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  • Writer's pictureTheia Jones

How to practice yoga when it's hot AF

Because the thermometer just broke and the struggle is real.

It's that time of year. We wait for (what feels like) an eternity for a flash of sun and, when it finally arrives, we go into meltdown. Literally.

So far, 2023 is proving to be no exception. June's temperatures are at a record high and showing no sign of dropping any time soon. In yoga, we love the sun. We herald it's manifold benefits to our health and vitality and, of course, the spiritual suggestions that we can all be traced back to the universe's big burning ball of hydrogen. But, we also know how much it impacts our asana practices. And, if you're not a fan of hot yoga or haven't spent prolonged periods in a hot country, you most likely have a natural aversion to pursuing your regular practice during periods of extreme heat.

So how exactly do we keep up our physical routines during these hazy summer months in a way that fulfils us spiritually and is conducive to good health?

Location, location

From my years in the yoga and health space, I've come to learn how sacred workout spaces are. Most of us religiously retreat to a particular part of our home on a daily basis. It's comfort, it's routine, it's special, and it's ours. Yoga in itself is somewhat ritualistic, so it's natural that we might become reliant on one place to practice (it's also basal human instinct to have our little territory), but summer might be a good time to start expanding your zen zone.

Your regular spot may be a little balmy and getting hot and bothered will only deter you from your practice. Finding a cooler part of the house is the most obvious remedy to this but, if you really do want to stick with what you know, adding a quiet fan, drawing the curtains, and even placing a couple of bowls of ice around your may can help cool down your space. Thermal curtains are a great addition to any room. They work to regulate temperature, keeping rooms warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

If you usually practice outside, or are open to the option of taking your mat out to mother earth, be sensible. It's oh-so tempting to head straight to the sunniest spot an top up your tan, but remember how different a vinyasa flow might feel in the midsummer spot. Shady spots under trees are usually the coolest areas (and the prettiest!). But, if you are used to practicing in direct sunlight and hotter temperatures, try to avoid the peak (around 12 - 4pm in the UK), and face away from the sun so as to minimise damage to your eyes. Keep yourself well hydrated and, if you can tolerate it, wear a baseball cap to keep the hot sun off your scalp.

Hot couture

In a previous life, I worked as a textile designer in the fashion industry. I'm loathed to admit that this was long before the advent of the plethora of today's high-tech fabrics comprising recycled plastic bottles, but, textiles have come a long way since I left my former career over a decade ago. As ecologically terrific as water bottle to pants technology is, these fabrics are not totally beneficial to our health. Particularly in summer. Remember, as ethical as they appear, they are still a manufactured, synthetic material. Different iterations will have varying degrees of performance attributes, like breathability, but there's only so much your leggings can do when it's el scorchio outside.

Most yoga tops tend to be quite loose fitting so they don't concern me as much (just be wary about your choice of yoga or support bra in hot weather. Look for jersey versions that will stop sweat pooling underneath the breast. But, yoga leggings.... they just aren't practical or conducive to good health in hot weather. As well as enhancing your vulnerability to sweat and heat rashes, they might also increase your risk of fungal infections like thrush.

So, go natural. Invest in some loose fitting, cotton, linen, or silk blend pants. My go-to summer pant is a harem - they are more traditional than tight -fitting sport leggings and there are some really chic options out there. They also give you a greater sense of freedom, and are less restrictive on your movements. If you prefer bare legs in the summer, go for classic shorts over stretchy cycle style, mid-length pants. High-street stores are replete with this more classic track style and materials vary from lightweight, soft jersey, to a slightly thicker sweatshirt style material. I'd always advise sizing up to allow extra room for movement and minimise the risk of sweat gathering around tight waist bands.

Around the sun

Timing can be everything when practicing in the summer. Traditionally, yoga is practiced at the coolest part of the day in either the morning or the evening. But this isn't always possible in our busy western lives. Whilst I love the idea of greeting a rising sun with Surya Namaskar, or see it settle to sleep with Chandrasana, sometimes I have to squeeze in a practice when I have time. But showing up is the most important thing and whether you do a straight hour on your mat, or dissect your practice into smaller segments, you'll reap the rewards equally.

If you struggle to do your usual full hour practice in the height of summer, try doing 15 minute chunks throughout the day. This could be as simple as 15 minutes of "warm-up" asanas before work, then 15 minutes of sun salutations mid-morning, followed by another 15 minutes of active practice mid-afternoon, concluding with 15 minutes of sleep-inducing asana at bed time. Or, you could break up your practice into 30 minutes at sunrise and 30 minutes at sunset -the possibilities are endless and could add a fun new dimension to your usual routine, or provide extra health benefits (like aiding sleep) at a time when you might need them the most).

Theory vs practice

Super hot days are ideal for taking a step back and thinking about what your practice really means to you. Are you just using it as a tool to keep fit, flexible and physically well, or does it have a deeper meaning? Is it a creative outlet for you; an emotional mediator to a demanding career or stressful personal life? Whatever the reason you choose to practice yoga, it's handy to occasionally reassess what you're doing and how you're doing it.

On days when even the thermometer is struggling to cope, I like to roll out my mat, grab my 2,100 asanas book, or the Sivananda yoga bible I've had since I was 13 years old, and think about my asana practice and what it is currently serving to me; what is it missing; what do I need? It's also a good opportunity to try new postures. Read about the theory behind them, and understand how to physically get into them. Personally, I love playing around with my postures and actually love how yoga is developing in the twenty-first century. Whilst I'm pretty committed to the more traditional postures and practices, I love the artistry that's unfolding and the creative sequencing that comes with current trends like Intuitive movement.

There's also no harm in skipping a practice or two. Sometimes we see spirituality as a full time job and a case of show up no matter what but, remember, even the ancient yogis knew when to take a break. A fundamental part of yoga is keeping your physical body healthy and safe so listen to what it's telling you. Maybe focus on meditation, pranayama or mantras and chanting. The beauty of yoga is that it's a circular, multifarious system and has so many other practices to offer. And, when your ready to get physical again, your mat will still be there waiting for you.

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