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We recently experienced some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in the UK meaning hot humid days and sleepless nights. As I write this the news is filled with details of President Bidens intention to declare a climate emergency to put in place measures to address global warming as millions in the States live under heat warnings and California battles more devastating wildfires.

Here in France where I am currently based temperatures are high, many government owned forested areas are shut due to the fire risk, and it is difficult to move about much during the hot midday heat.

It is hot, humid and at times alarming. Aside from doing as much as we can to reduce environmental damage, we also need to find ways to get on with our lives. This is where yoga can help! Yoga offers us a fantastic self-care tool kit which we can use to help us to adapt to lifestyle events and conditions.

First, what to avoid or at least reduce? Heated yoga spaces and athletic strong flows can stimulate our fire element, our “agni”, which may leave us feeling drained and lightheaded if the temperature is already very warm.

Instead exploring our water element with gentle soothing flows, longer holds in asanas, visualisations and calming breathing techniques can be a great way to calm our agni, our “internal fire” and leave us feeling a little less frazzled, hot and bothered, clearer headed and cooler.

Try this simple gentle yoga practice to help beat the heat.

1. Sitali or Sitkari Breath

In sanskrit “sitali” means “cooling” and is considered one of the foremost cooling yoga practices. Sitting comfortably, you place the tip of the tongue between your lips and curl up the sides creating a straw effect. As you inhale gently draw the inhalation through the tongue and then as you exhale close your mouth and exhale through the nose. Practise this for as long as feels comfortable noting how much cooler the breath feels. But not everyone can curl up their tongue (this is genetically determined) so Sitkari offers a great alternative. This practice requires you to place your tongue behind your front teeth, with the lips close together but not touching. On an inhalation draw the breath in through the teeth with a slight hissing sound, close the mouth and exhale through the nose.

For those with sensitive teeth Sitkari may not be appropriate so you can gently purse your mouth creating another straw shape and inhale through there.

A wonderfully calming breathing technique which is not only great if feeling hot and bothered but also if feeling anxious or stressed (so also perfect for a long commute to work on busy hot public transport!).

2. Half Surya Namaskar

Sun Salutations are warming and invigorating and not ideal if feeling very hot, however a gentle standing stretch can help us feel more energised and shift stagnant energy. Starting in Tadasana, Mountain Pose, stretch your arms above your head on your inhalation and then as you exhale fold from the hips and lower the upper body down over your legs. With your hands on the floor, on your fingertips, hands on blocks or on your shins, inhale and lift up half way lengthening from the crown of your head to your pubis bone before exhaling and taking another gentle forward fold.

On your next inhale root down through your feet to feel grounded and steady and lift back up to standing. As you exhale draw your hands down through the center line towards your heart, pause and repeat. In addition to a feeling of expansion as you lift the arms up you are also allowing your hamstrings and back body a gentle stretch. Remembering to tap into the water element, moving slowly and perhaps visualise that you are moving through water or diving into a cool lake as you embrace this gentle standing flow.

3. Vrksasana

There is nothing quite like a standing balance to focus the mind and gently strengthen the body. Tree pose can be both calming and grounding. Standing on one foot, place your other foot on your leg (ideally your inner calf or thigh) and either with your hands together in front of your chest or above your head (note that this version is more warming), focus your gaze on one point, breath and balance.

Observe the sense of calm that this pose creates and change sides when ready.

On coming down to the floor my favourite cooling practices include those than encourage a gentle stretch especially around the hips which are an area traditionally associated with the water element. Asanas where you can stay a little longer and work with the heat rather than against it.

4. Baddha Konasana

Sitting with the feet together and knees bent, place your hands around your feet and as you inhale gently lift the spine and on an exhalation fold forwards. Initially you can slowly move up and down like a cooling ocean wave and then perhaps hold this asana for 10-15 breaths. Not only does this asana provide a gentle stretch around the groin and for the hips but it gives us an opportunity to turn our attention inwards, to steady the chatter of our minds and to release mental and physical tension.

5. Upavistha Konasana

Opening the legs wider apart moving into a deeper hip stretch and opportunity to release tension and calm our busy thoughts. You could place a bolster in front of you for a more restorative version of this asana or raise your hips slightly and sit on the edge of a block to help with the hinging forward.

As you inhale lift the spine and as you exhale allow the upper body to move forward into the center between the legs. Again, you may wish to start with gentle fluid movements before coming into a longer hold.

There is a quality of surrendering to this pose as if you are in a place to find peace with the heat and to embrace it as it is right now in this present moment as you practise.

6. Janu Sirsasana and Pvritta Janu Sirsasana

Whilst seated, stretch one leg out in front of you with the other knee bent and foot placed along the inner thigh. On your inhalation lift through the spine and as you exhale fold forward over the outstretched leg observing any sensations arising and noting the contact of the leg and sitting bones on the ground supporting you. An incredibly calming pose which not only gives us an opportunity to build present moment awareness and cool down, but it is also a soothing asana and great for insomnia and those hot balmy night times when it’s difficult to sleep.

You can also create a gentle side body stretch by extending the side body over the extended leg and drawing the upper arm over the side of the face. Breathing into the space that this wonderfully deep and rooted asana provides whilst getting the benefits of another hip stretch.

Other asanas you might like to explore could include Anjaneyasana a low lunge which lifts and opens the front body and provides a gently energising and uplifting back bend, Anahatasana, otherwise known as puppy, pose which is a wonderful alternative to the more dynamic Downward Dog, and Eka Pada RajaKapotasana, pigeon pose which enables a lowering down of the entire body towards the floor whilst encouraging that gentle hip stretch.

And of course

7. Savasana

When it is particularly hot don’t underestimate the power of rest. Perhaps you could make this rest pose even more cooling by placing a cool cloth over your forehead (maybe adding a few drops of calming lavender oil). Close your eyes, draw your awareness to your breath and different body parts and whether you wish to move through a gentle progressive muscle relaxation, body scan or cooling visualisation (waterfalls and ocean waves) give yourself this precious time to just be.

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