Cooling Yoga Practice in Any Pose

This entry was posted on Sep 26, 2023 by Charlotte Bell.

Worldwide heat waves are keeping people indoors and even claiming lives. Summer is the season when most of us love to enjoy outdoor activities. But health experts advise people to stay indoors during these days of extreme heat. The problem is, bodies want to move in the summer season. Fortunately, you can create a cooling yoga practice that you can do at home when the outdoors is not feeling hospitable.

Your cooling yoga practice doesn’t have to be just Restorative or Yin styles of yoga. While there are poses that are inherently heating, and those that are inherently cooling, you don’t have to limit your practice to the latter.

A Cooling Yoga Practice Starts with Intention

When I was in India studying with BKS and Geeta Iyengar, Geeta taught an entire class on how to practice asana to stay cool, no matter what poses you practiced. So, it’s not so much which poses you practice; it’s how you practice them that matters.

While it can be helpful to practice poses that are on the cooling side of the spectrum, what Geeta claimed is most important is that you approach your poses with a “cooling attitude.” As I’ve practiced this over the years, I’ve learned that there are several ways we can do this.

Inhabit Your Back Body

Settle back in your body. Quite often, when we practice asana, we’re pushing forward into our front bodies. Thirty-some years ago, I worked with Angela Farmer and Victor Van Kooten. At the time, they were advocating intentionally settling your core back into the back body. This eases strain in poses and promotes receptivity and free breathing. I’ve also found it to be a way to practice more active poses in a way that generates much less heat.

For example, in standing poses such as Virabhadrasana I and II (Warrior I and II) or Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), settle your organs back so that you feel “neutral” in your torso. Of course, neutral is not so easy to feel. Sensations are much more subtle in a neutral position. But, of course, you can always benefit from tuning into subtlety in your practice. Yoga’s not about extreme sensation; it’s about turning inward and exploring what’s not so obvious. When you’re feeling less sensation in your torso, you’re on the right track.

Find Neutral in Trikonasana for a Cooling Yoga Practice

We’ll explore what neutral feels like in Trikonasana. You might want to place your hand on a Yoga Block and practice with your torso higher than usual. This will give your body more movement options.

  1. Stand on a Yoga Mat with your feet wide apart.
  2. Place your Yoga Block on its tallest setting on the outside of your right foot.
  3. Turn your right foot and leg outward 90 degrees, and turn your left foot, leg and pelvis inward 20 to 30 degrees. Do not try to “square your hips,” no matter how many times you’ve heard this instruction. Here’s why.
  4. Extend your arms outward at shoulder level.
  5. Ground your left foot and extend your torso out to the right, keeping your chest facing forward.
  6. Place your right hand on your block.
  7. Now push your back forward into your front body. Tune into your breathing and the general sense of your energy here.
  8. Now imagine your organs releasing back into your back body. Notice your breathing and the general sense of your energy. How does this feel different from pushing into your front body? Feel free to switch back and forth several times to clarify any differences.
  9. Relax here for 5 to 10 breaths.
  10. Ground your left foot to help your torso lift back up to vertical. Turn your feet to parallel, bend your knees slightly and rest in Goddess Pose.
  11. Rotate your legs to the left and repeat on the other side.

Chill Your Intention for a Cooling Yoga Practice

While finding neutral in your physical body can be immensely helpful in creating a cooling yoga practice, your intention is equally important. It’s immensely helpful to shift your intention from one of doing to one of being, which is one of the purposes of yoga practice in the first place. An attitude of pushing and striving is inherently heating. An attitude of openness and receptivity is inherently cooling. We can choose how to approach our practice. Here’s a short intention-setting practice.

  1. Before you move into your asana practice, sit in a comfortable position—on a folded Yoga Blanket or Meditation Cushion. You can also lie back in Savasana (Relaxation Pose).
  2. In either case, begin by imagining your organs settling back into your back body.
  3. Set an intention to practice from this posture of settling back.
  4. Now set an intention to inhabit your body with awareness throughout your practice. This intention can include a desire to remain open, to simply be in each pose rather than attempting to accomplish a goal.
  5. Relax here for 5 to 10 minutes. Then take this sense of openness and awareness into your practice.

What’s great about these two approaches is that you don’t need to restrict your practice to certain cooling poses. You can use them with any pose. Remember that it’s not necessarily what poses we practice, but how we practice them, that determines whether we’re able to balance the excessive heat we’re experiencing this summer.

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

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