Many years ago, on a hot summer day, I was at a yoga studio in downtown Manhattan. Towards the end of the practice, the yoga instructor asked everyone in the class to do their favorite inversion before getting into savasana (Corpse pose). As I set myself into sirsasana (Headstand pose), I felt proud. All inversion newbies go on a high the first few months after they develop a strong headstand practice.
However, once I stepped outside the yoga class, I felt extremely irritable and heated. The teacher, the studio, fellow yogis in the room—they were all nice. Why did I feel so agitated?
Is It Just Me or Is It Hot in Here?
Of course you expect to get fired up doing hot yoga, which is popular with so many people I know. (Great for flexibility and health of the skin!) But every single time I’ve tried a hot yoga class (in a yoga studio between 90–108-degrees Fahrenheit), midway through I get nauseous and sick.
And, yes, I would go to the studio on an empty stomach and wear not-so-tight cotton yoga wear to keep my body relatively cool. I made sure to stay hydrated throughout the process—before, during, and after the class. But nothing helped.
After getting sick three times in the middle of a hot yoga class, I decided hot yoga wasn’t for me.
Know Your Dosha
While yoga is great for everyone in general, according to Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing system, different people require very kinds of yoga practices. Your yoga practice should honor your dosha, your imbalances, and the season we are in.
I am a high Pitta individual. What does that mean in English? I have Pitta-predominant prakriti and the elements of fire and water make up my core dosha. To avoid Pitta from accumulating in my mind-body, I need a cooling asana practice—especially during summers because summer is Pitta season. Ayurveda teachings reiterate the philosophy of like increases like.
[Read: “5 Herbs & Spices to Eat This Pitta Season.”]
From an Ayurvedic perspective, headstands heat the body. Much of this heat accumulates in the head and the eyes. Because the eyes are a site for Pitta, my dosha can get rather imbalanced during the summer months, hence the agitation after my headstand on a hot summer day.
If a person of Pitta constitution (with no serious imbalances) decides to do headstands, it might be okay if held for a very short period. Similarly, being in a heated studio with increased temperature and humidity exacerbates Pitta imbalance, which can lead to nausea.
9 Basic Tips: Pitta-Balancing Asanas and Pranayama
- Pitta’s qualities are oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy smelling, spreading, and liquid. To balance excess Pitta, we need to bring opposing (gunas) qualities into our practice. Remember like increases like? Integrating cool, dry, dull, soft, and dark gunas should be your approach to your yoga practice.
- The best asanas for Pitta are those that are calming and not overly heating.
- The main sites for Pitta dosha in the body are the small intestine, liver, and navel area. Asanas that help balance Pitta are those that place pressure on the naval and solar plexus region and in the small intestine where Pitta resides. These asanas directly affect the liver and spleen and help regulate the strength of the digestive fire.
- According to the principles of Ayurveda, asanas that open sites of Pitta dosha will help release heat and tension and, as a result, decrease Pitta. Therefore, backbends (especially ones on the belly) are great for Pitta: Cobra pose, Bow pose, as well as Locust pose. Camel pose is also great.
- Standing poses are typically considered heating. However, standing poses with side bends like trikonasana (Triangle) and parivritta trikonasana (Rotated Triangle), which has a twist, will help release heat from the torso. (Twists release toxins and so are effective in lowering Pitta.) Ardha matsyendrasana (half-seated spinal twist), setu bandhasana (Bridge), and supta virasana (Reclining Hero) are also great poses.
- People of Pitta nature or imbalance tend to be forceful and passionate. Heart openers like Upward-Dog, Camel, Cobra, Bow, Bridge, Fish, and Dancer’s poses can help release emotions, reduce intensity, and make room for forgiveness.
- While practicing asanas, keeping the gaze down is considered more cooling.
- Consider practicing in a cooler and darker environment with a non-competitive and non-judgmental attitude.
- For pranayama, practice sitali breath anytime you’re feeling agitated, frustrated, or noticing a little acid indigestion or heat within your body. If you are unable to roll your tongue, you can do the alternative cooling technique called sitkari which is simply inhaling through the mouth with your teeth closed.
Most of us will experience an increase in Pitta during warmer weather. With these mindfulness tips for yoga asanas and pranayama, you can better protect yourself and your mind-body.
Still feeling hot? Explore why you’re crankier in the summer, and how Ayurveda can fix it.