Cool It Practice: balancing yin and yang in good measure
As human animals, we are affected by the weather. We like to think we’re not—our capitalist society expects us to be exactly the same amount of productive no matter what’s going on in the external world, even though we depend on that very world for our health, wellness, and even survival.
When I get caught in the busyness of everyday life and forget to pay attention to my body, I look at my dog—who is not trying to look like the busiest mutt in town. Lately, he lolls on the cool floor a lot and heads for the shade. I’m taking a cue from him; I have actually been lolling on the floor some.
In Vancouver, BC, where I live, the days are dramatically longer in the summer: sunset is around 10pm now, whereas in December the sun goes down around 4:30pm. What to do with these hours of light? Work all day, start a new fitness regime, party all night? Maybe when I was twenty. Neither my dog nor my body are into that kind of action right now.
If yoga asana practice can teach us anything, it’s to listen more closely to our bodies. I’ve learned over the years, for example, that salad is not my friend: I generally digest cooked vegetables best, and will probably never be a raw foodie. In the summer heat, however, all I want is salads. An Ayurvedic doctor might tell me that’s because I don’t have enough digestive fire, or agni, in the wintertime to digest raw foods; but, in the summer, the environmental heat makes me turn back to cucumbers.
Many Eastern worldviews understand that the energies of yin and yang must work together in balance at all times. Yin energy is the cool, slow, passive, feminine energy of darkness and slow ice. Yang is heat and action, movement, fire, and masculine force. Winter is a Yin season, and summer is yang. We even have yin emotions (fear of change, laziness) and yang emotions (anger and irritation) that can take us off balance.
My body wants cooler, yin foods (raw veggies) in a yang season, and I need practices that will help keep me in balance as well. Running around outside and socializing are great, but a hot or power yoga class might send me over my yang edge and give me a wave of heat and irritation that is not so welcome in social situations. A yin or restorative yoga practice cools my heels just enough to get me frolicking again.
There is also a fantastic pranayama (breath exercise) you can do anywhere you go to cool down from excess heat and irritation when you feel out of balance. This is an especially useful breath for anyone who tends to overheat quickly, physically or emotionally, including pregnant, menstruating, and menopausal women.
You do this breath either with your tongue rolled or by pursing your lips as if you were sipping air through a straw. Inhale through your imaginary straw, then close your mouth and exhale out your nose. Drawing the air along your tongue cools it down, and when you close your mouth around your cooler tongue, it feels like a teeny tiny internal air conditioner. This breath also naturally slows your breath, which is calming and can restore some Yin energy if emotions are running hot. Repeat the breath at least five times, or until you feel cooler and calmer.
Having these tools can be incredibly helpful, but it’s good to remember that your body is very intelligent and will often tell you what you need to restore your balance. If you’re unsure, look at your dog: it may be time for some lolling on the floor.