Sections of this article appear in The Yoga Almanac: 52 Practices and Rituals for Staying Grounded Through the Astrological Seasons, March 2020, New Harbinger Publications. Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. © 2020 Lisette Cheresson & Andrea Rice.
Summer has begun: the season of abundant flowering, ease and play. The summer solstice opens cancer season on June 20 or 21 each year – the beginning of a kind of spiritual homecoming. While this playful and relaxed time of year may be busy due to its onslaught of social events and vacations, the cancer season provides an opportunity to think carefully about what creates a sense of security and security, even when outside obligations. In this season of abundance, our practices become a conduit for exploration of the abundance within us; a means of tending our inner gardens so that we can maximize the intake of our spiritual harvest.
Cancer season asks us what it really means to come home to ourselves and create the conditions to thrive in this nest.
As the fourth sign of the zodiac, Cancer symbolizes the divine feminine and is ruled by the moon and is associated with the third eye (Ajna) in Vedic astrology. During the cancer season, taking time for introspection and taking care of ourselves can help us get back in touch with the true desires of our hearts. So at the solstice we can see both the sun and the moon. Cancer is symbolized by the crab with its hard, protective outer shell that provides a home anywhere. Despite its thorny exterior, the crab naturally has a soft, sensitive underbelly that literally feels every bump on the road. It is the dichotomy of security and sensitivity, of protection and vulnerability. As social engagement increases, the crab’s soft underbelly reminds us to stay soft and loose even as we protect our own time.
The symbolic relationship between the Divine Feminine and the Crab is interesting as the maternal energy is at the same time violently protective while remaining a gentle ointment for pain. After the pandemic, the energies of cancer season are even more relevant as we welcome the return of face-to-face gatherings while remaining sensitive to our collective losses and protecting our personal (and collective!) Health.
How the cancer energy shows up on the mat
The idea of creating a home within yourself is indeed one of the most fundamental ideas in yoga philosophy. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the Niyamas, the code of ethics that tells us to go within and to serve ourselves in order to serve. The five niyamas are saucha (cleanliness, which means taking care of your body); Santosha (satisfaction, creating the conditions for sustained serenity); Tapas (discipline, a “burning” of desires or needs that hold us spiritually captive); svadhyaya (self-reflection or self-knowledge); and isvaraprahnidaha (devotion).
When we turn inward and create the conditions for a healthy, balanced, protective, but gentle relationship with ourselves, we can best enjoy the joy and ease of the summer season.
Poses for the cancer season
Supine knee-to-chest pose (Apanasana)
Image from YogaPedia
Prana is our life force, the energy that flows through us, is carried by the breath and nourished in practice. Apana, on the other hand, is the release of Prana; The breath moves outward and clears the body of toxins. Translated directly from Sanskrit as “wind-relieving pose”, the knee-to-chest pose cleanses the home of our body with vital vitality. The beginning in Corpse Pose connects us to the ground. Tilting your pelvis forward slightly can help relieve tension in your lumbar spine, pull your lower back into a natural C-shaped curve, and relieve sciatic pain. Rocking back and forth and in circular motions around the back of the pelvis can relieve tension in this area. Hugging your knees against your chest stimulates the abdominal muscles and improves digestion.
The connection with the earth grounds us in our root chakra (muladhara), our seat of family ties and the memory of our ancestors, and encourages us to connect with this foundation on which we can grow. Our third (solar plexus) chakra is our center of trust; the power center of the self. When we nourish the home of our body, we create the confidence to move forward into the world.
Reclining Bound Angle, Cobbler Pose, or Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Image from YogaPedia
Bound Angle, also known as the cobbler pose, was named after the seating position of the cobblers in India. This posture cultivates softness and stillness and helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, our resting-and-digestive response. In Yin Yoga, the form known as the Reclined Butterfly is often aided with props such as blocks under the outer knees to ensure comfort, longevity, and a deeper, more meditative experience.
Reclined Bound Angle is a regenerative hip opener that stretches the groin and inner thighs and stimulates the abdominal and reproductive organs. This awakens the sacral chakra (Svadhisthana); Aligning with these creative waters evokes the fertility of the goddess Shakti to give birth to new ideas. A gentle opening of the chest and heart chakras (anahata) is facilitated by stretching the arms wide, grasping the opposite elbows above the head or pulling the arms into a cactus shape. For a deeper inner experience, the palms of the hands can rest on the stomach while the gaze is focused on the third eye (Ajna) chakra.
Image from YogaPedia
Ancient Buddhist art depicts the lotus pose as the posture that Buddha Siddhartha assumed while sitting in meditation for seven weeks, which led to his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Full lotus is an advanced sitting posture that requires flexibility in your legs and knees and strength in your core. If you have restricted range of motion in your hips or if your knees are tender, try crossing one leg for half a lotus. If half lotus is inaccessible, try Easy Pose (Sukhasana) as an alternative. Lotus cultivates a strong sense of stability and grounding, and allows the spine to elongate. Consistent exercise can help stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area, which can help relieve menstrual tension or sciatic pain.
Lotus is a meditation pose and deals with the root chakra (Muladhara) and the third eye (Ajna) chakra. The third eye is connected to the moon, the cosmic ruler of Cancer. Bringing your attention to the space between your eyebrows gives you a direct lifeline back to your own inner knowing. However, the lotus pose is most associated with the opening of the crown chakra (sahasrara). Symbolized by a thousand-petalled lotus flower, an open and receptive crown chakra is the manifestation of our personal blossom; the deep personal work that has enabled us to reach our full potential. Optionally, bring the heels of your palms together with your thumbs and little fingers to touch to form a lotus mudra.
Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)
Image from YogaPedia
Goddess energy, the creative energy of the universe, is discussed in Tantric texts as Shakti energy, the female psycho-spiritual force that balances the male Shiva. It can manifest itself in a myriad of ways: A call to delve into personal discovery, maintain a deep, honest relationship with the innermost self, and always live in pursuit of passion. “Utkata” is roughly translated from Sanskrit as “mighty” or “wild”. Goddess Pose awakens the Shakti energy that we all have, regardless of gender.
This empowering pose requires balance and stability and offers a deep stretch of the inner thighs, hips and groin, as well as core engagement. It’s a heat-generating pose that stimulates and supports good blood circulation, and is also a pelvic floor strengthener that can be used in preparation for childbirth.
Goddess Pose stimulates the sacral chakra (Svadhisthana), the center of creativity and sensuality. When the third chakra (manipura) is activated, the spine can lengthen so that the energy can flow freely. The commitment of this power center strengthens the foundation of our inner reserves as we pursue our personal passions.
Lisette is an author, yoga teacher and content director. She is a member of the founding team of Yoga Unify, a new nonprofit yoga organization, director of marketing at the Mammoth Yoga Festival, and co-author of The Yoga Almanac. Lisette completed her 200-hour training in Brooklyn and her Reiki attunement in India and deepened her studies with Leslie Kaminoff from the Breathing Project, Tiffany Cruikshank and Andrew Holecek. She is also a grief coach and death doula whose work focuses on integrating the tools of mindfulness and asanas for grief healing and end-of-life anxiety. As a past life filmmaker, Lisette has made videos with community leaders such as Dharma Mittra, Eddie Stern, and Eoin Finn. She lives in the Hudson Valley, NY with her husband and animals.
Andrea Rice is a health and wellness writer and editor. Her work has appeared in the Yoga Journal, The Wanderlust Journal, mindbodygreen, Astrostyle, SONIMA and New York Yoga + Life. She also worked as a journalist for The New York Times and INDY Week. As a yoga teacher with a decade of experience, Andrea completed her 200 hour training in New York, NY; and promoted her training with Elena Brower and Alexandria Crow. She has also studied astrology extensively with The AstroTwins, Ophira and Tali Edut. Andrea has taught yoga, meditation, journaling, and creativity workshops in Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York, NY; and was a moderator at Wanderlust. She lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband and cat, where she teaches yoga at Blue Lotus and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
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