Have you been feeling fatigued, anxious, or stressed? It might have something to do with the time of year. We’ve officially reached late summer. It’s a time of change for us, and it’s the fifth official season in Chinese medicine.
According to the Chinese Five Element Theory, each season corresponds with one of the five primary elements found in nature: wood, fire, earth, metal, or water. These same five elements govern the function of specific organs, so imbalances in any of the elements can adversely affect our physical and psychological health.
Late summer, which begins at the end of August and lasts through the autumn equinox, is ruled by the earth element. This short season signals a transition from outward-focused, active yang energy to introspective yin energy. During this period of rapid change, we must slow down and remain centered to prepare for what lies ahead. For many of us, that means returning to school or work.
Chinese medicine does not separate mind and body. The earth element governs the stomach and spleen, which are digestive organs that turn nutrients into energy. When our stomach meridian is balanced, we feel calm and composed. An imbalance, on the other hand, is characterized by anxiety, overthinking, and depression. Improper function of either the stomach or spleen may cause us to feel foggy, sluggish, and weak.
Yoga can be used to activate the earth element meridians to combat fatigue and regain balance. Poses like Sun Salutations, twists, and inversions target the belly, spleen, and lungs to stimulate healthy digestion. The resulting increase in blood flow delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, which helps to regulate and replenish energy.
In this transitional season, finding balance is about taking the time to nourish our bodies, especially the digestive system! Below are a few simple yoga poses to incorporate into your home practice that will support healthy digestion, relieve stress, and release stagnant energy.
Prayer twist pose
This deep twist promotes mental clarity, relieves stress, improves circulation, and detoxifies your entire system—all while toning your butt. Subtle pressure massages your kidneys, liver, and spleen to stimulate digestion and the removal of waste.
Start in Chair Pose: Bring your heels together and sit back into an imaginary chair. From here, bring your palms together in prayer at heart center. Rotate your rib cage and hook your left elbow on the outside of your right thigh. Glance down to make sure that your knees are in alignment, and then turn your gaze up. Repeat on the other side.
Wide-leg forward fold
This inversion pose relaxes the nervous system and increases blood flow by allowing the head to fall below the heart. The gentle folding motion squeezes the belly to encourage digestion.
With your arms extended like wings, find a wide stance with your feet parallel. Slowly dive forward, hinging from your hips, and then release your hands to the floor. Relax your neck. If your upper back starts rounding, bend your knees, shorten your stance, and bring your hands to your calves to maintain a flat spine.
Poses like this allow fresh blood and nutrients to flood your digestive organs, providing nourishment and leaving you feeling rejuvenated.
To make your way into this soothing, restorative posture, begin by lying on your back. Stretch your left leg long and hug your right knee into your chest. Guide your knee across your body so that your hips are stacked. Extend your right arm and gaze softly over your fingertips. Repeat on the other side.
Amanda McMorran is a Los Angeles–based yoga instructor, artist, and writer. Follow her on Instagram @amanda_mcmorran.