Beat the Heat with Cool Breath

Are you irritated by the summer heat? Flushed with anger? Plagued by hot flashes? Aeons ago our yogis discovered a cooling pranayama practice that can soothe you in time it takes to drink a glass of water.

Deep in the Himalayas, ancient sages observed and imitated the world around them to master body, breath, and mind. They noticed the curve of a bird’s lower beak, a new green leaf uncurling and the hiss of a cobra-and emulated these shapes and sounds in a practice called sitali (the cooling breath). In this pranayama, the inhalation is moistened as it passes through the curl of the tongue (alternately described as a bird’s beak and an uncurling leaf), so that you are “drinking” water-saturated air.

Besides building breath awareness, this practice is said to calm hunger and thirst and cultivate a love for solitude. Sitali also cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and in the parlance of Ayurveda, soothes a pitta imbalance, which is common in summer months. In addition, this practice reduces fatigue, bad breath, fevers and high blood pressure. 

The Practice

Sit in a comfortable position with the head, neck, and spine in alignment. Close your eyes, breathe diaphragmatically for several minutes, then open the mouth and form the lips into an “O.” Curl the tongue lengthwise and project it out of the mouth (about 3/4 of an inch). Inhale deeply across the tongue and into the mouth as if drinking through a straw. Focus your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath as the abdomen and lower ribs expand. Then withdraw the tongue and close the mouth, exhaling completely through the nostrils.

Continue doing sitali for 2 to 3 minutes, return to diaphragmatic breathing and repeat the cooling breath for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Gradually you can work your way up to a 10-minute practice. 

Can’t Curl Your Tongue

Try this alternate method. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Gently press your lower and upper teeth together and separate your lips as much as you comfortably can, so your teeth are exposed to the air. Inhale slowly through the gaps in the teeth and focus on the hissing sound of the breath. Then close the mouth and slowly exhale through the nose. Repeat up to 20 times. This practice is called sitkari. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, in addition to its cooling effects, sitkari balances the endocrine system and builds vitality.  

A word of caution

Since sitali and sitkari reduce body temperature, they are best practised during hot weather or after a vigorous asana or heating pranayama practice (like Bhastrika).

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