Keeping your yoga practice cool on the mat is a great way to keep the summer heat from burning you out. Water, the second most substantive of the five elements, is the element of relationship and bonding. Water is an exceptional conductor of electricity, a carrier of nourishment, a shape-shifter (able to take on a variety of forms), and, like a river, it always flows toward something bigger than itself.
This asana sequence—the second in my elemental yoga weekly series—brings you into fluidity naturally. Some poses are held steady while others invoke activity and flow within the poses themselves. Water offers an abundance of qualities that when integrated into your sequence, deeply nourish, connect, and cool your whole system—a perfect supplement to your yoga practice this summer.
Downward-Facing Simple Seated Pose (Adho Mukha Sukhasana)
Take a few moments to find your way into an easy cross-legged pose, slowly moving your arms forward and extending your torso out and over your folded legs. Focus your attention on establishing an equally generous inhale and exhale. You might even take a few extra moments to ease into this pose, shifting your hands from being extended out with palms down to bent-elbow prayer position behind your upper back. Given the focus of this sequence is all about flow and nourishment, take your time here and explore this for upward of 18 breaths.
Churning the Ocean Active Pose (Samudra Manthana Kriya)
Raise yourself up to a seated position and place your hands on your knees, palms down. Keep the breath fluid as you slowly begin to churn your spine around the base of your hips. Allow the spine to circulate, like an eddy in a creek, and the head to move gently and freely as you circle 9 times in each direction, inhaling as you expand the belly and move forward, exhaling as you contract the belly, rounding the spine and sitting back.
Crow Pose (Kakasana)
Place you hands on the floor in front of your shins and shift yourself over your knees. Stand on your feet, in a low seated stance, and allow your eyes to gaze gently out before you. Rise high to your toes, dropping your buttocks down and back. Draw your knees to the outside of your elbow as you slowly shift you weight onto your hands. Take two long generous breaths in this pose.
Drinking-Crow Active Pose (Kakapibana Kriya)
For this pose, you may want to place a blanket in front of your knees to cushion your head, or stick to crow pose and explore the subtle flow within it. If proceeding with drinking-crow pose, slightly tuck your chin, directing the top of your head toward the ground as you lift your buttocks and lengthen your spine. Harness the energy of your breath, snug your knees around your elbows, and slowly lower the top of your head to touch the floor gently on the inhale. Exhale while you shift your bottom back and down and raise yourself back up to crow pose.
Dinghy Pose (Alpa Navasana)
Return your feet to the floor and shift onto your bottom as you extend your legs, upward into dinghy pose (sometimes called “small” or “easy” boat). Knees may remain bent while keeping the spine long and neutral. Arms can hold onto the back of the legs or extend out along the horizon, as if to form the side walls of the boat. Pay attention to the lift in the low belly, as this is the “hull” of your boat and is best kept lifted as a boat is kept afloat. Take two complete breaths here, again with your focus on equal, fluid, nourishing inhales and exhales.
Complete Boat Pose (Paripura Navasana)
Extend the legs, as you are able, into complete boat pose. Energize you feet and check again that the spine is long and neutral and the low belly is lifted. Your weight should remain on your sits bones rather than settling back toward your upper buttocks. Arms may hold onto the legs or feet or remain horizontal as indicated in dinghy pose.
Sea Monster Pose (Makarasana)
Release the feet to the earth and find your way onto your belly, legs outstretched behind you. Lengthen the low ribs away from the hips and place the elbows just far enough out in front of you to hold your chin in your hands. Deeply draw the inhale from the soles of your feet, siphoning it all the way up to the crown of your head. As you exhale, plunge the breath down and out the soles of the feet, consciously cooling any heat or tension cultivated through the previous poses. Close your eyes and take 9 breaths, focusing on the inhale and exhale.
Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
Press yourself back up to a seated pose, shifting up and over your feet and on to your backside. Lower yourself down and bring the soles of your feet together, or cross your ankles over your upper legs. Snug your elbows in beside you and walk them closer to your waistline. Press into your elbows to lift, lengthen, and arc your back as you open the front of the neck and allow the upper back portion of your head to rest upon the floor. Take your hands to the floor, your thighs, or your feet, and once again bring your attention cohesively to your breath, attending to the flow of energy in and toward your crown, and the release of energy, down and out the body.
Release out of the pose in your time and take a few moments to reflect on how powerful these few simple, nourishing, fluid practices can be to “unstick the stuck stuff” (that is “earth” in excess) and tend to the heat that can burn and dry us up (that’s next week’s element: fire).
Use this short supplemental asana series anytime you are seeking to cool, soothe, flow, and guide your practice toward something bigger, just as a river moves toward the ocean.