A rich, spicy stew sure hits the spot on a winter evening. But on a sweltering summer day? Not so much. A cucumber salad will not only be more appetizing but will also help you keep your cool, physically and mentally.
Just as Ayurveda guides you to adapt the foods you eat throughout the year, you can modify your Yoga practice to be in harmony with the changing seasons.
According to Ayurveda, fiery Pitta energy dominates in our environment in the summertime. This can lead to an unwanted accumulation of Pitta—with its hot and sharp qualities—in your body. If you have a Pitta-dominant constitution, you’ll want to be especially mindful of avoiding overheating in the summer.
In addition to making you feel too hot, a few signs of too much Pitta include:
Certain Yoga poses, or asanas, can help release Pitta heat. Specifically, this heat tends to accumulate in the mid-section of the body, cooling and detoxifying the liver, and preventing excess heat from moving upward in the body. To maintain a healthy balance of Pitta, try to incorporate the following types of poses into your summer yoga practice.
Spinal twists: Twisting poses help cool the blood and release excess Pitta from mid-abdomen, including the small intestine and liver. Twists performed seated or lying down are especially cooling. Try Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist) and Supta Matsyendrasana (Reclined Spinal Twist).
Gentle back bends: While some backbends can be heating, gentle backbends apply beneficial pressure to release tension and dissipate excess heat from the mid-abdomen. Bujangasana (Baby Cobra), Matsyasana (Fish) and Bandhasana (Bridge) are helpful to integrate into a Pitta-pacifying practice. Chakravakasana (Cat-Cow) is an ideal pairing of opposites: a gentle backbend and cooling forward bend.
Forward bends: Forward bends physically cool the body and calm the mind, and are essential to counteract the heating qualities of more intense back bends. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Padottanasana (Standing Open Leg Forward Bend) work well during the more active part of an asana practice, while Paschimottasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Balasana (Child’s Pose) are perfect ways to relax and cool the body toward the end of a practice.
You don’t need to give up your favorite poses in order to stay balanced. How you approach your practice is just as important as which asanas you choose. You’ll still want to adequately warm up your muscles and build some purifying internal heat, but you don’t want to overheat or have the heat linger too long in your body.
Pace yourself during active practices. For instance, if you love Sun Salutations— which can be very heating—perform them more slowly, and perhaps take two or more breaths per pose instead of one. Avoid straining.
Focus on the flow of your breath rather than intensity of your poses. Aim for a long, complete exhalation, which will help cool your body.
Consider your timing. Try to practice in the morning when the weather and your body are naturally cooler, and avoid practicing in direct sunlight.
End on a slow note. Even if the first part of your practice is more active, it is most important to end your with a period of slower, cooling poses—like the ones listed above—prior to Savasana.
With some slight adjustments to your yoga practice this summer, you can stay balanced, happy, and cool as a cucumber salad.
A version of this article originally appeared on YogaMotion.com.
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