Cooling breathing for Hot days
Sheetali Pranayama, AKA Cooling Breath is a breathing practice that very effectively cools not only the body but also has a calming cooling effect on the mind and the emotions. Sheetali comes from the Sanskrit root sheet, which means “cold” or “frigid.” Interestingly enough, this pranayama also kindles the digestive fire. I find my practice of sheetali pranayama vital in hot weather and after intense physical exertion (after a particularly challenging asana practice like primary series in ashtanga or hot vinyasa) and prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. It is also useful as a practice if you experience hot flashes, heated emotional situations, and other heat-inducing circumstances.
How to perform Sheetali – Sheetali requires an ability to roll the tongue by curling the lateral edges upward to form a tube (think of making a taco with your tongue). If you do not have this ability you should try Sheetkari, which is performed by flattening the tongue and catch it gently between the teeth, allowing the lips to part slightly and to widen, as when we smile. Inhale, allowing the breath to pass over the sides of the tongue and through the corners of the mouth. In either variation, inhale as in full yogic breath, completely filling the belly, the ribs, and the chest, noticing the cool quality of the air as it enters the body.
Contraindications – Since this is a breathing exercise there are some considerations to think about before starting a practice. Please speak with an experienced teacher before starting. Specifically, sheetali and sheetkari are contraindicated for individuals with low blood pressure, respiratory disorders (such as asthma, bronchitis, or excessive mucus), and anyone with chronic constipation. Those with heart disease should practice without breath retention. Because this practice requires inhalation through the mouth (which does not have the filtration capacity of the nasal passages), it should not be practiced where there is heavy environmental pollution.
Best practices for an effective breathing technique – Sheetali and sheetkari (as with most pranayamas) are best practiced on an empty stomach and in a seated position with the spine erect. Gently close the eyes and breathe through the nose. Relax the entire body. Begin by taking a couple of full yogic breaths, grounding the mind. At the top of the inhale, draw the tongue in, close the mouth, and hold the breath for a few moments – One or two seconds is a great starting point. Slowly release the exhale through the nostrils. This completes one round of cooling breath. Continue for seven rounds: inhaling through the curled tongue (or with the tongue between the teeth), closing the mouth, holding the breath gently, and exhaling through the nose. If you desire a longer practice, you can gradually increase to fifteen rounds of cooling breath. When you are ready to close your practice, take one long, relaxed breath in and out through the nostrils. From here, allow your breathing to return to normal inhales and exhales. Take a moment to observe the effects before moving on with your day.
Written by: Anupam Raman