You know when it's 95 in the shade, the humidity feels like 1000%, AND the a/c is broken? You feel cranky, puffy, and prickly?
Yeah. We do too! The Bold Mats team recently returned from a stint on the East Coast where there was a hot, moist heat wave going on. How to stay cool? Of course, we busted out our yoga mats!
Five Cool Poses
Fluid Half Sun Salutes
These warm your muscles up gently, while creating a minimum of sweat. Begin with knees slightly bent, arms hanging down with hands in prayer position (reminiscent of a putting stance in golf). As you inhale, bring your hands up past your chest to overhead. Separate the palms as you exhale, arching slightly and bringing hands back down to original position. This pose gently exercises shoulders, opens the heart in gratitude, and provides a subtle, calming back bend.
Modifying Camel takes the effort out of the pose, but still provides the heart opening of the back bend. Come to your knees as for the regular pose. Bring your palms to your low back, supporting the spine. Lean back into your palms, keeping hips above your knees and initiating the stretch from your low back and extending to your neck. This is a gentle pose, and allows you to bend carefully. In the heat we can often stretch farther, but that isn't always beneficial. If you are quite flexible in your spine and want a little more flex, kneel with your feet arched instead of flat, and reach back toward your heels.
Half or Chair Dog
This modified Downward Dog helps stretch out a cranky back, while not asking for the usual exertion of this pose. In addition, the mild inversion helps calm the mind and oxygenates the brain. From your Camel, sink to sitting on your heels. Stretch your hands forward, separating and extending fingers. Gently walk your hands forward, while rising from your heels. Broaden your shoulder blades. If you want to use a chair, grasp the sides of the chair with your hands as you stand in front of it. Bend forward, focusing on the crease between your leg and abdomen. Visualize your sitting bones becoming wider as your crease forward. This version creates more release for your neck, relaxing heat-induced tension.
From your half-Dog, push back to the full pose briefly so that you can bring a foot forward, between your hands. Lift your arms and gaze skyward, opening the heart and surrendering to what is. This is a great pose to stretch hip flexors, abdomen, and provide another gentle back bend as you arch from the mid-back. Try a couple rounds of Sitali breath (below) here, if you want to get a little more chill.
We love this pose for creating a sense of humor while at the same time venting inner wrath. Stand on hands and knees, keeping your back flat, or sit back on your heels. Inhale to a count of three, then exhale forcefully, sticking your tongue out and down as far as it will go. Make a "ha" sound on the exhalation, as fiercely as you like. Repeat three to five times.
Slurp Up the Cool
One of the best pranayama techniques I learned at my first yoga retreat (in the Bahamas) was Sitali breath. "Sitali" literally means cooling in Sanskrit. It's amazing how this simple breathing will immediately cool you down. I like to start with this pose when it's hot outside, or just do it alone when I'm feeling cranky and too hot-tempered from the heat.
Get into the seated pose that is the most comfortable for you and enables you to sit tall and straight. As you breathe in and out, notice the flow of your breath as it leaves/enters your nose. Stick out your tongue to make a "taco tongue" (if you can't do this [like me!], just stick your tongue out), and inhale to a count of three. Retain a moment, close your mouth, then exhale evenly through your nose for a count of three. Do a few rounds and notice the inner chill.
Enjoy summer with outdoor yoga, these cooling poses, and lots of star-gazing time in your favorite nature spot. Remember that even a few deep breaths and a simple flowing half salute will bring a little calm and ease tension in your shoulders. Though we often want to speed up to make the most of summer, the heat actually asks us to slow down and savor the days--and especially summer nights!