Keep your Cool

Keeping cool

Robert Hays, from the movie Airplane! (1980)

Practices you can do nearly anywhere to beat the heat

Much of the United States is in the midst of a heatwave that taxes not only the electric grid (with increased demands for air conditioning) but also our own body’s cooling system. Many people feel disinclined to undertake intense or even moderate exercise and yoga practices when temperatures rise into the 90s or even into triple digits. I totally get that!

But you don’t have to let the heat rob you of your practice. Just modify it to something safer and more appealing. When the heatwave is over, you’ll be more inclined to ramp up your activity again because you’ll have taken care of yourself and maintained your routine.

Here are some simple things you can do to keep your cool in hot times.

Thermoregulation — It’s automatic!

Your body does an amazing job of thermoregulation, or maintaining its natural core temperature. When you get too cold, the blood vessels under your skin constrict to keep the warmth near the inner body and away from the surface of the skin. You might also shiver, which produces heat in your muscles, and your thyroid gland may release hormones to increase your metabolism.

But what happens when you overheat? You sweat, which cools your skin as it evaporates and helps lower your body temperature. Your blood vessels also widen, increasing blood flow to your skin to radiate heat away from your inner body.

It’s a great system, but what else can you do to stay cool?

Hydration

Since you may be perspiring more, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. All that evaporation may leave you feeling thirsty for sure, but dehydration can also make you feel dizzy or lightheaded, weak or tired, or even cause a headache.

You may have heard that you should drink room temperature water instead of cold water, because the cold water may cause cramping. Or you may have heard that the body burns more calories when you drink cold water to bring it body temperature. While both may be true, there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule. Drink water at a temperature that your body likes. Most importantly, DRINK WATER! Replenishing your fluids is a healthy thing to do.

Cooling breath

A very simple pranayama practice (or breathing technique) can help you cool down. It’s called Shitali (or Sitali) Pranayama, and it’s an easy way to regulate your temperature. Best of all, you can do it anywhere, any time. And as an added bonus, it can calm your emotions, too! Here’s what you do:

  1. Sit comfortably with an erect spine and broad chest. However, I have practiced Sitali Pranayama standing or even walking, so play with where and when you do it.
  2. Extend your tongue between your lips and roll your tongue into a tube by drawing the outer edges of your tongue toward each other.
  3. Breath in through the tube.
  4. Close your mouth and exhale through your nose.
  5. Repeat up to twenty times.

What if you can’t roll your tongue? No problem. Some people are genetically predisposed to rolling the tongue this way, and some are not. If you can’t roll your tongue, here’s a variation that works just as well. It’s called Siktari Pranayama, and the technique is largely the same.

  1. Sit comfortably as described above (or stand if you need to).
  2. Extend your tongue between your lips, keeping your mouth slightly open. OR keep your teeth together and separate your lips.
  3. Breath across the surface of your flat tongue. OR if your teeth are together, breath in through the spaces between your teeth; you’ll probably hear a slight hissing sound.
  4. Close your mouth and exhale through your nose.
  5. Repeat up to twenty times.

If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it. And practice for short amounts of time.

Restorative Yoga

Some people enjoy doing a variety of poses, even in warmer weather, but if you want a simpler practice that won’t expend much energy or require a lot of movement, I recommend doing a few Restorative Yoga poses.

Restorative Yoga is all about letting go of doing and being conscious of being. It’s often considered an introspective practice, but one of the reasons I enjoy this practice is that it can be very calming. There are a lot of yoga poses in the Restorative canon, but I recommend keeping to the basics. It will make it easier for you to do the practice wherever you are.

Props

I love to have a lot of props for Restorative Yoga — several blankets, a bolster, a couple of blocks — but what if you don’t have all those props available to you? You can improvise, using whatever you have nearby.

Many years ago, I was hired to teach a Restorative Yoga class at a yoga festival. I requested that the festival provide each participant with a bolster, two blankets, and two blocks. When I arrived to teach the class, there were NO props. For anyone! And in that moment, I had to improvise poses that would normally have been heavily propped. Trust me, it was the longest 90 minutes of my life! But I made it work and the students really enjoyed the practice (to my surprise and relief).

Pillows and sofa cushions are terrific stand-ins for a traditional bolster. I’ve even rolled towels and blankets to mimic the shape and size of a bolster.

Blankets are often available, but you could a towel or two instead. Both can be rolled for folded for support.

What if you don’t have blocks? Try a stack of books!

And in some cases, you might have to do without the props and just work on the floor.

Poses

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Cobbler’s Pose)

  1. Lie on the floor on your back.
  2. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together, letting your knees release out to the sides.
  3. Remain in the pose for 5 to 15 minutes.

If you want to prop, you could place a block, a rolled blanket or towel, or a pillow under each knee or thigh. You could also place a folded blanket, a folded towel, or a small pillow under your head to alleviate neck strain. Another option is to elevate your feet on a bolster or a block.

Jathara Parivartanasana (Revolved Abdomen Pose)

This floor-based twist releases tension from the back and can make it easier to relax.

  1. Lie on the floor on your back.
  2. Bend your knees and draw them toward your torso.
  3. Extend your arms out to the sides. Your arms should be perpendicular to your spine, and the palms should be turned upward to face the ceiling.
  4. Release your knees to the right side so that your right leg rests on the floor, and your left leg either rests on top of it or the legs separate slightly with the feet touching. Your left shoulder can lift off the floor if it needs to, but keep your head in a neutral position, looking up at the ceiling.
  5. Remain here for up to five minutes before taking your knees to the other side.

You could place a block, a folded blanket, or a small pillow between your knees or thighs if you prefer.

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

  1. Starting from a hands-and-knees position, shift your hips back toward your feet, allowing your torso to drape forward over your thighs. Allow your back to round.
  2. Extend your arms forward and rest your head on the floor, OR fold your arms and rest your head on your folded arms or a block.
  3. Remain in this position for 5 to 10 minutes.

Alternate options: You could separate your knees wide apart, allowing your torso to drop between your thighs. You could also place a blanket or towel under your knees or the tops of your feet. If your ankles are uncomfortable, roll a blanket or towel and place it under the fronts of your ankles.

If your hips don’t release onto or near your heels, you can place a bolster, a rolled or folded blanket or towel (or more than one) between your hips and your heels to make it more comfortable.

You could also rest your head on a block, blanket, or towel.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)

This pose of relaxation is the traditional closing pose of most yoga practices. If you do no other pose to cool yourself down, Savasana is the best!

  1. Lie on the floor on your back.
  2. Let your legs relax so that your feet flop to their respective sides.
  3. Bring your arms to rest on the floor beside you, slightly angled away from your torso with the palms facing up toward the ceiling. OR rest your hands on your hips or abdomen or wherever it feels comfortable.
  4. Remain in Savasana for 10 to 15 minutes. Or more!

Propping options: You can place a bolster or rolled blanket or towels under your knees to help your legs relax. You can also place a folded blanket under your head.


Lindel Hart teaches yoga online for PerfectFit Wellness. He lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy, a private residential high school, as well as at Community Yoga and Wellness in Greenfield, MA. Visit his website, Hart Yoga.

Lindel Hart teaches yoga online for PerfectFit Wellness. He lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy, a private residential high school, as well as at Community Yoga and Wellness in Greenfield, MA. Visit his website, Hart Yoga.

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