Yoga And Breathing For Cooling Down On Hot Days06/05/2021, Mollie McClelland Morris
Summer can be a time of increased desire for physical activity so it makes a great time to practice yoga. But some of us experience lethargy in the heat and might look to yoga for a way to cool down and replace more strenuous exercise. So how can we adapt our yoga for the summer months to get the best out of it, and to help the body cool down?
Many yoga classes are very flowing practices that involve repetitively standing up and coming down to the floor. In sun salutations, a modern yoga stable, you go from standing, taking arms up, to doing a push up on the floor, to downward dog on the hands and feet, and then back up to standing. Ashtanga, vinyasa or dynamic flow and power yoga are some styles that use this form as a base.
Hot yoga is structured differently, with more steady movements, sometimes held for longer. The sequences usually involve a series of standing poses, then sitting poses and then prone or supine poses. This type of sequencing can be better in summer. Not so much movement, swinging the head down and up, and more steady time in an individual pose.
If you are suffering from the heat, you can focus on poses that are seated, on all fours, or lying supine or prone. You can do great work on your back muscles by working with the cobra pose, and Salabhasana (aka boat, laying on your belly and lifting head, shoulders and legs). From all fours, you can work both with abdominal tone (bringing the knee forward towards the nose, back support (extending one leg up to the back), shoulder strength (using different arm variations), spinal mobility (cat/cow or intuitive spinal movements) or any of the above with bird dog (opposite arm and leg lifted up) variations.
You Can Try:
- Start on all fours. Moving your spine forward and backwards, looking up above you and then into your navel. Connect your movement to your breathing. Then explore different spinal movements. I like to imagine my torso is in a barrel and I’m touching the sides of the barrel with my ribs.
- Take breaks in Child's pose when you need to, and feel free to use a prop, like a rolled towel under your forehead for comfort.
- Try lifting a leg and circling it around in all different directions, to move your hip joint. Do both sides. Then take one hand off the floor and touch your fingers to your shoulder. Circle the elbow around in different directions for as long as you like. Move slowly and be interested in how it feels.
- Then come back to all fours and play with lifting one hand and the opposite leg (Bird dog). You can stay in that position and work with your balance for 5-10 breaths or try touching your knee to nose and elbow to belly.
IMAGERY & THOUGHTS
Many of us approach yoga with the spirit of trying to do our best and push ourselves as much as we can. But we could explore whether this is the best strategy. What if instead of trying to work your hardest, you try to make the pose easy in your body. You could imagine you are being lifted up by balloons, or even that someone else is doing the movement for you. This can reduce our overall effort. But I’ll tell you a secret. You get great benefits from this kind of movement as it can make you more efficient overall.
You Can Try:
- In a standing pose like warrior 2, you have your arms straight out to the side. Rather than reaching with your arms, as you might do, imagine your arms resting on light fluffy (cool) clouds.
- Sit on the floor with your legs wide, but comfortable. Bend one knee so your foot is close to your pelvis (you might want to put a folded towel or small cushion under this knee). Lift the bent leg arm and side stretch over the straight leg. You can use that hand on the floor for support. Then, put the bent leg arm on the floor behind your thigh. Sweep the straight leg arm in a circle across your face and lift up your hips. (Your weight will be supported by one knee, one hand and your opposite foot). You might get a long side stretch through that side, as well as a little challenge to your supporting arm. Maybe you can sweep back and forth between these two positions by imagining you are painting the air or being lifted by puppet strings.
Whenever you practice yoga (and as much as possible in daily life) it is best to breathe through your nose. Breathing through the mouth can make us pant, and it increases the heat in the body. Plus it is generally unhealthy. So if you are feeling a bit more lethargic, it might be a good time to focus on breathing.
You Can Try:
- Sit comfortably (on a chair or floor whichever allows you to sit straighter). Put your hands on your ribs. Focus on taking slow breaths through the nose. Make your pace sustainable, so you don’t take your slowest breath and then follow with faster breaths. Making your pace light, steady and slow is most important. One technique is coherent breathing, where you breathe in for a count of 5 or 6 and out for a count of 7 or 8, longer than your inhale, but just a little.
- Another yogic technique is Sama Vritti, which means equal wave. In that technique, inhale and exhale for the same length of time. You can add a pause after inhaling, and eventually a pause after exhaling. Aim for each pause to be equal in duration, but don’t stress about that. Keep it flowing and easy.
- The last yogic breath technique for cooling is called Stall Pranayama. In this one, you breathe in and then breathe out slowly through a rolled tongue (the two sides pinched together like a little straw). Not everyone can do that position with the tongue, so narrowly pursing the lips is also fine. The air will feel cold when it leaves your mouth!
Breathing exercises can be practised for three minutes and have great benefits. So set yourself a reasonable target for your breathing practice, and put on a timer, or a relaxing song that you like to help you not think too much about the time. You can visualise or imagine your body cooling down, and that will really help.
In the summer we can adapt our practices by slowing down, doing less up-and-down off the floor movements, and focusing on gentle movements and breathing. But you can still get great benefits from doing yoga, so don’t forget to make some time to practice.
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|About The Author|
With nearly 20 years of experience, Mollie McClelland Morris unites the beauty and wisdom of yoga with embodied self-inquiry, physical challenge, sensitivity and fun. In individual, bespoke, and online courses, she uses a range of practical embodiment approaches to bring us into connection with our body, to better navigate the challenges of life.