In the summer, most of us are naturally more active. Getting outside to hike or exercise is a natural complement to winter hibernation. But in the heat of summer—think mid-July and August—the heat can feel like too much of a good thing. Fortunately, yoga practice can help. When the dog days of summer start to slow you down, try some cooling yoga poses.
Most of yoga’s asanas possess either heating or cooling qualities. When I sequence my public classes I always take this into account. I sequence the more heating poses in the first half of the class and start the cooling down process during the second half. This helps prepare people’s bodies and minds for a deep Savasana (Relaxation Pose).
Sequencing in this way leaves us with a residue of ease and balance that can set us up for the rest of our day. Here’s a post that discusses the importance of sequencing.
When you feel summer heat getting to you, it’s quite alright to sequence more cooling poses than heating poses into your practice. Because the tendency is to be more active in the summer in other areas of our lives, it’s fine to weight our practice toward cooling. This is especially true when we begin to feel listless from overexposure to heat.
A Cooling Yoga Sequence
You can add a few active poses at the beginning of your practice, however. This helps to warm up your tissues and helps you maintain balance between stability and mobility. Here’s how you might sequence a cooling yoga practice:
- Vrksasana (Tree Pose): Balancing poses stabilize both body and mind. When you stand on one leg, your muscles coalesce around the bones of your standing leg. This helps stabilize your hip, knee and ankle joints. Balance poses also naturally collect your attention. Anytime you shift out of a habitual structural pattern, you have to pay attention. This helps you develop concentration and quiet the mind. Practice Vrksasana at least once on each side.
- Utkatasana (Fierce Pose): Utkatasana is one of my favorite poses to warm up the whole body. As with balancing poses, Utkatasana engages the muscles that help stabilize your hips, knees and ankles. It also activates your core. Practice a couple rounds of Utkatasana before moving to the next pose.
- Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend): Forward bends, even standing forward bends, are generally cooling. Prasarita Padottanasana is more accessible, and easier on most people’s backs, than bending forward with the legs closer together. Keep your legs active, while you allow your torso to relax. Use yoga blocks under your hands to free your breathing.
- Trikonasana (Triangle Pose): Triangle Pose is considered to be on the cooling side of the spectrum. Of course, this depends on how you approach practicing it. Practice with the intention to relax, rather than the intention to accomplish a “perfect” pose. Be sure to focus on staying relaxed and settled back into your body as you practice.
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) is among the most cooling yoga poses in the backbend category. Backbends tend toward the heating side of the spectrum, but the prone backbends are not nearly as heating as, say, Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). It’s important to include backbending in your practice, simply to strengthen your back and reverse the effects sitting in chairs. Cobra is your best option in a cooling practice.
- Parvrtta Sukhasana (Revolved Easy Pose): In order to make Revolved Easy Pose more cooling and relaxing, make sure you have plenty of height under your hips. A meditation cushion or thickly folded yoga blanket are good options here.
- Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose): Seated forward bends are among the most cooling yoga poses. It’s even easier to relax into Janu Sirsasana than some of the other seated forward bends, because we stretch one set of hamstrings at a time in the pose. For most people, this makes the pose much easier. Make sure you relax your shoulders, neck and back, and relax your intention. Let the pose unfold naturally as you breathe.
- Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Belly Pose): Supine twists are wonderful poses to practice toward the end of any asana practice. Revolved Belly Pose is especially cooling because it’s a very gentle twist that doesn’t require loose hamstrings or hips.
- Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend Pose): I like to practice a symmetrical forward bend right before Savasana. This helps calm and even out soft tissue after practicing the asymmetrical poses in the sequence. Try practicing with your knees bent. You can either place a yoga bolster or rolled-up blanket under your knees or you can fold your forearms under your thighs to make this pose even more cooling.
- Savasana (Relaxation Pose): Make sure to give ample time to your Savasana practice. If your plan on practicing for an hour, give your Savasana at least 10 minutes. But don’t be shy about taking 15 to 20 minutes. Savasana allows us to integrate the rest of the practice, and to enjoy deep rest. It’s the most cooling yoga pose of all. Give it plenty of time.