The Home Stretch: Cool Off With Yoga

So, where are your tan lines? I’ll show you mine. Somewhere between the mornings spent putting on an extra layer of pants and now, New York became the sweatbox that it does every summer and I can’t stop wondering if I could’ve missed July.

Strange things happen in weather this warm -- just ask Tennessee Williams or Snooki. But before you get overly irked by that sticky subway railing you just had your hand on, practice some cooling and calming yoga poses to help revive yourself. Or you could get one of those wrap-around neck fans, your choice.

Does it seem impossible to do anything without breaking a sweat right now? Take a few minutes to stretch your body and find your breath. It can help to keep you cool and to increase your overall flexibility and fitness level. With weather this warm, your muscles are more pliable than they would be in cooler temperatures, allowing you go deeper in your stretches and, possibly, hold poses for a longer period of time. While this is happening, your body is already working hard to keep itself from overheating, so focusing on deep and even breathing dramatically helps these practices.

It’s important to keep in mind that, while your flexibility may increase due to the hot temperatures, it’s easy to overstretch in this weather as well. Don’t let yourself fall victim to this trap. Be honest with your range of motion and be careful not to take any stretch deeper than is truly comfortable for your body.

Practice each of the following poses for five to ten breaths. As these are meant to be cooling postures, feel free to increase their duration of time as you become more familiar with them.

Oh, and my tan lines? They’re on my feet.

The Exercises

Practice each pose for five to ten breaths, or as long as is comfortable for you. Try to keep your breathing even and slow, as it will be the single greatest practice to cool you down.

At the office and can’t use these moves? Consider this simple breathing exercise: Make your tongue as wide and flat as possible and stick it out as far as it will go. Allow it to curl up towards the ceiling and press the tip of your tongue gently into the roof of your mouth against your front teeth. Inhale slowly through your mouth, allowing your tongue to puff up. Exhale and relax your face. Repeat for five deep breaths, but not in front of your boss.

Cat/Cow Pose

Come to all fours on the center of your mat with your knees hip-width and your hands shoulder-width distance apart. Engage your core muscles and keep them active throughout the stretch. Press the ground away from you so you’re not sinking into your wrists and crunching your shoulders. Inhale and arch your back, drawing your shoulder blades down and in towards each other, as you look up towards the ceiling. Exhale and round your spine up towards the ceiling and you look towards your navel. Repeat five to ten times and return to a neutral spine.

Supported Bridge Pose

Lay down in the center of your mat with your knees bent and your feet pressed firmly into the floor, close enough so that you can touch your heels with your fingertips. Have a block (or even a towel rolled lengthwise) nearby. Press your feet firmly and evenly into the floor. Inhale and lift your hips towards the ceiling. Place the center of the block at the base of your spine by your sacrum. Allow your hips to gently relax down as you draw your shoulders underneath you and clasp your hands together to open your chest. Keep your feet firmly planted in the ground and your thighs and knees hip width apart. Hold for five to ten breaths, remove the block and relax on your mat.

Seated Forward Bend

Sit up as tall as possible on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of you and your hands placed by your sides. Draw your belly in towards your spine and up towards your ribcage as you relax your shoulders down your back. Inhale and stretch forward, reaching towards your toes and lengthening your spine. Exhale and fold, using your shins, feet, or clasped hands as leverage to allow you to stretch deeper. Keep your belly drawn in, as it is the single most important factor that will allow for a deeper stretch. Hold for five to ten breaths, relaxing into the pose, and then release and rest of your back.

Mallory Stuchin, a native Manhattanite, is a freelance food and health writer. She studied Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India and has taught classes at PURE Yoga and New York University. She is also a Natural Foods Chef  and has worked for Mario Batali. Her writing has previously been featured in The New York Observer, Glamour and Maxim, as well as other publications in New York and Los Angeles.

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