Yoga Wellness: Heads Up on Summer Solstice!

The summer solstice and midsummer fall on Wednesday, June 21 (just after midnight, EDT). It’s a fabulous day to enjoy nature, and to practice yoga, indoors and out. Or spend the day quietly in reflection, feeling the peaceful global energy. Or hang out, eat, and make merry on midsummer.

Background information on the solstice and its magic was provided in the Moon Wisdom post last week. Six weeks ago, I wrote about outdoor yoga events for Moonday (shared on Sphinx Yoga on Facebook as “Outdoor Yoga Time!”), and provided helpful tips. If you’re interested in the astrological significance of the 2017 summer solstice and its importance as the midpoint of the solar year (solstice to solstice), see the June 12 Moonday (linked on the Facebook Moonday).

There won’t be much solstice moonlight. But if you’re an early riser with clear eastern skies early next week, look predawn for the waning crescent moon with Venus as the “morning star.” It’s worth making the effort to see the two brightest night sky objects. Sunrise yoga and meditation can be wonderful, especially on the summer solstice. The first summer new (dark) moon arrives on Friday, June 23. It’s the subject of the Wonderful Moon that posts next week.

Celebrate the Sun

The solstice is about the sun and feeling the sun’s life-giving power. The sun seems to “stand still,” which is the meaning of solstice. Solar noon on the solstice is the highest, with the most direct sunshine for the Northern Hemisphere. And it’s the first day of summer, as well as the year’s longest day.

The summer solstice and midsummer are a yoga and multicultural, global party. Events may be widely known, such as the UN’s third annual International Day of Yoga, and Solstice in Times Square in New York City (lasting 12+ hours!). There are local events, streaming yoga and meditation classes, and classes at yoga studios indoors and at parks, on the beach, and at other outdoor locations.

Last year Deepak Chopra led an online global meditation for International Yoga Day. The Chopra Center hasn’t announced a solstice meditation for 2017. But, if interested, check back since Dr. Chopra often posts spontaneous meditations through Facebook.

There are many community events. Events are held to benefit a good cause, sometimes on a donation basis. Communities offer ethnic and street festivals with food, sidewalk arts and crafts, and other opportunities to feel the magic. A neighborhood park is imaginatively transformed for the Greensboro Summer Solstice Festival with flowers, food, vendors, and music in NC. Close to June 24, St. John’s Day feasts and bonfires celebrate St. John the Baptist and European culture. St. John’s also is a big day for Freemasons.

Solstice gatherings date to prehistoric times, such as celebrated at Stonehenge. Within yoga, there are a class options, including 108 sun salutation malas. While many are family friendly, others require focusing the mind. I’m teaching a gentle solstice class at Pure Light Yoga in High Point, NC.  Instead of a mala, we’ll practice candlelit stillness on the evening of the day that the sun seems to stand still.

Solstice FAQs follow. Registration may be required in advance, and there may be an admission fee and a charge to park. With streamed classes (including those offered in Times Square), sometimes you sign on at a specific time. Sometimes classes can be accessed later, although that may require a membership.

What Are the Dates?

For the eastern U.S., the summer solstice falls on Wednesday, June 21. Events are scheduled through a ten-day range in mid-June. The weekends before and after are popular, as is a day or two before or after June 20-21. Father’s Day falls on June 18, the Sunday before. Midsummer and St. John’s Eve and Day are traditionally celebrated on June 23-24, which was the date of the solstice on the Julian calendar.

Is Midsummer the Same as the Summer Solstice?

Midsummer is more cultural, compared with astronomical and astrological for the solstice. But they’re observed at same time. Midsummer is associated with St. John’s Day and Shakespeare. To Americans, midsummer is the less familiar, more European term. Midsummer and Litha are names for the summer solstice on the wheel of the year.

For natural religion Halloween is the cross-quarter day between the fall equinox and winter solstice or midwinter, and is associated with witches. In parts of Italy, St. John’s Eve is called La Notte delle Streghe, or the Night of the Witches. In Dutch and Germanic culture, Walpurgisnacht, or Witches Night, is observed on the eve of May Day.

Folklore and pagan traditions overlap for May Day (Beltane), midsummer (Litha), and Halloween (Samhain). The boundaries between this world and the next are said to be permeable at these times of year, which are important for the harvest. Liminal transitions are represented by fairies, elves, and witches, and are celebrated with fire rituals such as bonfires. Soft twilight brings evening magic.

Why 108 Sun Salutations and What Are the Benefits?

There probably are 108 reasons why the highly divisible number 108 is sacred. The number 108 is especially known for cosmic and astronomical significance. Prayer beads are strung on a mala of 108, often with an extra “guru bead” that represents the solstices. And the mala represents the ecliptic, the path of the sun. The distances and diameters of the sun, moon, and Earth correspond with 108. Lord Krishna had 108 servants or gopis. There are 108 Upanishads, 108 nadis or energy points in the body, and many other examples of the numerological power of mystical 108.

A mala of 108 sun salutations is traditionally practiced on the summer solstice. The mala preferably is practiced while facing the rising or setting sun to embody its radiant power and spiritual illumination. Hatha means “sun and moon” (ha + tha), and Surya Namaskar means to “salute the sun.” Some teachers change directions, so that the four cardinal points of the compass are touched during the salutation sequences. This maps with the four cardinal points of the year, which correspond with seasonal ingress, including the first day of summer, which is the summer solstice.

Sun salutations warm the body, as the sun warms the Earth. Yogic solar energy is hot and active. Salutations prepare the body for more strenuous and stretchy asanas, and connect mind with body, stoking our inner fires. Preventive maintenance to get the blood flowing, sun salutations burn calories, prevent injury, and lubricate joints.

Align with yogis across time and distance who too have practiced sun salutations. On the summer solstice in particular, connect with yogis across the world. It’s International Yoga Day with abundant peaceful energy that’s intuitively felt and shared across the global community. You might feel spent after 108 sun salutations. But your face and heart will smile.

What If I’m New to Yoga?

Yoga teachers plan with casual yogis and beginners of most ages in mind. Pretty much everyone is welcome. Don’t worry about not being able to keep up. I’ve participated in these events for several years, several times a year, and have never experienced 108 salutations without a break. They’re generally organized into groups of 12 (x 9 = 108) or 27 (x 4 = 108), often with a rotation of teachers.

A brief meditation may start things off with a well-earned savasana at the end. Malas move quickly and feel repetitious in a good way, following the rhythm of the breath. You can always take your own breaks and modify as works for you. Listen to your body and do what feels right.

During the breaks of a mala, I often look around to see how participants are doing. Are they having fun? If someone nearby seems to be struggling, I may tactfully reach out. An encouraging “atta girl” with a friendly smile, and maybe an offer to refill a bottle of water, can mean a lot. The mala may be the future yogi’s first step on an important life journey.

What If I Don’t Practice Yoga?

Maybe join your yogi friends after a mala or other class. There are all sorts of events, some of which are mentioned above. St. John’s Day is known for feasting. For fitness, there might be walk-a-thons and running marathons. In my area, a barre studio has scheduled a pop-up class on the night before the solstice. Health clubs and local Ys may offer family events.

Cities may offer neighborhood street parties, such as the exuberant Swedish midsummer festival on Friday, June 23, in Battery Park in lower Manhattan. In Utica, NY, an annual Masonic event is held for St. John’s Day. If it’s a clear night, away from city lights, perhaps joining a star party or visiting an observatory might appeal. Take advantage of no lunar glare to see Jupiter with its moons, Saturn with its rings, and some famous deep sky objects.

Recreational opportunities are varied in the mountains and near water, where spas and hotels sometimes schedule solar and lunar gatherings, open to guests and the community. If you’re on vacation, ask locals or look online for midsummer events. Check the summer calendars of museums, farmers markets, public parks, and shopping areas. Yoga retreats in exotic locations may honor the solstice. Sometimes non-yogis are welcome for portions of the program.

How Do I Prepare for a Solstice Event?

Dress appropriately for the weather and movement. Bring water and maybe a snack. Public events often have food trucks and vendors, so you’ll probably want to bring some cash. Since there may not be public facilities, plan in advance. You may need sensible shoes, and a change of clothes or a jacket. Sun and light rain protection is recommended. For yoga, you’ll at least need a mat, which sometimes can be borrowed or rented.

Consider the practicalities. Check when you’re supposed to arrive, transit times and rerouted traffic to accommodate crowds, and designated parking. Make sure that everyone below the age of 16 or so has supervision. Seniors may have difficulties with climbing stairs or being outside in the hot sun for an hour or more.

What If I’m Spooked by Crowds?

I’ve as often practiced yoga for the solstices and equinoxes alone as within communities. When it’s just me, I generally spread out the 108 sun salutations over a weekend (36 x 3, or 54 x 2 = 108). I work around the weather, sun, and moon. To keep it interesting, I vary the type and intensity of salutations. For instance, I mix in stretchy moon salutations. And I often dedicate my practice with peace and loving-kindness.

Recently I’ve used apps to help count down to 108. Many well-regarded yoga subscription services offer home-based practices. You can join online yoga challenges to roll into your personal observance. Maybe you’ll want to try veganism, fast, or do a cleanse. Solitary rituals include cleaning your home and burning sage, walking in nature, and sitting quietly in meditation.

Light scented candles and incense for Litha, particularly if it’s a cloudy day. Garden and safely burn branches afterward in a bonfire. Gather flowers. Botanical traditions often call for herbal and medicinal plants such as St. John’s wort. After the plants are dried, they’re kept for apothecary use, and used as decoration over an altar or hearth to help ward off evil spirits. Maybe divination feels right. Check out your horoscope for the second half of the solar year, then check in with yourself and set an intention. Release your blessings to the universe.

On Wonderful Moon

See the complementary Wonderful Moon post,Moon Wisdom: Sagittarian Full Moon + Summer Solstice Magic.” Next week, the Moon Wisdom post is on the super lunar new moon in Cancer that commences the first summer lunation. See my new weekly Moon Memes, posted on Instagram before the moon phases with a suggestion on yoga, coordinated with the lunar influence.

Wonderful Moon currently is published in two parts before the new and full moons. The focus is on viewing and experiencing the moon with lore, advice, and yoga-oriented body awareness that meshes with the phase, season, and astrological influences. The bimonthly posts are separated into Moon Wise and Yoga Wellness.

Photography: Outdoor yoga is highly recommended around the time of the summer solstice. I felt radiant while in this standing backbend, which is a common transition pose during sun salutations. My face and heart happened to catch and reflect the early evening sunlight. Although it may appear that I’m levitating, I’m standing on a Chum Mat on a tree stump.

Join Us! If you’re in central NC, I’m teaching a candlelit gentle solstice class on Wednesday, June 21, 5:45-7 pm, at Pure Light Yoga, in High Point, NC. Also, my teachers in downtown Durham, NC, offer a monthly mala on a donation basis that supports their LiveGlobally organization that benefits education in Nairobi, Kenya. Join the Global Breath Studio community for a yoga mala on Friday, June 23, 6-7:30 pm.

Sphinx Yoga
Written by Sphinx Yoga
A longtime yogi and night sky gazer, Wendy Sphinx has published Moonday and Sphinx Yoga for two years. She lives in NC and finishes 200-hour yoga teacher training this spring. Although she’s been exposed to many flavors of yoga, her current practice is Dharma-focused, which is where she began her journey many years and moons ago. She earned a doctorate in journalism from UNC-Chapel Hill, master’s and graduate women’s studies certificate at Duke, and undergraduate degree in writing and literature from NYU, with a summer session in science at Oxford University in the UK. A communications professor for 20 years, she has worked professionally in journalism, marketing and public relations since the 1980s. Her grandmother was an astrologer, and she grew up reading horoscopes and looking at the moon, planets, and stars through a backyard telescope. The Sphinx’s bimonthly column, Wonderful Moon, draws on this background to share lore, advice, and timely yoga tips for the new and full moon phases. Information on observing the moon is combined with astrological insights, consideration of nature and seasonal change, and the cycles of our lives. Beautiful lunar photography is provided by award-winning photographer and author Greg Diesel Walck.