Feeling the heat? Here are some practices to cool your body and your mind that are also beneficial for PMS and menopausal hot flushes.
Here in Australia we’re experiencing a scorching summer and I have been finding that my more dynamic yoga practice has had to fall by the wayside. It’s just too damn hot! But just because the temperatures are soaring doesn’t mean you have to discard your yoga practice all together; yoga offers some beautiful practices to keep you cool.
Viparita Karani (Legs up the Wall Pose) with a Bolster
- Calms the nervous system and good for relieving fatigue.
- Boosts circulation—increases blood flow to the abdominal and pelvic region.
- Balances the hormonal system.
- Facilitates deeper breathing.
- Good for fluid retention and tired, aching legs
How to practise:
Place a bolster parallel to the wall, about an inch or so away from the wall. Sit on the middle of your bolster, side on, with the right hip into the wall. Then, lie back as you swing your legs up the wall. Lift your bottom and walk your shoulders in to move yourself as close as you can get to the wall as possible. In the final position, your sit-bones drop down a little in the space between the bolster and the wall, the bolster supports the lower back, and the pelvis is in neutral. Your hips are level, sit bones equidistant from the wall, and your spine is in a straight line. Buckle a strap around your thighs, just above your knees, to hold the legs together. This simple prop will deepen the relaxation of the hips and lower back in the position.
Take some deeper breaths as you settle in here. This is a wonderful pose that you can’t help but relax in! Allow the facial features to soften and swallow and relax the throat. Feel the shoulder-blades spreading into the floor and relax your buttocks and lower back. Feel your belly relaxing as your abdominal wall softens back towards the spine, particularly as you exhale. During the timing here you can just breathe naturally or you can work with the Ujjayi Breath or Falling-Out Breaths.
When you are ready to come out, untie your belt and bend up the legs. To transition, bend up your legs into Baddha Konasana—the soles of the feet together, little toe edge of the feet into the wall, heels towards the groin, and knees opening to the wall. Take some deep breaths visualising energising prana filling your pelvic area, nourishing your reproductive organs and genitals. After a few breaths, draw your knees towards each other and roll to the side and come gently up to sitting.
Sitali and Sitkari
Sitali (and Sitkari – a variation) is a classic, cooling Pranayama. This practice works to cool an over-heated mind and body, and is also good for alleviating anxiety and tension. “As you cool down your breath you’ll find unhealthy emotions such as anger, resentment, and jealousy instantly dissolving,” endorses Ayurvedic women’s health expert Maya Tiwari.
If you can naturally curl your tongue, practise Sitali, otherwise, you will need to practise Sitkari. Note that some people genetically can curl the tongue while others cannot.
How to do it:
Sit comfortably and take a few slow, deep breaths down into the belly (Soft Belly Breath). Then, begin Sitali by curling the tongue and raising the chin slightly as you breathe slowly and gently through the curled tongue. It is like you are sipping the breath through a straw. Feel the coolness of the breath as it fills the head, moves down the airways and all the way into the belly, cooling, soothing and balancing the reproductive organs. Pause for a moment with the chin lifted, throat open and the tongue gently pressed against the roof of the mouth. Then, lower the chin again so it is parallel to the floor and exhale smoothly and fully through the nostrils. Continue for 12 rounds.
Sit comfortably and take a few slow, deep breaths down into the belly (Soft Belly Breath). Then, begin Sitkari by gently closing the teeth and opening the lips. The tongue lies flat along the bottom palate. Raise your chin gently and inhale strongly through the teeth to create a hissing sound. Pause for a moment with the chin lifted, throat open and the tongue gently pressed against the roof of the mouth. Then, lower the chin again so it is parallel to the floor and exhale smoothly and fully through the nostrils. Continue for 12 rounds.
Sitali Pranayama with Nadi Shodhana Exhale
I first came across this wonderful variation in Yoga for Wellness by Viniyoga teacher Gary Kraftsow.  Kraftsow recommends this breathing practice for PMS, and I have personally found it very beneficial for not only PMS symptoms but also menopausal hot flushes.
By combining two types of pranayama—Sitali and Nadhi Shodhana—this variation doubles the calming and cooling effects. The beauty of this variation is that because it is that little more complex, it helps keep the mind focused, which can be particularly beneficial during the Waning Moon (premenstrual) phase when your mind is likely to ‘snowball’ with negative thoughts.
How to do it:
Sit comfortably and take a few slow, deep breaths down into the belly.
When you are ready, inhale through the curled tongue as you raise your chin slightly, sipping the breath (Sitali). If you are unable to naturally curl your tongue, practise Sitkari instead (breathing over a flat tongue). Then, release the tongue to touch it gently to the roof of your mouth as you bring your chin back down towards the floor and raise the right hand—there is a slight breath retention here.
Bring your right hand into Deer Mudra (see illustration) and gently close off the right nostril as you exhale slowly and smoothly through the left nostril. Lower the hand and inhale again through the curled tongue (Sitali) or through the teeth and over the flat tongue (Sitkari) as you raise your chin. Again, pause with the chin raised, throat open, releasing the tongue to roof of the mouth.
Now, raise your right hand into Deer Mudra and close off the left nostril and gently and deeply exhale through the right nostril. This completes one round.
Continue for another 8–9 rounds. And when you have finished sit quietly for some time just allowing yourself to up the quietness and peace that this beautiful pranayama practice offers.
1. Maya Tiwari, “Women’s Power to Heal”, p. 260
2. Gary Kraftsow, “Yoga for Wellness: Healing with Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga”, p. 300
Ana Davis, Founder and Director of Bliss Baby Yoga, has a passion for a feminine approach to yoga, and supporting women with yoga through all ages and stages of their life. Ana is currently writing her first book, “Moving with the Moon – nurturing yoga, movement and meditation for every phase of your menstrual cycle and beyond” due for release in mid-2018. An advanced chapter E-book, “The Dark Moon: Nurturing Yoga for Healthy Menstruation” is available now. Ana also offers 1:1 Online Mentoring Sessions for yoga teachers and Personalised Online Yoga Classes to support women in their teaching and/or their personal yoga practice – with sensitivity and awareness of the unique stages of a woman’s life and monthly cycles.