With the hottest of summer months fully underway, the last thing we want to do is get even sweatier at the gym. While it’s important to keep the body moving, rigorous exercise can be counterproductive in the middle of all that heat. In the summer, our bodies are naturally warmed-up already, and in order to achieve the right balance for our health, what we actually need is exercise that cools us down while keeping our joints lubricated and our muscles strong.
Yoga is the perfect exercise to perform in the summer, because you can tune your body to the rhythms of nature by taking postures that are suitable for the hot weather. Scroll through the gallery below for a few yoga poses that will keep you strong and flexible, all while helping you cool off.
1. Mountain Pose
Sure, it might look like you're just standing, but mountain pose offers a myriad of health benefits when done right. This pose improves posture, which helps you breathe more fully into your lungs while stretching and strengthening the muscles in the legs.
To do this pose, simply stand up straight and tall, tuck your tailbone in slightly, and form your hands into a prayer position in front of your chest, pressing them together to activate the chest muscles. For an added benefit, take this pose against the wall and feel your back ribs press into the wall as you inhale, encouraging expansion in the diaphragm. The deeper you breathe, the cooler your body will feel once the exercise is over. Stay in this posture for five breaths.
2. Forward Fold
Another seemingly passive pose, forward folds benefit the body in several ways. One of the best yoga poses for back pain, this posture stretches the hamstrings while strengthening the quads, and also helps to relieve tension in the neck and shoulders.
To perform a forward fold, form a mountain pose, inhale the arms up overhead, and as you exhale, fold downward from the hips over your legs. Make sure to keep the spine as straight as possible as you lower and engage the core and upper thighs, bringing the forehead toward the knees. For an added stretch in the lower back, take this pose with your knees bent. Stay in the posture for five breaths.
3. Downward-Facing Dog
Downward-facing dog is one of the most well-known yoga postures, as it's the baseline in many yoga practices. This pose is energizing and rejuvenating for the whole body, as it stretches the arches in the feet, ankles, calves, hamstrings, spine, shoulders, and hands. It also helps to strengthen the quads, core, and the muscles in the arms.
To practice this pose, come into a plank position with your feet hip-width apart (about two fists between your feet) and shoulders stacked directly over your wrists. On an exhale, lift your hips up and back, tilting the hips toward the ceiling, pressing firmly into the hands, and reaching the heels of the feet toward the floor, creating an upside down V-shape with your body. If your hamstrings are tight at first, pedal your feet one at a time and breathe space into the tight areas. Once you find stillness, stay in the pose for three to five breaths, keeping the muscles activated and pressing the hips a little higher on each exhale.
4. Low Lunge
Lunges are known for their ability to strengthen the legs, knees, hips, glutes, and core, and this modified variation is perfect for the summer time. Low-lunge posture helps to build strength in the knee joint and surrounding muscles as well as the hips and core, while also stretching the hamstrings, hips, and chest.
To practice a low lunge, form a downward dog, then bring your right foot forward to replace your right hand. Gently lower your left knee to the ground (if this is uncomfortable, roll up a towel or blanket to rest your knee on). Pressing firmly into the ball of your left foot while drawing the inner thighs together, use your core strength to lift your arms up over-head so your biceps frame your ears. Be sure to drop your shoulders away from your ears so you’re not creating tension in that area! Stay in this posture for five breaths, and repeat on the other side.
5. Tree Pose
A great posture for building balance in the body, tree pose also helps to bring balance to the mind. In this pose, core and leg strength will keep you upright and standing tall.
To practice tree pose, start standing in mountain. Bring your right foot to rest on the inside of either your left ankle, calf, or upper thigh (do not place your foot on your knee!), and settle there. You can use your hand to draw your foot into the thigh. Once you’ve found your balance, inhale the arms up overhead, and exhale the hands to prayer position at the center of your chest. Take five breaths here, and repeat on the other side.
6. Goddess Pose
Goddess pose is one of the most empowering poses in the practice. In this posture the calves, quads, glutes, inner thighs, and core (as well as the shoulders, upper back, and arms) all get a workout. The posture also helps to stretch the hips, groin, and chest.
To practice, start standing with your legs out wide. Turn your feet out so that your heels are facing inward and your toes face outward to opposite sides. Sink into a squat, pressing firmly into the feet while engaging the thighs and tucking the tailbone slightly. Stand up as straight as possible, and inhale the arms up overhead. Exhale the arms out to a cactus stance beside you (see photo above), hands facing forward. Stay in this pose for five breaths.
7. Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Both an activating and restorative pose, wide-legged forward bend is a great pose to use at the end of a summer yoga practice. It activates the quads, calves, and hips, while stretching the spine, neck, shoulders, and back.
From standing, take your legs out wide and inhale the arms overhead. As you exhale, keep your spine as straight as possible, core tight, and fold forward over your legs toward the ground, drawing your belly in and sinking the weight toward the front of the feet to fold deeper. For an added bonus, you can take your pointer and middle finger together and wrap them around your big toes to gently pull yourself close to the ground on each exhale. Stay here for five breaths.
8. Cobbler’s Pose
A perfect pose to bring your practice down, cobbler’s pose is one of the best yoga poses for anxiety. It stretches the groin, inner thigh, and hips while relieving fatigue and stress. As an added benefit, this pose also helps to stimulate the abdominal and reproductive organs.
To practice, begin sitting on your butt and bring your feet together so that the soles of your feet are touching and your thighs open out to each side. Wrap your hands around your feet or toes to gently pull your chest forward, and extend your spine up straight for an added chest and shoulder stretch. Enjoy this pose for up to 10 breaths.
9. Seated Spinal Twist
Spinal twists are naturally neutralizing and detoxifying, so your body will thank you for spending time in this posture. This pose will stretch the back and hips while massing the abdominal organs.
To practice, start sitting with your legs out in front of you. Bend your right knee in and bring your foot towards you, then cross it over your left leg and plant that foot on the ground. Inhale the arms up overhead, then twist over to your right side. Enjoy this stretch for up to 10 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
10. Corpse Pose
Perhaps one of the most underrated postures, corpse pose is great when it comes to cooling our bodies down after a workout and resetting the nervous system so that we’re prepped for calmness.
To practice, simply lay flat on the ground, making sure to tuck your tailbone as you lower so that the ground is fully supporting your back and hips. Taking your hands to the base of your skull, gently pull the head upwards and place it on the ground so that your neck is fully extended. Rest your arms beside you, palms facing up, and allow your feet to splay outward comfortably. Stay here breathing deeply for at least five minutes.