We’re having a heatwave! 

This cooling pranayama practice was devised deep in the Himalayas, whenancient sages observed and imitated the world around them in their attempts 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 those 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 (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 according to the system of ayurveda, soothes a pitta imbalance, common in the summer months. In addition, this practice reduces tiredness, bad breath, fever and high blood pressure.

How To Practice Sitali

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.

Withdraw the tongue and close the mouth, exhaling completely through the nostrils.

Continue doing sitali for 2 to 3 minutes, return to diaphragmatic breathing for several more, 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 Sitkari

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.

Close the mouth and slowly exhale through the nose.

Repeat up to 20 times. This practice is called sitkari. 

Cautions for Sitali and Sitkari

Because sitali and sitkari reduce body temperature, they are best practiced during hot weather or after a vigorous asana or heating pranayama practice (like bhastrika).
If you have a vata or kapha constitution, sitali and sitkari may not be appropriate during wintertime. But no matter when you practice, be sure to take in air that is close to body temperature, since the breath won’t be warmed by the nostrils, ifthe air is cold, it may aggravate the lungs.