For some, the unwavering heat and sun of Summer signals the prize season of the year. For others, unsistent sunshine, 90-degree temps, and stifling humidity signal just as much of a need to hibernate as Winter does. Regardless of preference, hot weather can throw anyone’s physiology and temperament out of whack: Today’s Silent Sunday offers an antidote to a lengthy heat wave, in the form of an active movement set and progressive, warming-to-cooling pranayama.
To prepare for today’s practice, find a temperate spot: Air conditioning may feel pleasant, but the idea is to keep the body in as natural a state as possible, so that it may use its intrinsic heating and cooling systems. As you move and warm up, and then ease into the cooling portion of the routine, your internal system will shift in the ways that provide the most potential for integration.
After you have selected a comfortable practice space, stand to face the brightest window or light source. Bring the arms up overhead as you inhale; exhale to bend forward and down, keeping the arms straight and alongside the head. Touch the floor, bending the knees as necessary, and then immediately rise back to stand. Inhale and exhale, up and down, 26 times.
Still standing and facing the brightness, extend the arms straight out to the sides at shoulder level, palms down. Stay in tune with your breath as you begin to turn in a clockwise direction: Use your eyes to “spot” something each time you complete a turn; this will help to prevent dizziness. Turn to the right 26 times. Then, turn to the left (counter-clockwise) 7 times; circle back to the right 3 times. Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on the waist, eyes softly closed, and breathe deeply: in through the nose, out through the mouth in long sighs. Complete 5 full breaths.
Now, bend forward to come into Downward Dog (kundalini “Triangle”). Make the posture easy and relaxed: Let the head hang loosely; remain soft through the belly and thighs; and breathe naturally through the nose. If you feel the need to wiggle the hips, or walk out the feet, or undulate through the torso, do so. Remain here for 2 minutes.
From Down Dog, step the right foot forward to the outside of the right hand, as if into a low lunge. Immediately, however, step the left foot to the outside of the left hand: You will be in a low, wide crouch with the hands on the floor between the feet. Without pausing, step the right foot, and then the left foot back to resurrect Downward Dog. Then, immediately repeat the movement into crouch, this time stepping the left foot first, followed by the right: Step the left foot back, followed by the right, into Downward Dog. Repeat this pattern, alternating the starting foot each time you step forward, a total of 18 times. End in Downward Dog.
From Down Dog, come onto hands and knees, and then back into a restful Baby Pose. After a few breaths, roll up to sit on your heels. If this is uncomfortable today, feel free to sit in an easy crossed-let position. Bring both arms up alongside the ears: Interlace the fingers, and extend the index fingers straight up. With eyes closed and gazing at the Third Eye, begin Breath of Fire through the mouth (I.e., short, equal inhales and exhales, as if panting like a dog). Continue for 1 minute, then close the mouth and continue powerful Breath of Fire through the nose for another 2 minutes.
Now, close the curtain of the bright window, or turn off the light source. Sit down again, facing away from the window or light. Roll down to lie on your back, arms resting on the floor about a foot to either side of the body, palms down: Raise both legs to a 45-degree angle, with the feet together and in a relaxed point. Close your eyes, and begin deep breaths in through the nose, and out through rounded lips. Let each inhale visibly expand the belly, ribs, and chest; with each full exhale, consciously draw in your ribs and belly, and firm the lower back into the floor. (If this is difficult, prop up your hips on a pillow for support.) Continue for 3 minutes.
Briefly hug the knees in toward the chest, and rock about on your back for a few breaths. Then, turn onto the belly, legs long and wide behind you, and prop yourself on the forearms for Sphinx Pose. Here, breathing naturally, begin to make tiny circles with your head. If you feel a big stretch through the neck muscles at any point in the circumference, the circle is too big: It should feel as if your head is swiveling freely around the Atlas and Axis (C1 and C2) of the spinal vertebra. Make 6-10 circles to the right, followed by 6-10 to the left: Keep the eyes closed and face soft.
Finally, press back into Baby Pose for a few breaths, and then rise to come into your preferred seated posture for mediation. Here, bring the left upper arm in close to the ribs: Bend the elbow, so that the forearm extends forward at a 90-degree angle to the upper arm; the palm faces up, fingers together and relaxed. Extend the right arm straight out at shoulder level, then bend the elbow, bringing the forearm forward to create a 90-degree angle with the upper arm, palm facing the ground: The entire bent arm remains parallel to the floor.
This mudra is one of exceptional balancing power. That which is unsettled within you, that which is chaotic around you—all settles and realigns into its state of calm neutrality and optimal function. Hot and cold; intake and elimination (prana and apana); light and dark; Heaven and Earth: Extremes are respected and softened. Balance resides.
Sitting in your posture, begin Sitali Pranayama: Inhale through a curled tongue, or slightly parted lips; exhale through the nose. Continue the cooling breath with balancing mudra for 3-7 minutes. Then, ease into Svasana for as long as you like.