Today is the summer solstice, and that means summer begins officially tomorrow! As yogis, we can deepen our practice with rituals that make our practice and life healthy, beautiful and joyous this summer. In this post, I’d like to share six of my favorite ways to do this.
Before we start, let’s look at what the solstice and summer mean in ancient spiritual traditions.
The word solstice comes from Latin roots meaning “sun standing still.” On this longest day of the year, the sun seems to stop in its journey to its most northern point in the sky—before starting back down as days grow slowly shorter.
People from many cultures have marked the solstice for thousands of years. For the ancient Greeks, this day was the beginning of the lead-up to the Olympic Games. The Celts across Europe honored their goddesses on the summer solstice and invoked light and abundance through dancing and fasts.
Whether we’re consciously aware of traditions like these, most of us resonate with coming of summer at a deep level. It’s as if our bodies, along with the sun, “stand still” and pay attention to the present moment. We sense that this day marks the beginning of a season of greater awareness, freedom, and possibility.
According to the Ayurvedic philosophy, summer is the pitta season. This means the elements of fire and water will be more in play than at other times. We experience these elements as feelings of fluidity, emotion, and heat. These qualities give summer the magical quality we all associate with it. But if they aren’t balanced, they can cause stress and tension.
Here are six of my favorite ways to mindfully celebrate the solstice and the pitta season and keep it all joyfully in balance.
- Solstice Asana. In traditional yoga, a time-honored way to recognize the solstice is to practice sun salutations, or Surya Namaskar. It’s customary to do 108 sun salutations at sunrise, facing east. The number 108 is a sacred number in many ancient yogic traditions. If that seems like too many, pick a manageable number and do what you can. No matter how many you complete, perform your salutations with intention – focusing on your breath with your movements. Try this each day for the rest of the summer. It is a great way to welcome each new day with mindfulness.
- Connect with the Earth. Get outside as much as possible! Walking meditation is an ancient form of spiritual practice in many traditions. Take a walk in the moonlight, climb a mountain, swim or ride your bike. Practice mindful breathing and gratitude for the loving support of the Earth.
- Practice Gently. The pitta season means heat and metabolism are high. This can lead to feelings of aggression, so try doing your asana practice in a way that’s soft and surrendering. Avoid the temptation to compete, even with yourself.
- Bring cooling elements into your breathing during asana or meditation. One easy way to do this is to make your exhalation longer than the inhalation. Another way is to practice sitali, or “cooling breath,” from the Kundalini tradition. You can learn the basic sitali method here.
- Use essential oils for summer. Lavender, jasmine, and sandalwood oils are especially good for the summer season. Use them in a bath ritual, a diffuser, or on your skin.
- Eat for the season. In keeping with Ayurvedic nutrition, focus your meals on cooling, bitter, astringent and sweet foods. A lot of these are typical dishes we think of for summer: fresh fruits, salads, steamed vegetables. Avoid “hot” foods that are fried or spicy.
Meaningful rituals bring a sense of order to the world, to our thoughts, intentions, and feeling of well-being. If we create them mindfully, they have the power to help us find our own true purpose in life by connecting us to what we each value the most.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to use or create your own summer rituals. After all, the heart of Really Real Yoga is finding our true purpose. Happy Solstice, and Joyous Summer!