Continuing our Pranayama focus this month, we move to the cooling breath, or Sitali Pranayama. The Sanskrit word sita means “cool,” describing the refreshing effect of Sitali. Usually this breath is practiced in the summertime as a way to cool the body, but during the holiday season people tend to get “firey,” or hot-headed, dealing with long to-do lists and little time to complete them. Sitali helps to cool the nervous system, making it the perfect breath to practice this holiday season.
Sitali can be practiced when you need it. If you feel the need for a cool off—physically, emotionally, or mentally—Sitali Pranayama is the breath for you. Feel free to practice this breath at any time, whether before or after Asana practice, or even on its own at any time during the day. To practice Sitali:
1. Sit in padmasana (lotus pose), sukhasana (easy pose), or virasana (hero pose). You can also sit comfortably in a chair with the spine erect.
2. Curl the edges of the tongue, creating a tube, or straw, and forming the mouth into the shape of an O while closing the lips around the tongue.
3. Inhale through the mouth, letting the air pass through the tube, cooling the tongue and throat.
4. Exhale either through the mouth, or through the nose.
5. Continue Sitali Pranayama for 1–3 minutes, or for a set number of breaths to maintain focus.
If you are unable to curl your tongue for Sitali, Sitkari Pranayama (teeth-hissing breath) can be practiced to attain a similar cooling effect of the breath. To practice Sitkari:
1. Separate the lips and teeth a bit, and place the tongue lightly in the space between the teeth so that air flows over the tongue as you inhale.
2. Exhale either through the mouth or through the nose.
Using Sitali or Sitkari Pranayama will help to cool the firey pitta dosha that creeps in during the holidays. If you find yourself getting caught up in the holiday hubbub—stressed, emotional, or over stimulated—invite the cooling Sitali breath to your yoga practice.