Keeping cool with Yoga
Yoga has a number of different practices that can help to cool you down as temperatures soar. Mental, physical and breath control can all be beneficial. Many require a regular, dedicated practice for maximum impact and effect. However, one that I have found very useful for all levels of practitioner is the physical position of legs up the wall (Viparita Karani). So let’s have a look at some simple ways to achieve maximum benefit from this position.
As the temperature rises around the world, even normally temperate zones struggle with more frequent hot weather extremes. Having taught in hot weather climates - Sydney Australia and Dubai UAE spring to mind - I know that starting a Yoga session with this particular pose is a great way to cool people down. It can also be a useful stand-alone posture during hot weather, or a lovely way to wind down at the end of a physical yoga practice.
For those yoga practitioners reading this, the ‘legs up the wall’ position will be very familiar to you, but hopefully I can offer some useful tips to make the position even more beneficial.
And for anyone not familiar with this position, I am talking about lying on the floor close to a wall and swinging yourself around with your legs up until they resting on the wall, straight up and with the soles of your feet looking at the ceiling. Your body and legs create a right angle to each other, bottom close to the base of the wall and legs fully supported by the wall.
Sounds simple, and it is. You could do it straight away, and gain almost instant relief from the heat. But there are some guidelines concerning environment, clothing and positioning that will allow you to reap even greater benefits. These guidelines can also make getting into, and sustaining, the position a whole lot easier. And I have also offered suggestions for those who would prefer not to go down to the floor, or do not have a clear wall handy.
Let’s begin with the basics, bearing in mind that if any of the suggestions are not possible, you can adapt to suit your own environment.
Try and ensure that you will not be disturbed. Let anyone else in close proximity know that you will be busy for a while and want to be quiet. Switch phones to Silent and put them out of reach.
Dim the lights or draw the curtains/blinds so that you can be in semi-darkness. If this is not possible, use a yoga eye bag or a light scarf to cover your eyes.
Wooden floor preferable as this will be cooler than carpeted area. Tile is also cool, but will feel harder on the back of the body so make sure that you have enough padding under you to feel comfortable. Carpet is fine, but will not feel as cool.
Wooden wall is ideal, but plastered wall is more likely. Without a skirting board if possible. If you are concerned about marking the wall with your feet, then you can use a small towel or similar draped over your heels to prevent sweaty marks. An uneven stone wall is more of a challenge, but just try and find the most comfortable position.
Loose, comfortable clothing made from natural fibres. No need for any special yoga clothing, in fact the form-fitting synthetic tops and pants may make you sweat more.
Take off all jewellery, including watches. Remove any Fitbits etc.
It is not essential to have any/all of these items - they may simply make the posture more comfortable for you. As always, be adaptable, be creative.
Yoga mat, large towel or folded blanket to provide a level of comfort under your body. You can also choose to have nothing between you and the floor.
Small pillow/cushion or folded blanket/towel for under your head if you know that you find it difficult to lie completely flat with your head in a comfortable position on the floor.
Eye pillow or light scarf to cover your eyes.
Bed pillow or similar to put behind your heels/ backs of legs once in position. Provides cushioning and helps to bring legs into line with the hips.
Viparita Karani Pose (Asana)
Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)
Place your yoga mat (or similar) short side against the wall. Ensure that you have enough space in the room to safely swing your legs up. If you are using any props, put them so that you will easily be able to reach them once you have your body in position.
Sit on your mat, with your back against the wall. Have your legs stretched out in front of you, the feet hip width apart. Soles of the feet active and toes spread, as if you were going to stand on the wall opposite. Notice how this feels. This is the relationship that your body and legs will have to each other once you get into position. In your mind’s eye, imagine this inverted position.
Now shuffle to the Left until your right buttock is resting on the edge of the mat. (When you lift your legs up, you will find yourself naturally centred on the mat)
From this position, lean to the Right and lie down, bending your legs into the foetal position, buttocks and back against the wall.
Start to swing your legs up the wall in an arc. As you do so, your upper body slides away from the wall in a corresponding arc, but your buttocks stay close to the bottom of the wall.
Uncurl your legs up to the vertical against the wall, having them hip width apart.
Adjust your position as necessary, to ensure that body is in line (top of head now pointing toward the opposite wall) and legs are vertical on the wall. Remember how it felt when you were sitting in this alignment on the floor, and try to mirror that. Buttocks should still be close to/ just touching the bottom of the wall.
Aim for maximum comfort
Is there anything that you could do to make the posture more comfortable for you? Take a few moments to adjust as necessary. It may even be that you come out of the pose, pause, and try once again. Time spent now will make all the difference to your experience of the pose.
What to do with your arms?
Once you are comfortably in position, consider the relationship of your arms to the rest of your body. Traditionally this posture has the arms down by the sides of the body, palms facing upwards. This opens the chest area. However, you can experiment and find the position that works best for you today.
Options for Arm position:
Arms down by your sides, palms face up. Check that the arms are far enough away from the sides of the body to avoid any constriction around neck/shoulder area. Try moving them until you find the optimal position for you.
Arms down by your sides, palms face down. Notice the difference in shoulder rotation - if you do a lot of keyboard work you may find this a more ‘natural’ position for you. For relaxation purposes, this will probably feel more comfortable. However, if at any point you wish to incorporate a stretch into the practice, try lying with palms face up for a while.
Arms bent and hands resting face down on abdomen. This can be a restful position to adopt if you would like to bring more awareness and focus to your breath.
What about your props?
· Small towel - If you are using a small towel over your heels, re-bend your knees and position your towel, then resume the vertical position.
· Pillow or cushion or folded blanket - If you are using a support behind your head, adjust as necessary to avoid any compression at either front or back of the neck.
· Eye covering - If you are using an eye pillow or scarf, place gently onto closed eyelids to reduce the light and sensory stimulus.
Again, if you are using props, take all the time that you need in order to adjust them and for you to become fully comfortable.
How about other options?
· Using a bed instead of the floor – this can be a lovely option just before getting ready to go to sleep, or simply because you find it difficult to get down to the floor. You can rest your legs on the headboard, or use one of your pillows against the wall.
· Resting feet without a wall – as long as the feet are above the level of the heart, you will still gain the cooling benefits of the posture. Try resting against the edge of your bed, chair, coffee table, whatever is handy.
Deepening the effect of Viparita Karani
Close your eyes and enjoy this position as long as is comfortable, maybe only a few minutes initially. Or you could stay in position for fifteen to twenty minutes, cultivating a breath practice at the same time. Including a breath practice helps to deepen the beneficial effect of the posture.
A simple way to include a focus on the breath (Pranayama) is to bring awareness to the sense of the nasal breath entering and leaving the body, drawing all the way down to the abdominal area.
Try allowing the belly (abdominal region) to rise slightly as you breathe in (inhalation) and to fall away toward the ground as you breathe out (exhalation). Allow this to happen almost without any conscious exertion on your part.
Viparita Karani can be used as a prelude to the more traditional relaxation pose (Savasana) or as a relaxation pose in its own right.
Coming Out of Viparita Karani
1. Take a few moments to bring full awareness back to the body, before moving.
2. Consciously take 2 or 3 deeper breaths as a prelude to movement.
3. Wiggle the extremities (toes & fingers) slightly, to bring small movements into the body.
4. If using an eye covering, remove it now but keep the eyes closed or slightly unfocused.
5. Slowly re-bend the knees and, using the soles of your feet, push yourself away from the wall.
6. Take a moment to readjust/remove any props.
7. Bend your knees, put your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, and rest for a few moments in this position.
8. Once you are ready to move again, roll over onto one side, into the foetal position.
9. Pause, then use one hand to push yourself up into a relaxed seated position.
10. Sit once more with your back against the wall and your legs stretched out in front of you.
11. Remember how this felt when you were in the inverted position of Viparita Karani.
12. Take your time, before slowly coming up to standing position.
Enjoy the hot weather, something of a bonus for the British summer, but with an awareness of the changes that it can bring to those of us unused to the high temperatures. Use your Yoga as a tool to help you to regulate your body temperature and to enjoy the gift of the sun in all its glory.
Founder - DRUVA