If you don’t already know, up here in Seattle, we do not get as much sun as the rest of the country does. In fact, a lot of our days are cloudy and gray. But if you have lived here for a while, you begin to fall in love with it. Trust me, it took me a couple of years and lots of complaining to see this new found love for the weather. This year, we had a record 182 days of rain straight and we ended up breaking a 122-year-old record. Our summer has been unusually cool and wet, so imagine our surprise and joy when we hit close to 100 degrees this past weekend. Phew! Even though I grew up in India, my body and brain have totally forgotten what the heat is like. And so when I taught my yoga classes and even in my own yoga practice, I turned towards more cooling yoga poses to help everyone stay cooler in their practice. While I am a firm believer that yoga practice needs to change with the seasons – this heat is a perfect opportunity to introduce some change and practice a little differently. While my list is long, here are my top 5 yoga poses to stay cool this summer.
Why modify yoga practice in the summer heat?
You might be wondering why I am asking you to change your practice during the intense heat. Especially if you are a hot yoga practitioner. And you love the heat. Our bodies change every day and this is visible in our habits every season.Our body has its own way of regulating internal body temperature, for example, in summer our bodies crave lighter, hydrant rich foods like watermelon, grapes, pineapples, cucumbers etc…We also inculcate certain practices like wearing cotton clothes, hats, sunglasses, flip flops, seek shade etc…to keep this internal temperature regulated. So why ignore this when it comes to our yoga practice?
Do you know that every yoga pose is either heating, cooling or neutral? And that by changing it up ever so often, we are doing our body better. If you are unwilling to change your practice, I ask you – would you be willing to eat the same meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of your life? If your answer is no, then realize that you are either over attached or that your practice is driven by your ego perhaps? This summer can be the perfect opportunity to practice some non-attachment to yourself as you indulge in our top 5 yoga poses to beat the summer heat.
What yoga poses to avoid in the summer heat?
In general, if you are not used to the heat or need time to acclimate toning down the intensity or avoiding these poses on a very hot day will be helpful. Please understand that I am not asking you to completely give up these yoga poses. You can and must do all yoga poses on a regular basis, but if the heat is draining you where you feel faint on the mat, these would be the yoga poses to avoid.
If you are rather advanced in your practice, some of these so-called strenuous poses may not feel too strenuous to you. But if you are an intermediate practitioner, you might need to reexamine the following.
- Deep Backbends – think Urdhva Dhanurasana, Dwi pada vipreeta Dandasana etc…
- Arm Balances – In general, any arm balance yoga pose is heating in nature (unless you are an adept yogi where all poses feel like Shavasana).
- Sun Salutations & Vinyasa or Flow – this is where most heat is created. Modern day vinyasa is aimed at building up the heat to burn the body of impurities. But in summer, this can be excessive. Tone down some flow and focus on moving with control and steadiness instead.
- Quick transitions – the faster you move, the more aerobic it becomes. So your breath will be faster. This shorter, rapid breath will end up overheating you quickly.
- Rapid Breathing – the simplest thing to do is to take notice of your breath in hot room. Inhalations have a tendency of heating you up. Whereas, the exhalation breath is cooling in nature. So on a hot day, what you want is a longer exhalation in your practice. To help regulate the internal build up of heat.
- Exhaling through the mouth – A lot of modern yoga teachers often ask you to exhale through the mouth. I beg to differ. I have been curious and have done some amount of research into this. But I could not find anything satisfactory. My reasoning – the nose is meant for breathing. The right nostril is Ida & left is Pingala. The right is heating while the left is cooling. And our breathing is set to regulate internal temperatures without going too much off topic here. So by exhaling through the mouth, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to allow our body to cool down when there is too much heat internally or externally.
- Tensed body & face during practice – Practice from a point of relaxation. I do not mean that your practice should be gentle or restorative. Our bodies have been habituated to carrying stress and tensions. So much so, that many times we do not even realize how much excess tension we carry. If you are in my yoga classes, you will hear me say often, how the face should be relaxed during practice. A Shavasana like-face if you can. By tensing all the organs of perception on the face, we create additional tension for the brain. This tension is also held in muscles on the body namely shoulders, hips and knees. So consciously try to soften all the muscles in the face during practice.
- Uneven distribution of effort – Even though some of us do lots of yoga, we are imbalanced in our distribution of effort. Some of us work our upper body and strength excessively or only think of flexibility. Even if you are working intensely in the heat, use the whole body in your yoga practice. For example, in a pose like chaturanga dandasana, learn to use your legs as they are equally a part of the pose as the shoulder and arms.
- Lack of body awareness – it comes down to this. How aware are you of your own body? Do you tend to tune out when sensations become unpleasant? Can you stay with the experience and just observe how you feel. When your own body awareness is heightened, your own body will guide you to cool off with the help of breath and effort distribution.
Top 5 Yoga poses to cool off during the summer heat:
Adhomukha Swanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
You probably guessed this one. Hands down one of the best and most popularly practiced yoga pose today. The reason adhomukha swanasana is a great yoga pose is that it does has so many varied benefits. It works as a semi-inversion, helps recovers the body from fatigue, stretches the whole back body, builds strength in the upper and lower body, improves body awareness, the list just goes on and on. But since it works as a semi-inversion and the body is tilted downward, it allows the heart to rest and cools the body temperature. Hold this pose for extended durations of time comfortably and focus on longer exhalations breaths. Rest in between rounds in Adhomukha Virasana (See below)
Uttanasana (Intense Forward Fold)
You can do ardha uttanasana (half forward fold) if you feel like your hamstrings are tight. But if you are able to get into full uttanasana, the heart being over the brain in this pose helps to cool the body down. This is also a semi-inversion and follows well with adhomukha swanasana. Make sure to keep the back of the neck soft and head hanging throughout this pose.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Leg Standing Forward Fold)
Continuing to rest the heart and practice semi inversions in this sequence. Prasarita Padottanasana is a great way to bring blood flow back to heart with minimal strain.
Adhomukha Virasana (Resting Hero Pose)
I would practice this pose as a rest pose in a heating vinyasa yoga class. But this pose has more applications than just rest. While it doubles as a lower back stretch and release. It is excellent to connect with the breath while softening and relaxing in this pose. Use the modification offered if you cannot go into the full extent of the pose.
Janu Shirshasana (Head to Knee Pose)
I have picked Janu Shirshasana here as it’s accessible to pretty much everybody. But any seated forward extension will do the trick. Think Ardha Padma Paschimottanasana, Pascimottanasana etc… As the head is drawn towards the leg, it creates a certain inward turning focus and will help cool us down. Also by being seated, we are expending less energy than the standing poses or going through vinyasa, so, therefore, less heat builds up in the body with any seated pose.
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Balance or All Limb Pose)
I have chosen to end with a cooling inversion. While Shirshasana (Headstand pose) and Adhomukha Vrkshasana (Handstand) are great inversions. They build up the heat in the body. So if you are looking for an inversion and want to stay cool. Sarvanagasana coupled with Halasana (plow) will do the trick for you.
So there you have it! Our top 5 yoga poses to stay cool this summer. I hope you have a fun summer and don’t forget to keep up with your yoga practice. Modify the intensity, duration, and your sequence. But practice yoga nonetheless. Enjoy!