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Cooling yoga practices for hot summer days

Summer has kicked into high gear and it is easy to feel overheated, lazy and sluggish when the temps rise. Here are some yoga practices and poses to help cool down this summer.

First, start with sheetali breathing. This technique is known as the cooling breath and helps cool the body down. Sitting cross legged or on the heels, using a block or blanket for support if necessary. Breathe in and sit up nice and tall. Take a few nice calm breaths in and out of the nose. Then, curl the tongue like a straw. Some people genetically are unable to roll the tongue this way, if this is the case, purse the lips. Inhale, drawing the air through the mouth and "tongue straw". Exhale out of the nose. Do this for as many rounds as needed to cool down. Really, this type of breathing can be done anywhere when feeling too hot, whether it is in yoga class, at the grocery store checkout line or even driving in the summer heat.

Forward folds are known to be cooling poses not only physically, but also mentally. Folding forward allows the yogi to go more inside oneself and cool the mind down. Forward folds also help to slow the body down, cooling it down after a fast paced vinyasa flow class or when just settling in for a more relaxed practice. There are both standing and seated forward folds, both are beneficial to cooling the body.

Try these poses when feeling overheated.

Standing forward fold/ragdoll:

Stand with the feel hip width apart, usually about two fists distance, grounding the feet into the Earth. Lift the toes and spread them out. Feel all four corners of the feet on the ground. With pressure evenly around the feet, lower the toes down. Breathe in, stand up nice and tall, lengthening the spine and lifting the chest. On an exhale, fold all of the way forward, with a nice long spine.Draw the belly in slightly and straighten the legs if available. If not, keep a slight bend in the knees. Drop the head and either gaze down the tip of the nose or even close the eyes. Grab opposite elbows or forearms or press the hands into the floor or use blocks. Another option is to grab the big toes with the index, middle fingers and thumbs, and draw the elbows out to the sides (as pictured). Take five breaths here.

Seated forward fold:

Sitting on the floor with the legs extended in front. Flex the feet back. Breathe in and sit up nice and tall. On an exhale, lead with the chest, keeping the spine straight for as long as possible (it will round a bit) and fold over the legs. Keep the shoulder blades drawing down the back. Hunching the shoulders to reach the feet is not the goal. Either grab the toes, the sides of the feet, hang the hands over the feet and pull the toes back, or place the hands on the ankles. Breathe in and lift the chest. Exhale, fold forward. Gaze should be towards the toes or for more cooling purposes, close the eyes. If reaching the feet is a struggle, bent knees are also a way to grab the toes without hunching the shoulders. Hold for as many as 10 breaths.

Bound angle pose:

Sit up tall. Let the soles of the feet come together and the knees fall out to the sides. If able, press the outer edges of the feet together and hold the feet as if they are a book. Breathe in, sit up nice and tall. Lift the chest, lengthen the spine and draw the shoulder blades down the back. On an exhale, lead with the chest and fold forward, keeping the spine as long as possible. The elbows may gently press into the thighs to draw the knees closer the the floor. Close the eyes or gaze down the tip of the nose. Take 5 to 8 breaths here. On an inhale, come back up to sit.

Reclined bound angle pose:

Keeping the feet together, knees wide, as in the previous posture, lay onto the back. Place one hand on the heart and one on the navel or lay the arms on the ground with the elbows bent, so the arms are in a 90 degree angle. The arms will look cactus shaped. Let the eyes close and pay attention to the breath. Mentally count the breath in and then try to find a longer count for the exhale. This can be practiced for as long as necessary to cool down and relax.

Legs up the wall:

Either go to a wall, slide in as close as possible to the wall and lift the legs up, resting them on the wall. Sometimes props and blankets can help make this pose more comfortable. If there is not a wall nearby, use a block or the back of the hands underneath the sacrum to get a lift in the hips and lift the legs up to the sky. Let the legs "relax" in the air. If it is too much to hold the legs straight, bend the knees. Hold this pose for as long as desired. This pose calms the nervous system by letting the blood flow the other direction down the legs. Close the eyes and enjoy.

Child's pose:

From the hands and knees, spread the knees wide and let the big toes touch. Sink the hips back towards the heels and allow the forehead to rest on the ground. The arms can reach forward or for the ankles. If reaching for the ankles, draw the knees a little bit closer together. Hold for as long as desired.

Corpse pose:

How most yoga classes wrap up the physical practice, corpse pose (savasana), is a great way to allow the body and mind rest and feel the support of the floor and the universe supporting the body. Let the feet and legs spread as wide as the mat, with the feet and legs flopping open. The arms lay at the sides, palms facing up. Draw the shoulder blades towards one another slightly. The eyes are closed and the breath is soft and natural. Lay here for as long as desired.