Hot summer days can make us feel tired and bothered: we end up sweaty, with flushed cheeks and heavy legs, exhausted at the end of the day. This is the result of our body working hard to keep its temperature and internal conditions in equilibrium. Our body is trying to keep cool by raising the heart rate, dilating blood vessels and sweating: the dilated blood vessels bring more blood nearer the skin so it can cool down as the sweat evaporates. Help your body by staying as cool as possible and by drinking plenty of water. You can also try these ‘hot days, cool yoga’ tips: a breathing technique that can help you feel cooler and a yoga position that is a miracle cure for heavy legs.
Shitali – cooling breath
This simple breathing technique is worth trying for its amazing cooling effect. You don’t have to do it for a long time. Practise it first where you have some privacy and soon you will be able to do it almost unnoticed.
The traditional technique looks a little funny, as it requires you to curl the tongue and breathe in through this straw-like structure. The idea is to increase the tongue’s surface that touches the colder outside air. So curl your tongue and try breathing in through your mouth. Breathe out through the nose. Repeat 6-12 times, breathing slowly. Then breathe normally and notice the effect.
Once you have mastered the technique, you can keep the tongue slightly curled or even flat inside the mouth: the only thing to do for the cooling effect is again to maximise the area of your tongue that is touched by air. Normally, when we breathe in through the mouth, the air only touches the back of the tongue. Try to lift the front of your tongue for the cooling effect.
Do this breathing technique occasionally when you feel hot, but breathe in and out through the nose at other times.
Our legs can feel heavy at the end of a hot day because of the blood vessel enlargement or “vasodilation” that aims to cool the body. You may have felt the same vasodilation in your hands while on a walk in hot weather. Without knowing why, you probably raised your hands with the fingers pointing up to help the blood circulation.
For some people the increase of blood in the veins doesn’t return as easily to the heart. Our veins have small valves that prevent the blood from flowing backward, but for some people the walls are stretched and the valves weakened (causing varicose veins). For them, the heavy sensation in the legs may be even more pronounced in summer. If this is you, avoid sitting or standing too long, include enough exercise in your day, keep cool and elevate your legs. The following position reverses gravity and is a relief for any legs. You don’t need to have varicose veins or even heavy legs to enjoy this soothing and relaxing position.
Legs up the wall pose
How close you lie to the wall will depend on your hamstrings. This position has to be comfortable on the back of the legs, like a nice stretch, not an excruciating one. Only a comfortable feeling will relax the body and lengthen the back of your legs.
– If your hamstrings are quite flexible, you can lie very close to the wall so that your legs are at a 90-degree angle to your body. Place yourself sideways next to the wall and swing both legs up, coming to lie on your back.
– If your hamstrings are not so flexible you can start by lying further away from the wall.
– Relax your arms to the side; 45 degrees away from the body tends to be most relaxing for the shoulders.
– Keep your attention on your breath and on relaxing the whole back, shoulders and neck. If your neck feels tight, place a low pillow under your head.
– Hold for about 10 minutes if comfortable.
– To come out of the position, bend your legs and roll over to the side. Push yourself up with one arm.
The variations below can be used when your legs start to tingle or tire, but also simply as variations to stretch different parts of your legs.
Variation 1: straight legs out to the side
Variation 2: soles of the feet together
Namaste, stay cool!