Spring looks like it’s finally here! The spring flowers which bring bright splashes of colour to our parks and gardens are coming thick and fast, the trees are starting to bud, and there’s even been a hint of blue sky and sunshine this weekend just passed.
Equinox means “equal night”, and it’s the time in the year when day and night are of equal length, a return to the light if you will, after the dark mornings and premature evenings of Winter. The promise of Summer is growing as we spend more time outdoors and in our gardens. The world of nature has rested, seeded and is now starting to burst forth in a riot of green and colour.
Sequencing for balance
The Equinox theme taken through into our yoga practice lends itself readily to balance, which makes us think of that particular group of poses; however if we’re practising wisely, we’ll already be including balance poses in our practice as a matter of routine. If you’re not being so attentive to your tree, dancer and warrior 3 poses and the like (and for more advanced students including arm balances and inversions such as handstand, headstand, etc), maybe it’s time to address that now. Alternatively, we can take the approach of making the “balance” element of the practice show through by including poses and practices from all categories in our yoga toolkit, for maximum all round benefit.
For instance, are you including a centering exercise when you come to your mat? This is essential for setting the scene of your practice, switching you off from work, family issues, or any other distractions you may still be carrying from daily life. Chanting is one of my favourite ways to center, and it’s great to stimulate and warm up the respiratory system in preparation for yoga breathing. If the mind is busy you could take a silent chant, such as “So Hum” (meaning I am that) or Let Go, chanted mentally in time with the breath. Or we could bring focus with a pranayama practice: maybe kapalabhati, skull shining breath, if we’re taking a vigorous practice, or alternate nostril breathing prior to any practice is very good for rebalancing mind and body.
You could also add in meditation at this point, but be aware that sometimes it can be harder to meditate before practice if you don’t have much experience of it, and it may be easier once you’ve honed your focus and stilled your mind with posture work. Do what feels intuitively natural for you.
Next, are you limbering properly? Unless you’re doing a Yin or Restorative practice warming the physical body up is essential (in Yin we work with the muscle tissues un-warmed, in order to access the deeper tissues of the fascia, joints and ligaments), and your limbering poses should be relevant to the rest of your practice: for example if you’re working on forward bends include some hamstring and lower back limbering. You could even decide what limbers to practice once you’ve decided on the rest of your sequence, giving you the opportunity warm up wisely with limbers appropriate to what will follow.
Once you’ve done some simple limbers to ease your body into the work to come, one traditional route to take is sun salutations for further warming the whole body and stimulating the circulation of prana. As you practice your surya namaskar of choice, give thanks and gratitude to Surya, the Hindu Lord of the Sun, as you connect to the burgeoning energy of spring, made possible by the growing light he brings.
You could then move onto some standing poses for grounding and strength; this is the time to focus on your warriors, side angle pose, triangles et al, and any variations of these poses. I always think that, whilst they are familiar, we should not practise these important poses as if they are “easy”, which might indicate lack of concentration: check your alignment, making any modifications to accommodate your needs in the present moment, but add a generous dollop of “tapas”, discipline and inner fire, with an inner attitude of coming to the pose for the very first time - like the first flower of spring.
You can of course include standing balances here, and maybe even make one of them your “peak” pose, the fulcrum of the practice, i.e. the midpoint at which you peak physically and begin to gradually cool down with poses which bring progressive release.
So from there, some seated poses will help to neutralise and stretch away the work you’ve done to this point, giving some space for longer holds in floor based poses (hip openers anyone?!), and maybe some added reflection and observation of your mood and state of mind.
By this point, your body will be much more open and hopefully your mind much more focussed than when you began your practice. This is a great time to meditate. Before you lie down and relish the sublime release of Savasana, here are some Spring Equinox themes to meditate on, adapted from one of my very favourite yoga books, Yoga Through the Year, by Jilly Shipway.
Focus for Spring Equinox meditation:
What am I passionate about and which projects do I wish nurture during this growing season?
How can I use my yoga practice to stay in touch with my inner wisdom as I take outer action?
What signs of new growth are already appearing in my life?
What action can I take to help and nurture others and the earth at this time?
How can I take my yoga practice off the mat as a way to bring balance into my life?
Happy blossoming everyone!