Ah, summer…the days get longer, the sun gets stronger. But we can have too much of a good thing. Summer’s solar qualities (heat, projection, activity) equate to sympathetic nervous system stimulation. Obvious signs of overheating are feeling irritable, distracted and, well, hot.
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When we feel uncomfortable, we have the luxury of simply flipping on the A/C to adjust the external environment. Because yoga pre-dates such modern conveniences, however, yogis developed internal cooling strategies to balance excessive heat, sun or the emotional equivalents (anger, agitation).
Yogasana that is lunar or cooling in nature focuses on the parasympathetic division of the nervous system, the “rest and digest” state. Parasympathetic nerves at the sacrum and occiput (base of the skull) are emphasized in Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose), and other poses. Forward bends, in particular, help us turn inward and slow the racing thoughts associated with solar stimulation.
One of the best-known practices for cooling is Sheetali pranayama, curling up the sides of the tongue and inhaling the breath as though sipping from a straw. (Those unable to curl the tongue can substitute Seetkari, the hissing breath inhaled through the teeth.) Left-nostril breathing, known as Chandra Bhedana (“moon passing through”), cools the physical body and is excellent for calming a restless mind.
Ayurveda also gives us many options for balancing heat and dryness. We can incorporate more pitta-calming foods in our diet, eating avocado, cabbage, cucumber, zucchini, yogurt and melon in familiar summer dishes like slaws, yogurt lassis or cucumber water. If you perform daily abhyanga (self-massage and oleation), it’s a good idea to change to a more cooling oil such as coconut.
Summer is a good time to increase time for meditation, or to try yoga nidra or a restorative yoga sequence. Balance sun salutations with moon salutations—Kripalu teachers offer a beautiful chandra namaskara. Experiment to find what works best to soothe sizzled nerves, remembering that how we do things is as important as what we do. Slow down. Breathe deeply. Have fun. Wear moonstones or pearls, dress in cool colors like soft blue or lavender, take a moon bath.
Lunar practices are nurturing, receptive, and regenerative, not only good for dealing with summer’s heat but also helpful any time we are “burning” from our fast-paced, thought-dominant society. Hot flashes, anger issues, anxiety, heartburn, constipation—all signal that it’s time to dance with the moon.
What cooling yoga practices have worked best for you?