Oh, summer in Maine: longer days, bike rides, fresh veggies, ocean breezes. Now I remember why we endure the long winter. For some Mainers, though, summer isn’t so relaxing. The heat and humidity of July and August can elevate stress and anxiety, as well as exacerbate existing health conditions like upper respiratory and digestive disorders. Luckily, there are many things you can do to beat the heat and get outside to enjoy the bounty of a Maine summer—like yoga!
It’s hard to get on your mat in the summer, isn’t it? You wake up and it’s 75° without a cloud in the sky. Should you go for a quick dip in the ocean? Run the boulevard? Well, exercising in the morning is a good idea before the heat of the day really settles on the city, but yoga is actually a great way to balance your system morning or evening, before or after any other kind of exercise.
For example, did you know even heat-building poses like heart openers can be cooling? It’s like taking a hot shower on a sweltering day. Your body sweats out the heat and you actually feel cooler afterward. The humidity in particular this time of year can make it difficult to breathe or make you sluggish. Ustrasana (camel pose) and bhujangasana (cobra pose) are both grounding and opening at the same time, lifting your energy and opening your chest so you can find your breath and get back to your day without losing your cool.
Already hot enough? Try some forward bends, which are not only cooling, but stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering anxiety levels. Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) and prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend) are both grounding poses, lengthening hamstrings and opening hips and groins to counteract “fight or flight” and keep you settled and stable.
Twists, especially seated and reclining twists, like ardha matsyendrasana (half spinal twist) and jathara parivartanasana (supine twist) are great for wringing out the heat and cooling you down.
Opting out of strong vinyasa sequences and sun salutations will also help you stay cool during an asana practice, but if you want still more yoga to help you with the heat, try some cooling pranayama, or breath work. Shitali pranayama literally meaning “cooling breath.” According to theHatha Yoga Pradipika, an ancient manual on hatha yoga, this breathing practice brings down your body temperature and actually removes excess heat accumulated in the body systems. If you can roll your tongue, inhale through your rolled tongue into your mouth and exhale out your nose. If you can’t roll your tongue just purse your lips into an “o” shape and inhale through your mouth like that, then exhale out your nose. Repeat this 5-10 times, or until you feel yourself begin to cool down.
What about when you leave the sanctuary of the studio and step back out into the heat? There are several nutritional choices you can
make to help maintain this balance and keep your body cool. Drink a ton of water. Staying hydrated is key to helping your body move the heat, detoxify, and keep your systems in good order. Eat light. There is a ton of fresh produce available in Maine in the summer from fresh berries and watermelon to leafy greens, tomatoes, and especially cucumbers. Cucumbers are not only full of water, but also vitamin C, which reduces swelling. Inflammation is another result of excess heat, and bonus: You can even put cucumbers on a sunburn! Reduce foods known to cause inflammation like dairy and sugar.
It’s all about balance, right? So enjoy a kale salad with your lobster roll this summer. Go for a hike and then come take a yoga class tostretch out your tired limbs and bring your body, breath, and mind back into good alignment with the season and with the soul.
– Skye Adams