The weather is getting warm and springs in full swing, which can only mean one thing – summer is well on its way! Some of us may love summer while others won’t, but whatever it may be, we’ve all got our standard ways to deal with the intense summer heat.
A lot of it is quite common – eating refreshing foods, drinking lots of water, wearing light clothing or going for a swim. But there’s something else that can help you cool down this summer – yoga!
For many of us, yoga is synonymous with flexibility or meditation. Few of us know that it can also help us adapt to seasonal changes, and there are specific poses that can help with each season. If you’re into natural living, you’ll know that the best way to stay comfortable in any season is to give your body what it naturally needs.
According to Ayurveda, summer can intensify the pitta dosha, which can clash with the existing heat outside. The aim of any summer activity, therefore, should be to pacify the pitta dosha. Yoga does an excellent job at this, especially when you practise cooling yoga poses that release heat and calm you down from the inside. Let’s look at some cooling yoga poses that are perfect for summer.
- Sit in a comfortable position, lengthening the back and aligning the head, neck and spine.
- Close your eyes and breathe for a few minutes, being aware of the movement of breath throughout the body.
- Open the mouth to an ‘O’ shape and stick the tongue out a little (not completely).
- Curl the tongue by rolling the outer edges, so it forms a tube-like shape.
- Take a long breath to the count of three through the tongue tube.
- Hold for a beat, during which take the tongue in and close the mouth.
- Exhale through the nose in a smooth, long breath, to the count of three.
- Repeat for a couple of minutes, then go back to regular breathing and then come back to Sheetali again. Let the full practice go on for 10 minutes.
Modifications: If you have trouble curling your tongue, try this instead: place your upper and lower teeth together, open the lips and breathe through the gaps in between the teeth.
Benefits: In Sanskrit, ‘sheetal’ means ‘cooling’. The long inhale through the tongue is instantly cooling and feels like a breeze is entering the body. Sheetali pose also moisturizes the body systems, ensuring they run smoothly. It also helps with high blood pressure, halitosis and fatigue.
Caution: Do not try this pose in cold weather.
Vriksasana (Tree Pose)
- Stand with feet together, ankles and knees touching. Lengthen the spine, with the crown of the head, neck pelvis and arches of the feet in a straight line.
- Steady the feet, imagining four corners of each foot grounding into the earth. This is the Mountain Pose or Tadasana.
- Join the palms together in front of the chest in a ‘namaste’ pose.
- Shift your weight on to your right foot.
- Bend the left knee and bring it up to the chest. Without curving the spine, use the right hand to grab the left ankle.
- Bring the sole of the left foot to the inside of the right thigh, ensuring the spine is straight.
- Use the left foot to press against the inside of the right thigh and look straight ahead.
- Keep the shoulders down. Raise the arms overhead so the palms face each other.
- Move the palms into a ‘namaste’ pose overhead. Hold the pose for as long as you can, breathing normally.
- Exhale and release the left foot back down. Stand for a moment in Tadasana and repeat on the other side.
Modifications: Hold on to a chair or table to stabilize the body.
Benefits: The Tree Pose is the perfect pose for good balance and grounding the body when it may be feeling flighty and agitated due to the heat. It also helps to increase focus and inculcates a feeling of mental strength and clear-headedness.
Caution: Avoid in cases of low blood pressure or lightheadedness. Avoid raising the arms in case of high blood pressure. People with headaches and insomnia should also avoid this pose.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
- Start with Mountain Pose or Tadasana, as described earlier.
- Step the feet wide apart, depending upon your height. Keep the inner feet parallel to each other. Keep hands on either side of the hip joint.
- Exhale and bend forward from the hip joint, keeping the spine straight and the back parallel to the floor.
- Bend lower, extending arms forward and reaching hands to the floor. Keep the fingertips directly below the shoulders.
- Press into the floor and draw the inner thighs away from each other to deepen the stretch in the groin.
- Bring the fingertips in line with the arches of the feet. Bend the elbows and let the crown of the head go down to the floor if possible. Press palms into the floor.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute. To release, bring the hands under the shoulders and lift back up. Place hands on the hips and bring the torso back up, swinging up from the hip joint.
Modifications: If the hands don’t reach the floor, use yoga blocks. Use another block to rest the crown of the head.
Benefits: This pose is a great energizer that increases blood flow to the brain. At the same time, it strengthens the feet and gives a good stretch to the hamstrings and groin, problem areas with people who spend a lot of time sitting.
Caution: Avoid in case of lower back pain or any knee injury. People with hip and shoulder problems should avoid the full bend and stop halfway instead.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
- Start in a kneeling position with the knees directly under the hip joints and shins resting on the floor, parallel to each other. Let the tops of the feet rest on the floor.
- Place both hands on the lower back joint, fingers pointing downward.
- Inhale, lifting the chest, bringing the shoulders down and extending the front torso.
- Deepen the stretch, leaning back. Keep the chin close to the chest, preventing the head from dropping again.
- Reach the right hand to the right foot, following with the left hand. Rest the hands on the soles of the feet. Drop the head back to a comfortable position.
- Hold the pose for a minute, breathing throughout. To release, bring the hands back to the lower back and inhale, bringing the torso back to its original position.
Modifications: If you can’t reach the soles of your feet, tuck the toes under and hold on to the heels instead.
Benefits: The pose is named the ‘camel pose’ because of the way it resembles the hump of a camel. Camels are slow, steady animals who’ve adapted to live in hot weather conditions and this pose will help the body adapt to summer naturally. It also strengthens the back and stretches the chest, thighs and abdomen.
Caution: This pose is not recommended for people with migraine, insomnia, blood pressure-related conditions or any kind of neck or back injury.
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose or Butterfly Pose)
- Sit on the floor with the legs extended out in front and the back straight. Press the thighs against the floor to increase length in the torso.
- Exhale, bending the knees and bringing the soles of the feet together with the help of the hands.
- Use the hands to bring the heels as close to the groin as possible. Do not put pressure on the knees; instead, separate the tops of the thighs from the groin, feeling a length in the inner thighs.
- Hold the feet together, opening them like a book so that the bottom edges are together.
- Hold this pose for a few breaths. Exhale and move the torso forwards, bending forward from the hips, maintaining a straight back and not lifting the hips.
- Hold the pose for as long as is comfortable. To release, bring the knees together and extend the legs.
Modifications: If it’s challenging to sit with the spine straight, place a rolled towel or blanket under the hips. If it’s too much pressure on the knees, place yoga blocks under the knees on either side.
Benefits: This pose is an excellent high opener and stretches the groin and thighs. It also strengthens the knees and stimulates the digestive system as well as the reproductive system.
Caution: This pose is not recommended for people with injuries in the lower back, knees or groin. People with disc injuries should also avoid this pose.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
- Lie on the floor flat on your back with arms and legs extended fully.
- Place the arms on either side with the palms facing up, a few inches from the body so the underarms can breathe.
- Let the feet drop naturally to an open position.
- Close the eyes and imagine every part of the body sinking into the ground. Start from the bottom of the feet, moving up to the crown of the head, imagining the tension flowing out from each body part.
- Relax all the lines on the face, letting the eyeballs sink in. The jaw may open a little naturally.
- Stay in the pose for at least five minutes, breathing normally.
- To release, take a few deep breaths and stretch the body gently, slowly coming back up.
Modifications: Those with a tight lower back or hips may find it helpful to place a pillow or rolled-up blanket under the knees to take the pressure off the lower back. Eye pillows help to block light and deepen the relaxation.
Benefits: Savasana is the ultimate restorative yoga pose and helps to bring the mind and body in tune with each other. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps reduce blood pressure as well as the heart rate, cooling the body in the process.
Caution: People with back problems may have trouble with this pose. This can also cause the body to become too cold if done in winter. Pregnant women should place a pillow under the head and shoulders.
Doing these yoga asanas regularly in summer will act as a great cooling start to the day, and the benefits will carry on well into the day as the temperature goes up. Try doing these early in the morning for maximum benefits. Along with these yoga poses, pacify the pitta dosha by avoiding hot foods and changing up your routine, so you have a more relaxed lifestyle.