Cooling Breath - SITALI Pranayama

Curb Anxiety and Halt Hot Flashes

Picture a puppy playing in the grass... back and forth she brings the ball, she chases the ball again and again. Her heart happily pumping, body temperature rising until ïplopðout comes the tongue and the panting begins.

Nature's air conditioning system. Many animals, especially carnivorous ones, must breathe through the mouth to cool the core temperature of their bodies. They cannot sweat through their skin as you can, so they pant. Panting increases saliva as the tongue is stretched. The incoming air collects even more moisture from the environment then becomes 'swamp cooled' as it passes through the 'wetland' of the mouth. The blood is therefore cooled before reaching the brain.

Sitali which means cool, is a method of yogic breathing that reduces the fire energy principle we call pitta which is associated with catabolic processes in the body. Yogis likely have our animal friends to thank for this one - try it below and you be the judge.

EASY METHOD

1. Purse your lips into a tiny "o" shape, like a reaching kiss. Keep your tongue inside floating , so it doesn't touch teeth or gums.

2. Slowly inhale through your mouth, feel the cooled air. If your mouth becomes dry, be patient and slow it down more.

3. To exhale, use the tip of your tongue softly against the top inside roof of your mouth. Exhale even more slowly as you inhaled. The air will exit your nose, so feel the heat exiting too.

TRADITIONAL METHOD

1. Curl up the sides of your tongue and stick the tip outside your lips. Use your teeth gently to keep tongue in place, lips kept as relaxed as possible.

2. Inhale slowly as in step 2 above then exhale through your nose as in step 3.

3. In a more advanced method, breath is retained and chin locked against collarbone (jalandhara bandha).

To experience these instant cooling, calming effects, start with 3-4 minutes of relaxed practice. Never strain, never struggle. Rest about half way through and enjoy a few quiet moments afterward. To enhance your concentration think the word "cool" with each in-breath and the words "I am" with each out-breath. Now...SMILE.

FROM OUR STUDENTS' PERSPECTIVE

One yoga student reports that she combines Sitali with drinking plenty of room temperature water when she does outdoor work in the Houston summertime. "I used to get very overheated and suffer from complete exhaustion while doing heavy yard work. I'd be wiped out for the rest of my day." Her futile attempts to combat these effects by alternating heavy physical activity with lots of iced tea only increased these effects. After deciding to adopt a more yogic approach… "I take Sitali breaks in the shade and drink water without ice. I find myself cool, more energized and ready to go again."

Many of my female yoga students use the technique to control hot flashes. One woman taught several of her co-workers this form of breathing. It has been a boon in their high energy, fast-paced office environment as it helps them to regain calm composure when needed. Practice of Sitali will begin to cool the body's core temperature in about 4 minutes. It also 'cools' the mind or activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our gateway to personal tranquility and relaxation.

In this Western culture, our comforts may often increase our discomforts. Switching from a steamy and hot environment to a tremendously dry and cold air-conditioned automobile, home or office is rather traumatic for our systems. When chilled, the body shivers as it try is to heat back up and may even try to insulate itself by producing more mucus. When under stress, digestion slows down, breathing becomes shallow, labored and the chemical balance inside shifts making it nearly impossible to feel at calm and at peace. Though this is only one of myriad practical applications of yoga, using it may be likened to riding a runaway train. You can sit stiffly in your seat watching the world whirl by out of your control or you make an attempt at taking control. Hop into the conductor's seat and see what happens! In our high tech world, the low tech of Sitali Pranayama is a welcome retreat.

Contributed by Kathryn Bumbaugh —Yoga Hmmm Teacher

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