Sections of this article appear in The Yoga Almanac: 52 Practices and Rituals to Stay Grounded Through the Astrological Seasons, March 2020, New Harbinger Publications. Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. © 2020 Lisette Cheresson & Andrea Rice.
Summer’s on: the season of lush blooming, levity, and play. The summer solstice kicks off Cancer season on June 20 or 21 of every year—the beginning of a kind of spiritual homecoming. While this playful and relaxed season may feel busy for its rush of social events and vacations, Cancer season is an opportunity to consider exactly what enables a sense of security and safety, even in the throes of external obligation. In this season of bounty, our practices become a conduit for exploration of the abundance within; a means to tend our inner gardens so that we may maximize the intake of our spiritual harvest.
Cancer season asks us what it truly means to come home to ourselves, and to create the conditions to thrive in that nest.
As the fourth sign of the zodiac wheel, Cancer symbolizes the divine feminine and is ruled by the moon, and is associated with the third eye (Ajna) chakra in Vedic astrology. During Cancer season, taking time for introspection and nurturing the self can help us get back in touch with our heart’s true desires. At the solstice, then, we can recognize the sun as well as the moon. Cancer is symbolized by the Crab, with its hard protective outer shell that provides a home wherever it goes. Despite its thorny exterior, the Crab, of course, has a soft, sensitive underbelly that literally feels every bump on the road. It’s the dichotomy of safety and sensitivity, of protection and vulnerability. As social engagements ramp up, the Crab’s soft underbelly reminds us to remain soft and easy, even as we guard our own time.
The symbolic relationship of the Divine Feminine and the Crab is interesting to note, as maternal energy is at once fiercely protective, while remaining a gentle salve for pain. In the wake of the pandemic, the energies of Cancer season are even more pertinent, as we embrace the return of in-person gatherings while remaining sensitive to our collective losses and protective of our personal (and collective!) health.
How Cancerian Energy Shows Up on the Mat
The idea of nurturing a home within oneself is, in fact, one of the most basic ideas of yoga philosophy. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the niyamas, the code of ethics that asks us to go inward, and tend to ourselves in order to be of service. The five niyamas are saucha (cleanliness, meaning taking care of your body); santosha (contentment, creating the conditions for sustainable serenity); tapas (discipline, a “burning away” desires or needs that keep us spiritually trapped); svadhyaya (self-reflection or self-knowledge); and isvaraprahnidaha (surrender).
When we turn inward and create the conditions for a healthy, balanced, protective but soft relationship with ourselves, we are most able to embrace the joy and levity of the summer season.
Poses for Cancer Season
Supine Knee-to-Chest Pose (Apanasana)
Prana is our life force, the energy that moves through us, carried on breath and nurtured in practice. Apana, conversely, is the release of prana; the breath moving outward, clearing the body of toxins. Directly translated from Sanskrit as “wind relieving pose,” Knee-to-Chest Pose cleanses the home of our body with vital life force. Beginning in Corpse Pose connects us to the ground. Tilting the pelvis slightly forward can help to release tension in the lumbar to draw the lower back into a natural C-shape curve, and alleviate sciatic pain. Rocking back and forth and in circular motions around the back of the pelvis can mitigate tension in this region. Hugging knees to chest stimulates the abdominals and improves digestion.
Connection to the earth grounds us into our root (Muladhara) chakra, our seat of familial ties and ancestral memory, encouraging us to connect to that foundation from which to grow. Our third (Solar Plexus) chakra is our center of confidence; the power center of self. When we nourish the home of our body, we create the sense of confidence to go forward into the world.
Reclined Bound Angle, Cobbler’s Pose, or Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Bound Angle, also known as Cobbler’s Pose, was named for the sitting position of cobblers in India. This posture cultivates softening and stillness, helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, our rest-and-digest response. In yin yoga, the shape, known as Reclined Butterfly, is often supported with props, such as blocks placed beneath the outer knees, for comfort, longevity, and a deeper, more meditative experience.
Reclined Bound Angle is a restorative hip-opener that stretches the groins and inner thighs, and stimulates the abdominal and reproductive organs. This rouses the sacral (Svadhisthana) chakra; aligning with these creative waters invokes the fertility of the goddess Shakti to give birth to new ideas. A gentle opening of the chest and heart (Anahata) chakra is facilitated by placing the arms wide, grabbing opposite elbows overhead, or drawing the arms into a cactus shape. For a deeper internal experience, palms may rest on the belly as the gaze is directed to the third eye (Ajna) chakra.
Ancient Buddhist art depicts Lotus Pose as the posture the Buddha, Siddhartha, took while sitting in meditation for seven weeks, which led to his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Full Lotus is an advanced seated pose that requires flexibility in the legs and knees, and strength in the core. If range of motion is limited in the hips or the knees are sensitive, try crossing one leg for half Lotus. If half Lotus is not accessible, try Easy Pose (Sukhasana) as an alternative. Lotus cultivates a strong sense of stability and grounding, and allows the spine to lengthen. Consistent practice can help to stimulate blood flow in the pelvic region, which helps relieve menstrual tension or sciatica pain.
A meditation pose, Lotus engages the root (Muladhara) chakra and the third eye (Ajna) chakra. The third eye is associated with the moon, the cosmic ruler of Cancer. Drawing your attention to the space between your eyebrows provides a direct lifeline back to your own sense of inner knowing. Lotus Pose is most associated, however, with the opening of the crown (Sahasrara) chakra. Symbolized by a thousand-petaled lotus flower, an open and receptive crown chakra is the manifestation of our personal blossoming; of the deep personal work that has allowed us to grow into our fullest potential. Optionally, bring the heels of the palms together, with the thumbs and pinky fingers to touch, to form a Lotus mudra.
Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)
Goddess energy, the creative energy of the universe, is discussed in tantric texts as Shakti energy, the feminine psycho-spiritual force that balances the masculine Shiva. It can manifest in myriad ways: A call to delve into personal discovery, to nurture a deep, honest relationship with the innermost self, and to always live in the pursuit of passion. “Utkata” roughly translates from the Sanskrit as “powerful” or “fierce.” Goddess Pose awakens the Shakti energy we all, regardless of gender, possess.
This empowering pose requires balance and stability, and provides a deep stretch to the inner thighs, hips, and groin, as well as core engagement. It’s a heat-building pose that stimulates and supports good circulation, and is also a pelvic floor strengthener that may be used in preparation for childbirth.
Goddess Pose stimulates the sacral (Svadhisthana) chakra, the center of creativity and sensuality. As the third (Manipura) chakra is engaged, the spine can lengthen to allow energy to flow freely. Engagement of this power center bolsters the foundation of our inner reserves as we pursue our personal passions.
Lisette is a writer, yoga teacher, and content director. She’s a member of the founding leadership team for Yoga Unify, a new yoga non-profit, the Director of Marketing at Mammoth Yoga Festival, and the co-author of The Yoga Almanac. Lisette completed her 200-hour training in Brooklyn and her Reiki attunement in India, and furthered her studies with Leslie Kaminoff of the Breathing Project, Tiffany Cruikshank, and Andrew Holecek. She’s also a Grief Coach and Death Doula, whose work is focused on integrating the tools of mindfulness and asana for grief healing and end-of-life anxiety. A filmmaker in a past life, Lisette has made videos with community leaders such as Dharma Mittra, Eddie Stern, and Eoin Finn. She lives with her husband and animals in the Hudson Valley, NY..
Andrea Rice is a writer and editor covering health and wellness. Her work has appeared in Yoga Journal, The Wanderlust Journal, mindbodygreen, Astrostyle, SONIMA, and New York Yoga+Life. She has 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 furthered her training with Elena Brower and Alexandria Crow. She has also studied astrology extensively with The AstroTwins, Ophira and Tali Edut. Andrea has offered yoga, meditation, journaling, and creativity workshops in Brooklyn and Manhattan in New York, NY; and has been a presenter at Wanderlust. She lives in Raleigh, NC, with her husband and their cat, where she teaches yoga at Blue Lotus and the North Carolina Museum of Art.