Summer is all about freedom. The long days mean you can play outside after work. You don’t have to apologize for indulging your inner child with a ride down the waterslide, a second scoop of ice cream or an afternoon nap in a shaded hammock. Everything seems possible—from cartwheeling in the soft sand of the beach to stretching out into Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose or splits).
Yoga can help you take that summertime thinking into your practice and your life. What happens on your mat can be a powerful tool for freeing yourself up to grow and explore your full capabilities. The flow of inversions and stretches encourages you to think outside the box of your perceived limitations. You may go into a class moaning about how tight you are or how weak your arms are, but you rarely leave with the same feeling.
As you enter into the sequences, you find yourself carried along on the confidence the teacher expresses in her/his students and the support of the people around you. Your breath and body help to get you out of your own way. And then, suddenly, you realize you’ve just picked up your second foot and you’re flying in Bakasana (Crow or Crane Pose). Your fears may whisper that you can’t do something or shouldn’t even try, but your mind, body and spirit know better. Yoga clears the static of the fearful, angry thoughts that limit you, enabling you to jettison all that baggage and leap ahead.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Start small, but start. When you’re preparing for your practice, zero in on one overarching goal or need in your life. With each asana, visualize yourself shedding the obstacles to that goal. If, for example, you really want a big promotion, release feelings of inadequacy or “beating yourself up” about trivial on-the-job mistakes. If you feel “weak” or out of control over the circumstances in your life, create a practice of balancing poses and feel your inner strength through the outward expression of your body. Maybe you feel trapped—then now’s the time for stretching your body outside its “box.”
Try to use your time on the mat to put the roadblocks away and visualize the steps to success, however you define it. It might help you to envision your roadblocks as physical objects. Imagine each one is stone in a bucket you are carrying. Feel how light your bucket gets as you drop them.
Here are some poses to try to capture those feelings of release:
Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
Benefits: The opposition of reaching to the sky and grounding your feet forces you to stretch and helps you feel less overwhelmed.
How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Bring your arms up by your ears, putting your palms together if your shoulder flexibility allows it. Look up toward your thumbs. Hold for a few breaths, then release.
Hanumasana (Monkey Pose)
Benefits: The legend of Hanuman’s giant leap between two lands is an empowering metaphor for moving outside your comfort zone.
How to do it: Begin in a kneeling position. Move your right foot to the front of your left knee. Bend forward as you slide your left leg back and toward the floor. At the same time, start to move your right leg forward and stretch your right knee gently. Lower as far into the pose as is comfortable. Remain in this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side. If you’re new to this pose, kneel behind a large, cylindrical bolster. Extend your right leg over the bolster so that the support is directly beneath your pelvic floor. Straighten your right leg in front of you, placing your hands on the bolster to help support you. Then decide how much to straighten the left leg. Hold for five breaths. If you want to take this deeper, bring your hands to Namaste and hold for another five breaths.
Vrkasana (Tree Pose)
Benefits: This balancing pose invites you to find your emotional “center.”
How to do it: Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Shift your weight to your left leg and foot. Lift your right leg and place the sole of your right foot on your inner left thigh, using your hands if needed.You can place your foot on your calf, or thigh, or higher, but don't place it on your knee. Place your hands at heart, or overhead if you are balanced. Focus on a point four to five feet ahead of you. Remain in this pose for 30 seconds to one minute, then release and repeat on the other side.
Tolasana (Scale Pose)
Benefits: Arm balances can help you feel like you are flying above the things that hold you back.
How to do it: Begin in Padmanasana (Lotus Pose). Place your hands on blocks or on the floor next to your hips. On an exhale, engage your core and press into your hands to lift your body off the ground. Remain in this pose for 10 to 15 seconds, then release, place the other leg on top and repeat.
Salamba Sirasana (Supported Headstand)
Benefits: The physically topsy-turvy nature of this pose shows you a literal new perspective on challenges.
How to do it: Place a blanket or folded sticky mat in front of you. Kneel on the floor. Weave your fingers together and place your outer forearms on the mat. Put your head against your palms. Walk your body into a V shape. Lightly release both feet from the ground to come into the pose. Feel most of your weight supported in your arms and shoulders. Remain in the pose for 10 to 15 seconds, then release. Move into Balasana (Child’s Pose) until you feel ready to stand.
As you practice these poses, focus on your breath. Envision expelling one negative thought with each exhale. Inhale one step closer to your goals.