Sitali Breath

Beads of sweat merging on my brow, hair stuck to my neck,  long yoga pants and a two layers of tops covering most of my skin, no air conditioning, a subway car full of French people (and their respective body odors), I’d been traveling for 10 hours and still had 13 stops til my destination.  The air quality may not be ideal, but the best way to cool down – sans icey cool water – has got to be sitali breath (Monday’s source of gratitude).

The Cooling Breath

Sitali Pranayama is often translated as “the cooling breath” because the act of drawing the air across the tongue and into the mouth is said to have a cooling and calming effect on the nervous system. To practice Sitali, you need to be able to curl the sides of your tongue inward so that it looks like a straw. The ability to curl the tongue is a genetic trait. If you can’t, try an alternative technique called Sitkari Pranayama, which offers the same effects.

Benefits: Can improve focus; reduce agitation, anger, and anxiety; and pacify excess heat in the system.

sitaliTry it: Twice a day, or as needed during stressful times. Sitali and Sitkari Pranayama are particularly supportive when you’re feeling drowsy in the morning or during an afternoon slump when you need to improve your focus.

How to: Sitali Pranayama: Sit comfortably, either in a chair or on the floor, with your shoulders relaxed and your spine naturally erect. Slightly lower the chin, curl the tongue lengthwise, and project it out of the mouth to a comfortable distance. Inhale gently through the “straw” formed by your curled tongue as you slowly lift your chin toward the ceiling, lifting only as far as the neck is comfortable. At the end of the inhalation, with your chin comfortably raised, retract the tongue and close the mouth. Exhale slowly through the nostrils as you gently lower your chin back to a neutral position. Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.

Sitkari Pranayama: Open the mouth slightly with your tongue just behind the teeth. Inhale slowly through the space between the upper and lower teeth, letting the air wash over your tongue as you raise your chin toward the ceiling. At the end of the inhalation, close the mouth and exhale through the nostrils as you slowly lower your chin back to neutral. Repeat for 8 to 12 breaths.

(cheers to Kate Holcomb at Yoga Journal for that)

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3 thoughts on “Sitali Breath”

    1. Thanks for the comment! I was taught not to swallow at all during pranayam rounds. My teacher in Varanasi believes swallowing disturbs the retention of prana. I’ve noticed that, at the very least, not swallowing increases my focus and enhances that sense of ‘being the observer’ as opposed to acting in a reactionary way. Best wishes in your practice 🙂

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