In yoga, we talk a lot about stoking the internal fire (agni) through vigorous movements and directed breathing. But breathwork can also be used for the opposite effect: to calm and cool the body down. While any long, slow, deep breathing helps to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and counter the effects of stress, sitali pranayama is particularly effective for cooling and soothing the body. Though the exact origins of this technique are unknown, it is popular in Kundalini yoga and is regularly makes appearances in other types of yoga classes during the summer months. Sitali is also frequently prescribed in Ayurvedic medicine for people with fiery pitta constitutions.
To do sitali breath, you slowly sip air through a rolled tongue (or pursed lips for those who can’t roll their tongues thanks to genetics). At the end of a vigorous, sweaty yoga session, it’s just the thing to counter all that internal heat and bring your body back into balance. On a hot day, it’s almost as if you’re making your own air conditioning. It looks pretty subtle, so you can even do it in a crowded subway car or elevator for a little relief from heat or anxiety without calling too much attention to yourself. You’ll be surprised at just how much calmer and cooler you feel after about ten rounds of sitali breathing.
1. Come to sit cross-legged or in some other comfortable position. Whatever your posture, make sure your shoulders are relaxing away from your ears, your spine is long, your belly is soft, and your chin is roughly parallel to the floor.
2. Take two or three deep inhales and exhales through your nose to center yourself in preparation for this pranayama practice.
3. Roll your tongue, curling the sides in towards the center to form a tube (or a taco shape). Stick the end of the tongue out between your pursed lips. If you can’t roll your tongue, simply purse your lips instead, making a small “o” shape with your mouth. In this case, keep your tongue against the back side of your bottom teeth so that the air you are drawing in passes over it.
4. Inhale slowly through the tube formed by your tongue as if you were sipping air through a straw. Let the breath expand your chest and fill your belly.
5. Close your mouth and exhale slowly through your nose.
6. Repeat at least five to ten times to maximize the cooling effect. In Kundalini, it is recommended to do 26 rounds of this breath in the morning and another 26 in the evening. Give it a try if you have time!