Summer’s in full swing, and while that means lots of good things, it can also feel a little too hot sometimes. Most of us love the chance to get outdoors more often to enjoy warmer temps and longer days, but too much heat and humidity can feel oppressive. Pushing yourself physically in these conditions can bring on mild discomfort at best, and heat-related illness at worst. So if you need a break from wiping the sweat out of your eyes, balance out the dog days of summer with a cooling yoga practice. Tap into your body’s natural ability to cool itself down and restore energy that’s been sapped by the heat with slow, gentle movements.
There is an Ayurvedic saying: like increases like and opposites balance. Many of us are drawn to a yoga practice that is heating and stimulating (think Power, Ashtanga, Vinyasa Flow). In these practices our movements are typically quick, our breath strong in order to build internal heat as we go. You might notice that it’s a lot tougher to drag yourself to a hot, sweaty yoga class on a sweltering summer day; that makes perfect sense. A few tips for keeping your cool with summertime asana practice:
- If you want to continue a vigorous practice when it’s hot outside, try to get to a morning class before the heat of the day hits full force. Choose a class that does not take place in a heated room. Think slow flow.
- Ask your yoga teacher about a cool-down sequence, to balance out sun salutations, backbends, and other poses that are heat builders. Good cool-down asanas include shoulderstand, plow, fish, and supine spinal twists.
- Chill out your mindset by cultivating non-competitiveness in your yoga practice. (Hint: non-competitive types flock to restorative yoga.)
- Surrender to poses, instead of struggling; this may mean modifying a pose to make it easier. You can challenge yourself in the same pose when it’s not in the 90s outside.
- Establish a cooling breathing pattern by making your exhales longer than your inhales.
- Practice with a soft gaze: keep it towards the ground to cool and calm your energy.
- Practice the following moon sequence at least 2-3 times a week when it’s hot outside.
Salute the cooling energy of the moon with the gentle flow of Chandra Namaskar. You have a couple options: you may slow this down by taking 5-10 breaths in each pose, or you may slow flow with the breath instructions given below. With the slow flow option, repeat the entire salutation 5-7 times, and then rest in easy virasana for 3-5 minutes. You can also rest here in between salutations for 3-5 breaths.
- Start in easy virasana, hero pose, sitting on your heels with a straight spine.
- EXHALE into child’s pose. Take one full breath + INHALE.
- EXHALE into downward dog. Take one full breath + INHALE.
- EXHALE into child’s pose. Take one full breath.
- INHALE into half camel. Take one full breath + INHALE.
- EXHALE into easy virasana.
FORWARD FOLD WITH OPTIONAL ‘FOREHEAD FREEZE’
Forward bends are soothing for a frazzled, overheated nervous system.
- From a seated position, take your feet apart, about 85% of your full range. Make sure you are up on your sit bones, vs. having your tailbone tucked under with your back rounded; your upper body should be able to angle forward with a straight back.
- Flex your feet strongly so your toes point to the sky.
- Bring your hands in front, and slowly walk them forward until you reach your limit (your back will start to round). Place one or two yoga blocks (you can also stack books, and put a towel or pillow over them for cushioning) under your forehead for support.
- Stay here for 5-10 minutes. Keep your feet flexed to maintain alignment in the legs.
- Forehead freeze option: Put a cool gel pack that was chilled in the freezer on top of the block(s), so it is directly under your forehead, and chill.
LAY LOW VINYASA
This sequence keeps you on your back and low to the ground, two positions I always find to be soothing. It’s also a great release for the low back. As with the moon salutation, you may slow this down by taking 3-5 breaths in each pose, or you may slow flow with the breath instructions given below. With the slow flow option, repeat the entire salutation 3-5 times, and then rest with knees to chest for a few minutes. You can also rest here in between salutations for 3-5 breaths.
- Start by laying on your back with your feet in the air, ankles aligned over hips. Flex your feet, as if you could leave a footprint on the ceiling. Take a full breath and INHALE.
- EXHALE your feet up and back behind your head, taking gentle hold of your calves. It’s fine if you have some space between your legs and upper body. Take a full breath and INHALE.
- EXHALE to place your feet on the ground with your knees bent. Align your knees over your ankles, and don’t let the knees open. INHALE lift your hips into bridge pose. Take a full breath and INHALE.
- EXHALE, lower your hips and draw your knees to your chest. Stay here for a few breaths, or rock and roll up and down your spine a few times (inhale back, exhale up).
Matsyasana, fish pose, is cooling and calming, and releases heat from the solar plexus. I love the feeling of stretching the throat, and the way it gives you that upside-down perspective without having to invert anything below the neck.
- Lie on your back and place your hands under your bum. When you do this, keep the arms alongside the body; don’t let the elbows flare out.
- Push down through your elbows to lift up your chest and chin. Drop the crown of the head back to the floor; don’t take a lot of weight into the head, most of the weight bearing should be in your forearms.
- Pay attention to the position of the shoulders; don’t allow them to be hunched. Point or flex the feet to keep the legs active.
- Stay here for 5-10 breaths.
- To come out of fish, push down through your elbows as you lift your head, tucking the chin towards your chest and looking to your feet. Then allow the head to gently release to the floor.
SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA
Supta BK invites surrender. Finish your practice in this pose, or if you only have time for one, this is it. Do it at the end of a long, hot day.
- Lay on your back.
- Bring the soles of the feet together so that your knees open out. You can play around with the distance between your feet and hips; the more you bring your feet in, the more hip opening it will be. For less intensity, take your feet further away from your hips. If you have 2 yoga blankets or big books, you can place those under your knees for support.
- Bring one hand to your heart, and the other over your belly.
- Stay here for at least 10 minutes, keeping your awareness on your breath and feeling it with your hands. When you finish, slowly bend your knees and bring your feet flat, then roll to one side and draw the knees into the chest. Sit up slowly.
Sitali pranayama is used to prevent overheating and get rid of toxins. It doesn’t, however, look very pretty. Do it when you are feeling overheated; try it before you come indoors to air conditioning, to transition the body from hot to cold temps with less of a shock.
- Curl the sides of your tongue and stick the tip of your tongue out. Keep your lips as relaxed as possible.
- Inhale through your “tongue tube”, then press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth as you exhale through your nose. Try to make your exhale longer than your inhale. Notice the coolness of the air as you inhale through your tongue tube.
- Repeat 5-10 times. Close your eyes when you finish, and take a few deep breaths.
Some like it hot, but remember that opposites balance! Here’s to finding ways to be both hot and cool this summer.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Montana-People.com