This article is Part 1 of a 5 series called ‘The Yoga Journey: From Summer Holidays to Winter Break’, on how we can parallel our yoga journey with the yearly cycles of life.
Summer is a healthy break from the routine. We should lie in a bit, try new foods, and explore the scenery with spontaneous enthusiasm. The summer holidays also offer an excellent opportunity to deepen your sādhanā, the Sanskrit word used to describe the actions and disciplines which support your personal development and/or spiritual growth.
For yogis our sādhanā means discovering the eight limbs of yoga beginning with a dedication to yoga asana, meditation, and pranayama. Rather than neglect our sādhanā between the summer fun, the following tips and tricks will help us avoid stagnation.
1. Take Advantage of New Scenery
No need to pack your mat. Take a towel to the beach before that indulgent hotel breakfast and breathe into a few sun salutations on the sand. Practice awareness by savoring a slow examination of each color and shape in a single work of art among a museum’s masterpieces. Sit on a fallen tree along a walking path and calm your breath for a meditative look at the greenery. Use the hotel’s spa amenities to book a yoga class or take a long, silent pause in gratitude for your body before your treatment. Holidays present countless chances to practice asanas and mindfulness on and off of our mats.
2. Have a Morning with You
You’re finally off from work or school and should sleep in, but use a few mornings to slip out of bed when the streets are quiet and the sound of birds isn’t dulled by the cacophony of the day. Spend an hour with yourself. No screens, no talking, no effort to accomplish anything other than just being with you. Maybe listen to music and relish parts of songs or instruments you never noticed before. Perhaps relax in lying poses and, without a plan to do so, naturally find yourself melting into backbends you didn’t know you had. Whatever it is, utilize the tranquil morning time for a peaceful rejuvenation with yourself. Doing this supports the practice of the 5 yogic niyamas, the actions that ultimately cultivate genuine contentment.
3. Slow it Down
We all want to make the most of our holidays and plan days full of action. In fact, slowing down can be incorrectly categorized as a waste or even lazy. Sometimes we speed through asanas thinking we’ll burn more calories or arrive sooner at the endorphin rush that follows a strong flow. There can be merit to building heat in the body, at times referred to as tapas in yogic philosophy. I encourage you to focus instead on a heightened awareness of your breath and body’s movements.
Take a long, slow inhale into your tadasana, mountain pose. Release steadily into uttanasana, standing forward fold. Concentrate on each muscle, the weight in your feet, the expansion of the chest and belly, the lengthening of your fingertips. Note the remarkable number of nuances in your body that you previously ignored. This will improve your relationship with your body and breath by helping you to appreciate the finer details of your being. You’ll also make your practice safer, more challenging, and benefit both mind and body.
4. Just Breathe
Anytime I am asked about the best way to improve muscular or joint flexibility, skeletal alignment, or the mind body connection, my answer is always “just breathe”. Summer is exciting but can also mean the stress of planning and travel. When you feel the overwhelming frustration of a missed flight, an overbooked hotel, or a humid outdoor activity, step away and use the pranayama, the breath. Aim for only 5 or 6 breaths per minute for 2-3 minutes. It’s not a lot of time, but it can mean the difference between losing your cool in the heatwave or maintaining your practice of the yamas, the yogic principles of personal conduct.
5. Welcome an Adventure
There is a sizeable amount of neuroscience dedicated to proving that new, challenging activities improve our brains’ functionality and prevent cognitive decline. Use a part of your holiday time to finally try meditation, work on an inversion, attempt surfing, or take that Italian cooking class while soaking up the sun on the Mediterranean Sea. Your effort to do something new will serve as a reminder to gently challenge your yoga practice and stimulate your neural pathways.
Summer break isn’t a break from our sādhanā. It’s an invaluable time to expand it through lighthearted pastimes. It doesn’t require finding a yoga studio in every town you’ll visit or forcing yourself through a dull yoga application in your hotel room. It’s about enjoying what the season naturally offers by aligning your practice with it.
Alexandria J. Lee is a Wellness Consultant and yoga and meditation instructor in Dubai. Her interdisciplinary approach to wellness coaching and yoga/fitness instruction is based on a philosophy of developing clients’ awareness and ability to practice self-care in real time. Contact her here: [email protected]