These are the dog days of summer.
Sun-soaked and languid, sultry and still, this season termed “late summer” in Chinese Medicine allows us to rest and relax, enjoy and harvest abundance from the land, and share nourishing food and story with family and friends.
This time, governed by the Earth element, is a turning point in the yearly cycle, a transition from the dynamic, active energies of spring and summer into the slower, cooler months of fall and winter. The earth season provides a point of stillness for us to turn in, collect our energy that might have gotten away from us in the excitement of the summer months, reflect on our thoughts and process our emotions.
I live in Hawaii where the culture, with its unshakeable roots in the land, epitomizes the energies associated with the earth element. In Hawaiian the word for land, aina, literally means “the food” (ai: to eat, na: the). It’s a time to nourish, receive, rest and process.
The Earth channels are the stomach and spleen meridians. (Meridians are energy pathways used in acupuncture and shiatsu.) The vibration of a balanced stomach meridian allows us to open and receive nourishment in all forms, from food to love, feeding the body and the soul.
Ultimately I’ve experienced that harmony in this channel allows one to receive everything as nourishment. For the truly open stomach, everything becomes food, even the tragedy and the suffering of life fuels our awakening to the preciousness and the gift of life.
If the stomach is the receiver, the spleen meridian is about processing what we take in, quite literally chopping up the food so it can be assimilated into the system. Chewing, digesting, talking it over, writing it out, thinking out loud, ruminating—these are all activities governed by the spleen. In excess, we can be led to worry incessantly so remember to relax. The Hawaiian tradition of “talking story” with friends and loved ones is a perfect way to harmonize the spleen channel.
The stomach and spleen channels run on the front of the body, embedded in the connective tissue of large muscle groups like rectus abdominus (the six pack muscle) and the quadriceps. So it may not be surprising that the earth channels govern the muscular tissue of the body. When you think about it, our muscles really are the earth of our body. They can be trained and shaped like clay and offer support and protection to our skeleton.
Muscular energy is crucial to balanced stretching and any yoga practice. Take the time to visualize and feel your muscles hugging towards the bone, in an earthy embrace as you stretch and extend. Feel the strength and power of your legs hugging towards the midline in standing and balancing poses.
Become strong and integrated as you begin any pose by drawing your muscles up from the foundation of the pose to the focal point. The poses which most open and activate the earth channels are thigh stretches and backbends including Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), Bow Pose (Danurasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana) and Upward Facing Bow Pose (Urdvha Danurasana). Reclined Hero Pose (Supta Virasana) is the classic pose to open and activate the Earth meridians.
Since it can be somewhat tricky, here are some crucial alignment tips:
Reclined Hero Pose (Supta Virasana):
Start on hands and knees. Untuck your toes and widen your feet just wider than your hips. Bring your knees closer together. They do not have to be touching. Place one hand on either calf muscle and press straight down, ironing out the calf (not rolling it out to the side).
Sit in between your feet. Press the top of your toes down, lift the front of the ankle and hug your heels to your hips. (If you had any knee pain, see if this relieves it.) If it doesn’t, sit on a neatly folded blanket or a block. Press your sitting bones down and stretch forward through your knees. Walk back onto your elbows.
If you are sitting on elevation, stay here. If your sitting bones are on the ground you may recline all the way back to supta virasana bringing your arms overhead. Soften your jaw by opening your mouth. Inhale, receive—perfect nourishment, pure oxygen, great love. Exhale, process and release.
More Seasonal Suggestions. Try these tips to nourish yourself for the next few weeks:
Have one last summer garden party sharing food and story with family and friends!
Journal—write it out!
Receive a massage or healing treatment.
Offer support to a friend or family member.
Eat Root Vegetables—Make a root roast or juice carrots, beets and ginger.
Call your mother, your auntie, your grandmother (on any plane, in any form).
Lie down on the Earth.
Walk barefoot on the Earth—(this is the fastest way to treat Plantar Fascitis!)
Work in the garden, get dirty!
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own