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Breathwork Basics: Sitali Pranayama

A Cooling Breath for the Peak of Summer. Hallelujah.

Have you ever wished you had your own portable A/C unit? Or that you could cajole someone into following you around with a giant fan? If you haven’t, then you’ve probably never spent time on a New York City subway platform in the summer, hoping not to sweat through your shirt before you make it to work.

If you have, this pranayama practice has got you covered. A few weeks ago we wrote about balancing pitta — the hot and volatile Ayurvedic dosha associated with summer — and Sitali breath is another tool to help bring your fire and water elements back into equilibrium.

Sitali Pranayama is often translated as “cooling breath.” It calms the nervous system, quenches thirst, adds moisture to the body and lowers your body temperature. 

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How To Practice Sitali

  • Find a comfortable seat (or stance, if you’re on the subway platform).
  • Take a few diaphragmatic breaths to get the oxygen flowing.
  • Open your mouth and make an “O” with your lips.
  • Curl your tongue, making a little alleyway for air to enter in, and stick your tongue out just a bit.
  • If you can’t curl your tongue, curse your genetic makeup and simply slide your flat tongue out between your lips. This is called Sitkari breathe and will do the trick just as well.
  • Inhale through your mouth like you’re drinking from a straw.
  • Close your mouth and exhale completely through your nose.
  • Focus on the air entering in and the cooling sensation against your tongue. Breath in deeply enough for that breath to expand into your lungs.
  • Continue for two to three minutes, pausing if need to take a break.
  • Eventually you can work your way up to a longer practice, breathing through your pursed mouth and out the nose for 10 minutes.
  • End the breath practice gradually, giving yourself time to stay in your new, cool headspace before entering back into the heat.
Photos: Top photo found here; tongue curl found on Well + Good