Waiting to Exhale (and retain)
The summer solstice is this week. Hooray!
The summer solstice is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight (except in the polar regions). On June 21, 2018, the Earth’s axis (on either the Northern or Southern Hemispheres) is inclined the most toward the Sun as it rotates around it. It’s balanced by the winter solstice in December.
I’ve anxiously awaited this day for a number of reasons, not the least of which: it’s been so gray in DC this spring. My mood, and the moods of many DMV-area folk, is sinking to February levels. I’m hoping the cosmic strength of the summer solstice will reset our sunlight quotient for many months to come, and turn our frowns upside down.
Also, a bit selfishly, my spouse and I installed solar panels on our house this past November. We’ve been disappointed to see how little electricity the panels have generated: May and June are looking like February and March.
But back to the summer solstice.
Inspired by one of my yoga instructors, I engaged in internet sleuthing about the impact of the summer solstice on my yoga practice. I definitely wanted to set a summer solstice-related intention for June and weave some cosmic wisdom into my yoga instruction and coaching.
A little prep-knowledge. In yoga there are four parts or stages to a breath cycle: the inhale; the retention of the inhale; the exhale; the retention of the exhale.
At this moment, pre-summer solstice, we are currently in the exhale stage (cosmically speaking). At the point of the summer solstice, we enter the period of exhale retention. The summer solstice is a moment of cosmic pause. Laura Hand, in “Summer Solstice: Rhythm and Ritual Through Yoga,” describes the phenomenon and provided this chart.
From June 22, 2018 on, we pass the moment of “pause” into a moment of “holding in emptiness.” When I think of periods of emptiness, it’s often one of lacking and uncertainty, a period filled with fear of the unknown. We tend to not want to be in stages of emptiness or pause in most areas of our life (though some yogis I know lean heavily into them).
Laura Hand depicts the “pause”after the summer solstice as the “summer sigh.” Which I invite everyone to allow to infect their perception of “holding in emptiness.” I agree with Hand that summer tends to be fully embraced as a period of more emptiness, a slower time, with more ability to move, there’s a feeling and perception of more potential of what could happen during the summer. During the summer, many (though certainly not all people in the U.S.) seem to not be as confined by school and work. We are able to spend more time outside, in locations with more open space (i.e. the beach).
The first days of June I mulled over “the pause in the emptiness of the exhale” and landed on the word “release” as my intention for the month. Investigating and returning to this touchstone in my yoga practice, anti-racism/oppression journey, and artistic work has yielded some positive insights and cooled my jets. I’m definitely focused on on my breathing as a whole in my yoga practice, paying close attention to the exhalation and engagement of the core at the bottom of the exhale. I’ve gotten quite heated, and then productively (I hope!) let go of that heat, connected with “#metoo” issues that’ve surfaced in my community. I entered early into that place of unknown potential around Nice & Lily with collaborators close and far. Lastly, I was able to breathe through some triggering moments in a few meetings, maintain a calm outward demeanor (“releasing” my facial muscles), and then sit with the potential of so-now-what once collaborators had “exhaled” (aka shared some points of confusion or frustration).
A trip to the thesaurus got me spinning on “releasing” and how, thus far, I’d been mistaken about how nuanced and powerful “to release.” I’d taken for granted “releasing” as an act of relinquishing and abandonment, like giving up or giving in. If I’m in a position of power and I release it, that’s a sign of weakness. If I am holding tension, and I release it, there’s less effort and strength required. Oh goodness no.
Synonyms for “releasing” include “to let go,” “declare,” “liberate.” To release is an interruption, an effortful action, and an action for change
Situations that ask us to release most often are preceded by a phase of heated build up. This is part of the releasing process; we cannot release what has not intensified or accumulated. However: releasing is not a random burst of the bubble. Releasing requires a heightened moment of impact: words are written/read or spoken/heard, or a physical action is completed. Only then, release occurs. And it settles through a period of physical, emotional and spiritual shift. (Like the summer solstice?) The period afterward is the “new normal.” (The summer sigh that Hand describes?)
So this month, I’m looking at what’s escalating in me and the releasing actions I need to take. I’m looking at what’s building up around me and how that’s effecting me, and not only questioning what releasing-self-care do I need to engage in but what releasing actions can I take with my communities. For me, for us, this may not be the relaxing release in the immediate; however, in the long term a necessary shift may make it easier for all of us to breathe.