Stress, heat, and sweat in New York in the summer are a real thing, and this week, it’s more real than ever. But worry not, there’s actually a breathing technique called sitali that cools the body down.
Sitali breathing can calms the nervous system, reduces agitation, fatigue, anger, and anxiety. It can even calm hunger and thirst as well as reduce bad breath, fevers, and high blood pressure.
When we become overheated, emotionally and physically, the mind cannot think straight and we can easily get overwhelmed just by facing the things we have to do every day—the problems we feel we have to fix at home, at work, and in the world. This heated-ness can start to become habit of complaining; complaining about our lives, our job, other people who are creating obstacles for us, and the unfairness of it all. In the midst of heat and tension even the small things can seem huge and unbearable.
The thing is, complaining and living in this heated way day in and day out, actually rewires your brain—the more you complain, the easier it is to complain, and over time you find yourself in a negative HOT spiral.
One of the antidotes for the poison of stress and overheating of the body is called Sitali. Sitali is a form of pranayama, or breathing practice. Prana in Sanskrit means life force or vital energy and Yama means to restrict, control or regulate. Prana is also the internal energetic animating force of life inside every cell of your body. The yogic texts all agree that to be able to consciously regulate the breath, is to have control over one’s thoughts, and if you’re in conscious control of your thoughts, you can regulate and balance your whole life.
So before responding to that nasty email, or reacting aggressively to any circumstance that may be producing an intense reaction in you, see if you can take a moment, go outside, sit comfortably, and practice Sitali breathing to pacify the excess heat in your system.
Sitali breathing cools down your system in a matter of seconds, and it 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 effect in the body 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.
Here’s how to do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position with the head, neck, and spine in alignment.
- Stick out your tongue and curl it lengthwise
- 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, and PAUSE. Hold the breath in for a moment.
- Then exhale completely through the nose.
Continue doing sitali for 2 to 3 minutes.
Do it twice a day, or as needed during stressful times. Sitali is particularly supportive when you’re feeling drowsy in the morning or during an afternoon slump when you need to improve your focus.
Through pranayama, or controlling your breath, you make breathing which to most people is automatic and unconscious, a conscious experience.
From a physical health perspective, deep- breathing practices which emphasize all four parts of the breath, not only expand our lung capacity, but also benefit the kidneys because the urinary and respiratory systems collaborate to help maintain a healthy ph, or acid alkaline balance in the blood. When our ph is out of balance, our metabolism is compromised. A metabolic dysfunction can contribute to many problems including nervous tension, fatigue, asthma, digestive upsets, constipation, weight gain, and premature aging.
Being able to breathe easily is key to be at ease with your life. Pranayama practices help you to develop ease of being—feeling comfortable in your own skin and with whatever comes your way in life.
Head of Video: Tina Rosh DP: Paul Terrie