate.
Mental: Accessing restoration through the physical body is the easiest place to begin. When the body calms, the mind can calm. We can then observe our thoughts from a perch of curiosity instead of being stuck in the middle. As an observer, we can rest in the space between allowing us to respond with grace and ease.
Relational: We begin with ourselves first. Once we can attain a sense of calm and peace, we are able to enter the relational sphere with others and bring coherent energy into the room.
Social: We take care of ourselves through restorative practices and then infuse this energy into the collective via our example. We learn to put on our own oxygen masks first and then we can be a positive contributing force in this world simply by being an example of rested possibility.
Here are some tools and practices to help you restore, cool down, and invite relaxation into your life:
Breath is the constant throughout life. Breath carries us from one experience to the next. Through each transition, posture, and pause, our breath supports us from stillness to movement, from rest to activity.
Breath occurs without us making it happen, yet we can work with it to change our state, energy, and mood. It is often the first thing we forget about and we often hold our breath when we are stressed.
With every inhale we create expansive space and with each exhale we can soften and surrender. Research shows that when you exhale, your heart rate slows down which helps to manage the stress response. Take time to pause throughout your day, drink in your breath, and let all tension melt away on the exhale.
Try this: Next time you need a quick break, find a quiet place to get comfortable and take five minutes for this “Five Alive” breath break. Inhale for a count of five, hold for a count of five, exhale for a count of five, and hold once again for five. Repeat for five times or five minutes. Pause after to notice the power of breathing on purpose.
RESTORATIVE & YIN YOGA:
Yin yoga is a slow and passive practice that focuses on hydrating, stretching, and rejuvenating the tissues of the body. There is still some effort to this practice as we hold poses from one to five minutes, but we are holding in an effortless way.
Restorative yoga is even more passive as we release ALLl holding. We use lots of props to support the body so we are being held, our bones are supported, and we can completely relax in stillness and let the poses do all the work.
Try this: Viparita Karani (or Legs-Up-The-Wall) is one of my favorite poses. Find a wall or chair, lay down, and flip your legs up to rest on the support. This multi-purpose pose will calm the mind, rejuvenate your energy, and relieve the lower body as the blood pumps back to your heart easefully. Expect to feel relaxed after staying here as long as you want. Do remember: if you have been instructed not to have your head lower than your heart, you may want to lay on your back, stretch out your legs, and elevate your feet slightly with a pillow.
YOGA NIDRA & MEDITATION
Yoga Nidra is an even more passive practice. During Yoga Nidra, you are guided through a relaxation and visualization—all while you remain in a comfortable, usually-reclined, position. You will find yourself relaxed and transformed as you practice slowing down your brain waves, breath, and body.
Yoga Nidra teaches us that meditation can be done in so many ways. The point in taking time for a meditation break is to find stillness and reel your focus in from the external for a mindful pause.
Try this: Visit the studio BE page and search for yoga nidra and/or meditation. All the sessions are unique, creative, and effective. Find one that suits your mood.
PLAY & PRESENCE
Don’t take yourself too seriously! When we can remember to laugh and let go a little, we physiologically relax. Find what fills you with delight and do more of those things.
Life is so-often serious and intense. Only you can choose how you move through it.
A sense of playfulness can fully bring you into the present moment – the place where life exists. Summer is a great time to lighten up and block off space in your schedule for fun, relaxation, and pockets of present-moment playfulness.
Try this: Take yourself on a playdate. Do something that fills you with childlike curiosity and joy. Let that be the only goal.
In yoga and in life, my favorite moments are the spaces in between. I crave that space. It offers a reprieve where time seems to stand still until movement carries us away again. The ability to pause and rest builds a strong foundation. This foundation allows us to pay attention to our needs and desires. It allows us to let go of what we cannot control and teaches us to accept life as it is. From this point we can carry on and as Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I hope you take the time to slow down this summer to soak up the sun. Feel the calm inside that you can CREATE… even if for a few moments.
Rest and relaxation is one of the most powerful practices you can add to your life.
Post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Lynette Suchar.
Lynette has been teaching and mentoring for 15 years. She teaches a variety of yoga and mindfulness practices, specializing in restorative yoga, yin yoga, yoga nidra, and has studied Traditional Chinese Medicine and myofascial release. She is also a freelance writer.