Cooling Practices for Summer
I remember thinking last year was one of the hottest summers that I had ever experienced. The heat was unbearable and I, being without an air conditioner, was positively cooked. The heat made sleeping difficult, it made me feel fatigued, it wiped me of my energy and forced me to slow down. That right there was my body’s intuition taking hold, my internal system attempting against all odds to regulate itself. It is more than likely, as an inevitable result of climate change, that temperatures will continue to rise. Rather than relying solely on modern cooling technology to beat the heat, it is essential that we as a society learn to tap into the human body’s innate temperature-regulating mechanisms.
The skin, sweat glands and blood vessels act as the “vents” of the body’s cooling and heating systems. When sweat glands are activated, water from the body rises to the surface of the skin as sweat. The water then evaporates, cooling the body and keeping internal temperatures at equilibrium. In order for us to stay cool, it’s important to pay attention to the fabrics that we wear on those excruciatingly hot days. Breathable fabrics such as cotton, bamboo and linen will help to absorb the moisture rather than letting it sit on your skin.
It’s no secret that a nice cold bath can help regulate internal body temperature, but for the most efficient cooling during those summer months one must understand the body’s quick-cooling pulse points and how to use them. The neck and wrists both contain pulse points (areas where you can feel your pulse beneath the skin), as well as the insides of elbows and knees, tops of feet, insides of ankles, temples, and just in front of the ears. These areas of the body have blood vessels that lay directly underneath the surface of the skin so targeting them with a washcloth soaked in cold water can be a very effective way of cooling the body down.
Working with the breath can also prove to be a powerful way of quelling excess body heat as well as calm the frantic nervous system in the case of extreme heat. Sitali, or cooling breath, is a pranayama discovered long ago by the ancient yogis as a means for cooling the body. In this pranayama, practitioners sit in a comfortable position and inhale through a curled tongue (in the shape of an “o” or a “u”) as if drinking through a straw (as seen in the picture at the top of this post). As a result, the inhale is moistened as it passes through the tunnel created by the tongue, adding moisture to the system and calming the heat within the body. Most yogic breath techniques have been found to produce profound effects on bodily functions particularly in the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for rest and relaxation responses in the body.
Understanding the body’s own intelligence and mechanisms of cooling is the first step in effectively and self-sufficiently maintaining a comfortable internal body temperature as we move into these summer months. With climate change as an inevitable part of our future, these cooling techniques can help us to beat the heat without having to rely solely on appliances or other alternative cooling mechanisms. Always remember to listen to your body as temperatures rise, do your best to utilize and support your own internal cooling systems, and welcome any excuse to slow down, take a pause, and breathe.
(come practice with Devin at Community Class every Monday and Thursday evening from 7:15-8:30!)