13 Ayurveda & yoga tips to keep cool in summer

heatwave tips yoga ayurveda

Some simple changes to your daily habits can do a lot to keep you cool and calm during this current heatwave, from getting up before sunrise to enjoy the cool and calm of early morning to drinking cooled herbal teas like camomile to the best yoga asanas.

If you’re a Vata type you probably love these hot humid days. High 20s or 30 degrees? Bring it on! You’re probably the one who, like a cat, gravitates to the sunniest spot to curl up in. But if you’re primarily Pitta or Kapha it can feel like just sitting, standing or trying to breathe can take all your energy. Let alone having to think, speak or move, or actually have to go to work.

For Pittas, it’s the heat that takes it out of you. On top of the naturally high fire in your constitution, you can really suffer, feeling sticky, uncomfortable, like you’re burning up; sometimes even breathing is difficult. It makes you exhausted, irritated, critical, frustrated and liable to have a short fuse and lose your sense of humour.

For Kaphas, who are happy happy happy when it’s hot and dry, it’s the hot damp humidity that aggravates the naturally high water element in your constitution. It can make you exhausted, heavy in your body, limbs or chest, can aggravate any lung and phlegm problems, cause water retention or puffiness around the body, and make you feel dull and lethargic.

Physically, what’s happening is that because the blood is getting overheated and because muscular and mental activity create heat, your body is trying to adapt and keep cool by slowing down the functioning of your organs, to stop them generating heat. But it can leave you feeling physically slow, sapped of energy and mentally drained or dazed.

So we shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to do everything in life that we can do when the weather is milder. This is the time of year to have as much downtime and holiday as possible. Chill out and be a bit lazy, without feeling guilty. Over-hot weather is more bearable when we’re not at work, and can be in the garden, coast or countryside, or on holiday.

Daily habits to keep you cool

1. Get up early. Rise before the sun and make the most of the early mornings, when it’s cooler and your mind and body feel fresher and lighter. If you can, adapt your working hours and go to in an hour or more earlier and finish earlier. Your boss should be happy as you’ll get more done; you’ll beat the hot evening rush hour; you’ll have some energy left to enjoy the summer evenings instead of arriving home burnt out; and if you’re Pitta you’ll probably be nicer to be around!

2. Do your exercise first thing, 7am or earlier. Do cooler forms of working out, such as walking, swimming, gentle cycling, hatha yoga. If you’re a runner or a gym bunny, work to only 50 per cent of your capacity. If you do the intense, strenuous exercise now that you do in winter or spring, you’ll overheat internally before the working day has even begun. This is hard for some Pittas but let go of rigidity and don’t let your Pitta mind push you to overheat your agni, your organs, your blood and your mind. Obviously (I hope!) don’t do hot yoga and don’t exercise in the midday or afternoon heat. And not in the evening, as it will overheat you before bed and disrupt your sleep, unless it’s something to wind down like gentle tai chi or some restorative yoga.

3. Don’t get on the Central line! The Ayurvedic books don't tell you this one! But the deeper tube lines are the hottest, especially the Central line. One recent summer, a TV news report recorded 35 degrees down there (it’s illegal for animals to be transported in conditions of 30 degrees or above). If you use it for work, try another line, even if it goes to a station a few minutes farther from your office. Leave enough time for the extra stroll -- not a power walk.

4. Have a relaxing evening. Don’t go tubing or busing it all over London to see people. Minimise travel, and do relaxing social activities with your chilled-out friends (not stimulating things with heated intense people!). Be sure to get this important down time and not work late, so you are fresh next day. Don’t use the computer in the evening. Instead, read a book in the garden, watch a movie, or enjoy dinner al fresco with friends. Cooling the eyes can make the whole body feel cool, as the eyes are a main site of Pitta, so use rose water or cucumber slices on the eyes after a hot day.

5. Go to bed before Pitta time. The long evenings are one of the best things about summer, and we don’t need to go to bed as early as in the winter. 10.30-11 is good for most people, so that you’re well asleep before the Pitta section of the night. As sunset and sunrise in London are currently around 9pm and 5am, the Pitta third of the night is approximately 11.45pm to 2.30am.  This is when, if you’re not in a sound sleep, mind and body become overheated and overstimulated and you can’t get to sleep or have a hot and restless sleep. And you want to feel refreshed so you can get up with the sun, remember?!

6. Right before you lie down to sleep, massage coconut oil into the soles of the feet to draw excess heat away from the head, relax you, and aid a cool, restful sleep.

7. Drink cooled herbal teas. Drink more water throughout the day than usual, and never allow yourself to get thirsty. On top of room temperature or cool (never ice cold, even in summer) water, camomile or fresh mint tea, cooled to room temperature, can revive you. They can help to clear the heat that is exhausting you or making you frustrated or irritable.  Or try Pukka’s Refresh tea (peppermint, fennel and rose) or Cleanse (peppermint, fennel and nettle).

8. Use rose water and tap water. Keep a rosewater spray handy, and use as needed, especially around lunchtime when agni is high. Or dip your inside wrists into a bowl of cold tap water for several minutes (preferable to a water-wasting running tap).

Cooling yoga postures

9. Do yoga postures that are cooling and relaxing, that stretch and twist the sides of the torso and the abdominal area, relax the muscles around the solar plexus, or standing postures that open the hips. These help to shift excess Pitta from its main sites of the small intestine and liver. These include:

Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) at a moderate pace, not too fast or too slow

Trikonasana (Triangle posture)

Virabhadrasana 1 and 2 (Warrior postures)

Dhanurasana (Bow posture) and/or Bhujangasana (Cobra posture)

Vrksasana (Tree posture)

Standing Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon posture)

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) sequence including Halasana (Plough) and ending with Matsyasana (Fish)

Seated or lying down spinal twists (during your practice and always at the end)

Always end with ten minutes in Savasana (Corpse – final lying-down relaxation), to cool the body, restore the muscles and nervous system, calm and centre the mind and heart, and avoid exhaustion,

Don’t attempt any posture on your own that you don’t know, or is uncomfortable in any way. If unsure go to a class.

Summer herbal health boosts

10. Aloe vera juice is sweet, bitter and cooling and balances all three doshas. It can reduce or help prevent the inflammation that excess heat can cause (inflammation can lead to acidity, ulcers, IBS, skin problems and numerous other issues).   

11. Neem is bitter, light, dry and cooling, and reduces redness, swelling and pain caused by excess hot Pitta and wet Kapha. It removes heat and helps to treat liver and skin inflammation and, as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, some types of intestinal inflammation.

12. Chlorella. This algae is sweet, bitter, cooling, light and dry, so reduces Pitta and Kapha. It contains numerous nutrients and vitamins including all the B vitamins, and its myriad benefits include cleansing the liver, nourishing the blood, nourishing the nervous system, reducing inflammation and boosting energy.  Wheatgrass is another option with similar actions but more cooling, so Chlorella is better if you’re very Vata or very Kapha.

13. Spirulina. This freshwater plant is sweet, bitter, cooling, light and dry, so reduces Pitta and Kapha (and tastes disgusting. Get the tablets not the powder).  It is nutritionally superdense containing more than 100 nutrients, including vitamins, amino acids and minerals, so is a good nutritional support in summer when we are eating less and lighter food.

Jacqui Gibbons is an Ayurvedic health coach and trainee yoga teacher, and will be offering yoga and Ayurveda workshops in London in early 2019