The summer season is characterised by Pitta, the Ayurvedic body/mind type associated with the element of fire. As outside temperatures rise, we crank up the air-conditioning but as we all know, that can be very dehydrating – in fact doctors are now saying that air-conditioning causes more harm than good! But fear not because here are 4 eco-friendly and natural ways to keep you cool and calm through the season. If you already practice yoga and pranayama (breathing exercises), then adjusting your practice with these tips will ensure that there isn’t excessive production of heat in the body.
See also: Baba Ramdev’s tips for beating the heat
Our body temperature is essentially maintained via the movement of air through the right (pingala) and left (ida) channels (nadis) of the body. The right is associated with the sun and masculine energy, heat and vigour, while the left is associated with the moon, feminine energy, coolness and calmness.
In the summer, our left nostril is naturally more active than the right to help normalise the body temperature. Deliberately activating the left channel helps to effectively cool down the body. Blocking the right ear (by inserting a cotton plug) automatically activates the left nostril. More effective however is the Chandrabhedi pranayama. (1)
Unlike the Anulom-Vilom pranayama technique where breath is taken in through alternate nostrils each time, in the Chandrabhedi pranayama, inhalation is only through the left nostril and exhalation always through the right. The pranayama should be carried out gently, slowly and soundlessly.
To do this pranayama:
- Sit with a straight back preferably in a yogic sitting posture like Sukhasana (common cross-legged position) or Padmasana (lotus posture). If you cannot sit in a yogic posture, you may sit on a chair but make sure your back is straight, feet are firmly on the ground and head is not leaning on a head-rest. Keep your eyes gently closed.
- Make a fist with your right hand and then pull out the ring and little fingers and the thumb – this is Vishnu mudra. Keep your left hand, palm facing upward, loosely on your lap.
- Block your right nostril with the thumb of your right hand (which is holding the Vishnu mudra). Take a deep and slow inhalation through the left nostril. After inhalation is complete, block the left nostril with the right hand ring finger. Exhale slowly through the right nostril. Block the right nostril after exhalation is complete and repeat the breathing pattern – inhalation through left and exhalation through right.
- Focus on your breath through the pranayama. You may practice this pranayama for 5 – 10 minutes.
This video provides a demonstration.
Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayama
Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas are two types of pranayama that are extremely effective in cooling down the body and their effect is immediate. In Sheetkali pranayama, air is taken in via the mouth through an extended and rolled tongue, held for a short while and then exhaled slowly through the nose. If you are not able to roll your tongue, you can try the Sheetkari pranayama where air is inhaled through the teeth instead. The pranayamas can be done for 5, 7, 11 or 21 breath cycles (1).
This video provides a demonstration.
Chandra Namaskar or Moon salutations
Yoga students are usually more familiar with the Surya Namaskar (or sun salutations) practice. However, Surya Namaskar may tend to be too heating for some people during the summer. Chandra Namaskar or moon salutations on the other hand are cooling and calming as they incorporate sideways movements as opposed to the more invigorating forward-backward movements of the Surya Namaskar. This video provides a demonstration.
Be mindful of heating practices
Every person is different and so every body reacts differently to yogic practices. Having said that, certain practices are by nature heating (while all practices create energetic heat or ushna, some do more than others) and one may wish to keep this in mind while practicing during hot weather. These include:
- Surya Namaskar – which as noted above, involves vigorous forward-backward movements
- Kapalbhati pranayama – which involves forceful exhalations
- Bhastrika pranayama (‘bellows breath’) – which involves invigorating breathing
- Suryabhedi pranayama – which as opposed to the Chandrabhedi pranayama mentioned above, involves activation of breath particularly through the pingala nadi (right nostril).
If one wishes to carry on these practices during summer, it may be best to practice them in the cooler hours of the day to avoid discomfort – see more below about adjusting time of practice.
Adjust the time of practice/exercise
It is advisable to do yoga or other exercise in the cooler hours of the day, avoiding the heat between around 9 am and 5 pm. In general, the twenty minutes before and after sunrise and sunset are considered best for yoga practice. With the longer summer days, tweaking your yoga sadhana times to align with the earlier sunrises and later sunsets is beneficial.
Note: The information presented in this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult your yoga teacher for instructions about any yoga practice and your doctor for medical advice.