Most of us are pretty happy when summer arrives. The long day and warm sun open our bodies and minds. Colds and flus come less often and hay fever from spring has passed. If we’re careful not to overextend ourselves, summer can be a relaxing time.
But, as the heat of the summer sun continues to shed its grace, you may start to notice problems of excess heat and dryness like increased irritability, inflammation, loose bowels, burning sensations, thirst, constipation or anxiety. These effects result from the fire and wind elements governing the season.
In order to endure the hot, sharp, and dry qualities of the summer, your body needs cool, soothing and moist influences. If you don’t expose yourself to enough of these “juicier” qualities, you might enter autumn dried out, irritated and exhausted, which the dry wind of the fall makes worse.
There are lots of approaches you can take in releasing heat and irritability, from food choices to yoga poses. Generally, yoga and Ayurveda recommend sweet tasting foods and cooling, fluid poses that either release heat or at least don’t cause heat build-up in the body.
Sweet taste carries water and earth element and their cool, soft and heavy qualities into your body. This means that sweet foods are calming, soft, lubricating, and cooling. In many ways, sweet taste is life itself.
The desire for sweet taste expresses a desire for the strengthening and grounding effects it can bring. This, of course, only applies to sweet taste in its natural forms.
The ancient teachers of Ayurveda didn’t have high fructose corn syrup (or even agave syrup) in mind when they wrote about sweet taste. These extremely sweet substances don’t actually carry with them the earthy, watery qualities your body truly calls out for. When the call goes unanswered, you continue to crave sweet taste and a vicious cycle begins.
Try soothing summer heat with foods like non-citrus fruits, milk, rose water, basmati rice, mung beans, and coconut. Drink cool mint or hibiscus tea or coconut water to quench the burning thirst of summer.
Heat-Releasing Yoga Poses
Summer is not the best time for a very vigorous, sweaty practice. Instead it’s a great idea to set a slow, deep pace and take advantage of the fact that your body is already pretty open. Use your practice to encourage the even movement of your energy throughout the body and to release any tension or excess heat.
1. Pose of the Hare (Shashankasana)
Sometimes called “the Pose of the Moon,” this pose encourages full, deep breathing and opens and strengthens a stiff lower back. The association with the moon points to its cooling, calming, and internalizing effect.
Sitting on your knees, inhale and lift your arms overhead. On the next exhalation, lower them, trying to time the breath so the end of the movement is at the same time as the end of the exhalation. Inhaling, raise the arms again, but this time, as you exhale, hinge forward from the hips, keeping the back long and straight.
Bow forward only as far as you can without curling forward, keeping the arms and back long and straight. Inhaling lift again to sitting, with arms raised. After a few repetitions, bring the forward bow deeper, allowing the back to curve a bit until you come as far forward as possible.
Inhaling, raise the arms and lengthen the back and lift back up to sitting with back and arms straight. Repeat 8 to 20 times.
2. Striking Cobra (Shashank Bhujangasana)
This pose encourages the smooth movement of prana (life-force energy) between the base and the head. It allows your creative energy to be transmuted into creativity and expansiveness without losing a sense of grounding.
Starting in Child’s Pose, rest your forehead against the floor and reach your arms forward. Inhaling, press your palms into the ground and engaging your abdominals, press up into a table-top position and bring your chest forward. Exhaling, lower all the way to the ground slowly, trying to keep your torso parallel to the ground and your shoulders rolled back. Inhaling, raise the chest up and forward, pressing the pubic bone into the floor and lifting into a low Cobra Pose.
Reverse the breath and movement to Child’s Pose: exhale the chest down to the mat, inhale into table-top, exhale back to Child’s Pose. Repeat 8 to 20 times.
3. Lunge (Ashwasanchalasana)
This pose opens the stomach channel and helps it release heat and tension. This can be helpful as the weather heats up but it also helps you digest difficult emotions like irritation and frustration.
After resting for a few moments in Child’s Pose, come to hands and knees and step your right foot forward. Lower your left knee to the ground and scissor the thighs apart from each other, reaching the forward knee more forward and the backward knee farther back. Try to keep the low back long by reaching the tailbone toward the floor as you lengthen the low belly, hip and front of the thigh.
Hold this position, breathing your breath into any tension for as long as feel comfortable.
4. Roaring Lion (Simhasana)
This pose releases excess heat and frustration from the digestive tract and helps to clarify your voice.
Starting from a kneeling position, spread your knees a bit and turn your thumbs outward. Press your palms into the floor with your wrists facing forward to stretch your forearms.
Drop your head forward and inhale, lifting your head. Exhaling hard, through your mouth, stick out your tongue as far as you can and make a “hhhhaaaaa” sound. Envision heat and tension leaving your body through your mouth. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
Always follow your practice with Savasana.
Keeping cool and blowing off some steam this summer will set you up for less stressful, healthier fall. What are some of your favorite ways to beat the heat?