There is a scientific side to yoga that is sometimes overlooked. The original yogis were scientists; they conducted experiments on their bodies and minds and then observed the results. Scientific observation requires an open mind, detachment, and letting go of preconceptions. Aquarius, which is the sign we are looking at this month, teaches us to combine science, creativity, and love to bring healing to ourselves and the world.
Key words for Aquarius are detachedly and scientifically. Louis MacNeice, in his book Astrology, refers to Aquarius as the awakener and “the sign of the yogi through the development of spiritual consciousness through contemplation.” The association of the sign with the third eye, or ajna chakra means it awakens the power of intuition. However, in Aquarius this intuitive insight is always backed up with rational, scientific knowledge. This Aquarian combination of a love for humanity, intuition, and evidence-based scientific knowledge could stand us in good stead as we grapple with modern dilemmas such as climate change, global warming, and vanquishing the virus.
When I was writing the Aquarius chapter of the Yoga by the Stars book, I gained an unexpected insight during a period of meditation, it was this:
Science will win the day if love takes it by the hand.
Science + creativity + love = hope for the world.
Currently, this insight seems particularly relevant as we struggle to find a way of emerging from a global pandemic.
The rulership of Uranus means that Aquarius is a rebel and likes to make waves. Aquarius is an idealistic sign that wants to change the world. If you had been granted three wishes to make the world a better place, what would you wish for? – What small steps could you take to make this ideal world become a reality?
Across the world many of us are living under restrictions that have been imposed to control the spread of the virus. Fortunately, although we may be confined by our circumstances, we can still find a sense of freedom through our practice of yoga. The Aquarius-inspired yoga practice, in the Yoga by the Stars book, is the perfect way to unlock your breath, your body, your mind, and your emotions, when they have become restricted during periods of lock down.
In the Aquarius-inspired yoga practice we use wavelike breathing combined with wavelike movements. We use the affirmation: The wave of the breath ripples through me.
Below is a section from the Aquarius-inspired yoga practice, the rest of the practice can be found in the Yoga by the Stars book.
Instructions for the rest of the Aquarius-inspired yoga practice can be found in the Yoga by the Stars book.
Here in the UK we are once again in Lock down. When you are living in lock down it is easy for your body, your mind, your emotions and your breathing to end up feeling, well, locked down. Today, I found it liberating to use the Aquarius-inspired yoga practice, from the Yoga by the Stars book, as my early morning yoga practice. By the end of the practice I felt open, at ease, and most importantly my breathing had freed up again.
In the Aquarius-inspired yoga practice, from the book, we use wavelike movements that ripple through the body. We use movements that flow into each other in a wavelike fashion, and there is an emphasis on observing the wavelike motion of the breath. Your breath is a wave, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing. The Sun, the Moon, the stars, and the Earth are all there in every breath you take. Wave upon wave, circles within circles, like a cosmic mandala.
The affirmation we use in the practice is: The wave of the breath ripples through me.
It can be coordinated with the breath:
Inhale: The wave of the breath
Exhale: Ripples through me
Find yourself a comfortable lying position. Bring your awareness to the natural rhythm of the flow of your breath. Over several breaths silently repeat this phrase: The wave of the breath ripples through me.
Now imagine that you are on the seashore, watching the waves rising and falling. Keep the image of the sea in your mind, and at the same time bring your awareness back to the natural flow of the breath. Notice the wavelike quality of the ebb and flow of your breath. Every so often return to the phrase: The wave of the breath ripples through me.
In the Aquarius-inspired yoga practice, featured in the Yoga by the Stars book, throughout the practice we keep bringing our awareness back to the wavelike quality of our breathing. At the end of the practice, you might, like me, still be living through lock down, but at least you will have experienced a taste of freedom!
There is a longer version of the Wavelike breathing practice in the Yoga by the Stars book.
The wisdom of Capricorn teaches us to work with our limitations and to rise above them. This in turn opens the door to transformation, and life comes alive again. In the Capricorn-inspired yoga practice in the Yoga by the Stars book, I have included asanas that restrict and bind the body, such as Eagle Pose (Garudasana), pictured above, and Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana). These restrictive poses give us the opportunity to relax into difficulty and so find the freedom inherent within the pose.
Below are some Capricorn-inspired meditation questions that will help you to explore your own attitude to approaching a challenging yoga pose:
The way we approach a challenging yoga pose often mirrors how we deal with life’s challenges generally. In a difficult yoga pose we come face to face with our habitual way of reacting to struggle; this opens the door to exiting a negative cycle of reaction and finding a new way of responding.
In asana practice we are continually exploring our boundaries. We discover how far we can push in a pose before we come up against our physical limitations. Then we must decide whether to push further to the point of pain or to back off and come back to our edge. The edge is the place where you feel a stretch, perhaps even mild discomfort, but you haven’t jumped off the cliff edge into pain.
For some people, a yoga asana becomes an enemy to be conquered. Pain is regarded as weakness and something to be pushed through to gain victory over the pose. However, if your experience of a pose is all push and no yield, then you miss out on the peace of yoga. Likewise, in life when challenges come up, if you react by telling yourself “get a grip” or “man up,” you miss out on the warmth of human connection that comes from revealing your softer, more vulnerable side.
Yoga teaches us how to discover the opportunities that lie dormant within our difficulties. When you attempt a challenging yoga pose, you are confronted with your physical, mental, and emotional limitations. If you listen, each asana will teach you how to respond rather than react to whatever arises. Then the skills we learn on the mat can be transferred to responding more skilfully when difficulties arise in life. In this way yoga can be a doorway to self-discovery.
Capricorn in Praise of the Pause
Capricorn: In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity
At those times in life when it feels as though every door has been shut in our face. We feel heavy, despondent, and lost. The wisdom of Capricorn teaches us to rest in the pause, which is especially relevant at present when the virus has paused so many aspects of our lives. Capricorn's wisdom teaches us to learn to trust that like the New Moon appearing in the night sky, new life will emerge from the darkness. This is the healing power of Capricorn, available to everyone, regardless of their Sun sign.
During the period of Capricorn, we leave behind the old year and walk through the doorway into a new year. The period between the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new one is an in-between time, a pause. Capricorn teaches us to learn to rest in that empty space between an ending and a new beginning. The pause can be a scary, bewildering place, especially if your default mode is keeping busy. The wisdom of Capricorn is that if you can allow yourself to fully experience emptiness, you create a space for new life, and new energy, to fill you up. It’s the medicine you need when you feel all used up, all energy spent, nothing more to give. If you can relax into this emptiness, if you can trust the pause, you will find that new ideas and fresh inspiration will come to fill you up again. The peace of the pause opens the door to rejuvenation and renewal.
Capricorn can be compared to the pause between the out-breath and the next inbreath. In yoga breathing, this pause between the breaths is the place where we find peace, rest, and renewal. It is the place where we allow our self to be emptied, creating the space for new life, new energy, to fill us up. We are literally inspired.
Try this: rest for a few breaths in a relaxing pose such as Child's Pose (Balasana) or Seated forward Bend (Pascimottanasana), and be particularly aware of the exhale, noticing the pause between each exhale and the next inhale. With each exhale feel yourself relaxing a little more deeply.
You will find more Capricorn-inspired yoga ideas in Chapter 13 of the Yoga by the Stars book.
See also: Capricorn: In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunity
The zodiac-inspired yoga practices that I have created for the Yoga by the Stars book have the potential to bring healing and transformation into your life regardless of your own Sun sign. Consequently, you can use all the practices as spiritual medicine to help you to balance and retune your lunar and solar energies. The healing potential of the sign Capricorn is particularly appropriate for these challenging times we are living through.
Capricorn: Transcend limitations and find liberation. Find new ways of working with and overcoming restrictions in your life. Discover the opportunities that lie dormant within your difficulties and open the door to self-discovery.
The wisdom of Capricorn brings us face to face with our limitations and opens the door to exploring fresh ways of working with these restrictions. Our willingness to acknowledge our limitations opens new possibilities of freedom and liberation. We find that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
The affirmation we use in the Capricorn practice is: I am open to new possibilities.
It can be coordinated with the breath:
Inhale: I am open
Exhale: To new possibilities
The wisdom of Capricorn is there for you at those times when life feels like a blank page and no words come. The ink has dried up, and you fear inspiration has run dry. At times when you are filled with self-doubt and feel all used up, it is there like the Sun appearing on the horizon at the start of a new day.
At those times in life when it feels as though every door has been shut in our face. We feel heavy, despondent, and lost. Yoga and the wisdom of Capricorn teach us to rest in the pause. We learn to trust that like the New Moon appearing in the night sky, new life will emerge from the darkness.
"There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth, beyond us all, beyond the heavens, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."
Chandogya Upanishad 3. 13. 7
Sagittarius is a mutable, positive, fire sign, ruled by Jupiter. The poet, Louis MacNeice, writes that the fire of Sagittarius is the purifying blue fire at the heart of the flame, and this can be a beautiful image to explore and seek out in your yoga practice. In the Northern Hemisphere the Sagittarian dates correspond with our entering into the depths of winter, so this blue flame image, when introduced into a yoga practice or meditation, can be a way of bringing light into the darkness.
Over the autumn I’ve really enjoyed seeing Jupiter, the ruling planet of Sagittarius, bright and jewel like in the night sky. Our ancestors looked up at the stars and saw them as sacred. They perceived divinity within the stars and felt that same spark of divinity within themselves. To them, the cosmos was a soulful place that they were part of and at one with. You can engender that same sense of reverence and wonder by regularly taking time to be mindful of the night sky. Take a few minutes each day to mindfully connect with the night sky. This can be as simple as looking up at the sky out of your window or stopping your car (when it’s safe to do so) and parking somewhere to look up at the sky.
A great way to promote a good night’s sleep is to take a mindful walk an hour or so before bedtime. This is an enjoyable exercise to do with a companion. Every so often stop and look up at the sky. What do you see? Some nights you will see a splendid Moon; other nights it will be cloudy and no stars in sight; and on a clear night the stars will stretch out before you.
Whether you live in the city or the country, the sky is always there for you, and it provides the perfect way to connect with the cosmos. At any time, looking up at the sky and being mindful of it creates a sense of spaciousness and freedom. It gives us a sense of perspective, and our problems shrink back down to size. It provides a canvas for our creativity, and we find our ideas flow more freely. Gazing mindfully at the sky allows us to connect with a universe that is constantly changing. In the day you’ll see clouds passing by, and at night you’ll be treated to a changing starscape. It also engenders a sense of union and oneness with the world around you.
In the Yoga by the Stars book you will find a Mindfulness of the Night Sky Meditation and a Sagittarius-inspired yoga practice.
The Power of Clear Intention
Expand Your Horizons
The symbol for Sagittarius is the centaur with bow and arrow. In Rome the constellation of Sagittarius was associated with Diana, the goddess of the bow. In the Sagittarius-inspired yoga practice, in the Yoga by the Stars book, we use asanas inspired by archery imagery. We combine the arm movements of drawing your bow and releasing an arrow with familiar poses such as the Lunge Pose (Anjaneyasana) and Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana). We also explore the tautness of the archer’s bow through poses such as a Lunge Pose variation and Bow Pose (Dhanurasana). The practice is calming, grounding, centring, energizing and improves focus.
Warrior Archer Pose (Virabhadrasana variation)
It can be enriching for the yoga practitioner to find out more about the skills and discipline of archery, some of which are very similar to those we cultivate in yoga, such as balancing effort (sthira) and relaxation (sukha).
The affirmation we use in the Sagittarius-inspired yoga practice is:
My intention is clear, and opportunities arise.
It can be coordinated with the breath:
Inhale: Clear intention
Exhale: Opportunities arise
Intention is a powerful force that can work miracles when combined with wisdom. The Scottish mountaineer, William Hutchison Murray, wrote, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”
Like an archer drawing back the string of her bow, eye fixed upon the target, yoga teaches us to set our intention. When we practice yoga, we consciously direct our intention to a chosen object. Even though our mind might be flitting all over the place, we continue to draw our attention back to a fixed point, such as the flow of the breath, sensations in the body, or whatever we have chosen to focus on during that session. This concentrated narrowing of our attention leads to an expansive, spacious, state of consciousness.
Expand Your Horizons
Expansion is one of the key words associated with the sign Sagittarius, other key words are widely, deeply, and free-ranging. The symbol for the sign is a centaur, which is half-horse and half-human. The power of the hips and thighs are said to be Sagittarian, and this correlates with the desire to travel far and wide. The sign conjures up images of freedom, wide open spaces, blue skies, and wild horses roaming free across moorland. At a time when the virus has imposed many restrictions on our lives, regardless of what our own sign is, we can look to Sagittarius to inspire us to expand our sense of what is possible.
There are many obstacles that prevent us from travelling far and wide at present. Here in the UK we are just beginning a month long lock down. However, although we are limited in where we can physically travel, there is no limit to where we can go in our imagination! We can visualise beautiful places without all the hassle of airport security! We can also practice mindfulness so that we fully enjoy the beauty of where we are now. We can be present to and savour the sound of autumn leaves underfoot, clouds rushing across a blue sky, wind on our face, a child's smile, the sun setting, the moon rising, or stars in the night sky.
A few years ago I heard an interview with a blind man who had climbed Kilimanjaro and he was making a tough expedition to the South Pole. He said, "Whatever your disability, think about what you can do, not your limitations." At the time I heard those words I was struggling with anxiety, and it was causing me to avoid certain situations, which was creating limitations in my life. I decided to adopt the mantra, "Think about what you can do, and not your limitations", and this enabled me to stop being so focussed on what anxiety was preventing me from doing, and to start doing the things I was able to do. In turn, once I was doing more, my confidence increased and I was more able to tolerate the inevitable anxiety that comes from taking on new challenges. I've also found this positive can-do approach has helped during the current Coronavirus crisis. Although I think it is important to acknowledge our sadness and sense of loss over the things we are no longer able to do because of the virus restrictions, at the same time I think it's good to be on the lookout for those activities that we are safely able to do, and so expand our horizons.
Our yoga practice can also help to stop our world from shrinking, and help us to maintain an expansive, open attitude. With all the uncertainty in the world it's easy to develop a pattern of anxiously holding your breath in anticipation of events to come. Your yoga practice will remind you to breathe. You will feel yourself expanding and drawing in life energy as you inhale, and relaxing a you exhale. Life comes alive again.
Our meditation practice can also help us to cultivate an attitude of joyfulness, even in the face of difficulties, and bring light into the darkness. The Breathe and Smile Meditation, included in the Sagittarius chapter of the Yoga by the Stars book, encourages you to maintain a clear, focused attention while at the same time joyfully lightening up. The meditation fits in with the cheerful optimism and joviality that is associated with the Sagittarius sign.
The Breathe and Smile Meditation
Each chapter in the Yoga by the Stars book has an affirmation that relates to the chapter’s zodiac-inspired yoga theme and condenses it down into one short inspirational phrase. The affirmations are a simple and effective way of steering yourself in the direction of developing positive qualities and attitudes.
The affirmation for the Scorpio chapter, which is the sign we are focussing on this month, is Love surrounds all my feelings. You can silently repeat it at any time during the day to uplift and inspire. Or say it just before going to bed in the evening or upon waking in the morning. For example, when you wake up in the morning, you could repeat the affirmation Love surrounds all my feelings three times, and this would set a loving and courageous tone for the day. You could also repeat it just before you go to bed, and then it will be working in your subconscious overnight.
The affirmation can be repeated a few times at the start and end of your yoga practice or silently repeated while you hold a yoga pose. When you step onto your yoga mat, you could begin your practice with the affirmation. Then, when you are holding a pose, you could repeat, Love surrounds all my feelings.
The shortened version of the affirmations can be coordinated with the breath as a meditation or used when you are coordinating dynamic yoga movements with the breath. If you’re using poses dynamically by, for example, going into Up-face-Dog on the inhalation and into Child Pose on the exhalation (see below), you could say Love surrounds as you inhale and All my feelings as you exhale.
Inhale: Love surrounds
Exhale: All my feelings
At the end of the session, just before you go into relaxation, repeat the affirmation a few more times. During your relaxation, you could silently repeat the affirmation coordinated with a slow, relaxed breathing pattern as a meditative way of focusing and calming the mind.
Our yoga practice can provide us with the stability to do the warrior work of approaching and befriending our fears. In the more challenging asanas, we learn how to lean into discomfort, finding our edge without leaping off it into full-blown pain. We also cultivate compassion for our struggles and difficulties, surrounding them with love and understanding, and the affirmation Love surrounds all my feelings helps us to do this.
You can find more Scorpio-inspired yoga ideas in the Scorpio chapter of the Yoga by the Stars book.
Suffering is not Enough
Face Fear and Find Freedom
Hello, I am Jilly Shipway, the author of Yoga Through the Year, and my forthcoming book Yoga by the Stars. In this Yoga by the Stars blog I will share with you zodiac-inspired yoga insights and inspiration. I also have another blog on my Yoga Through the Year website.