In yoga, we often talk about stoking our internal fire to awaken prana. This is in part why people love vinyasa flow so much. You know – the same people who love a daily 5-mile jog and core work. We -(yes, I am one of you) love to feel the burn and know we’re getting somewhere fast, right?
While building heat has powerful benefits, the truth is that sometimes we just need to chill. Whether you trade your morning practice with yin yoga, trade the run for a slow walk or focus on a cooling breath practice like sitali pranayama – you have options!
Amongst the essential pranayama practices, sitali stands out for its calming, cooling effects with a bit of fun (I mean YES, it’s essentially a tongue taco that chills you out 😆).
In this post, I’ll go into depth about sitali pranayama, a simple, effective breath to balance out your inner fire. Keep reading to learn more about how to practice Sitali and how it can benefit you.
What Is Sitali Pranayama?
Sitali pranayama – sometimes called the cooling breath – is a simple yoga practice we can use to calm the mind and cool the body. By allowing your breath to intentionally flow while you curl your tongue, you create a cooling effect for the mind and body. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Sitali is suggested for the hotter summer months or for those with a Pitta imbalance in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s also an effective practice for releasing some of the the heat that comes with pregnancy!
Sitali is done by inhaling through a rolled tongue (or through your teeth for those who can’t roll their tongue). Popular in Kundalini yoga and at the end of sweaty vinyasa classes, Sitali is one of the stress-relieving breath practices that brings an overheated body back into balance.
And it’s just that little bit silly, inviting you to find humor in your practice as you let off steam. There’s no complex nostril breathing pattern or mudra like in nadi shodhana, but the cooling effects are real! Sitali is great to do in the summer, before bed, or any time you need to calm down and tune in.
Who Can Benefit From Sitali Pranayama
To put it simply, Sitali is a pranayama practice that reduces excess heat. As a cooling breath, it has many benefits for both the body and mind. Physically, you could benefit from Sitali if you get hot flashes or need to cool the body after an active yoga practice. Mentally, Sitali can help soothe anger, calm the mind, and assist in focus.
In Ayurvedic practices, Sitali is often prescribed for people with a pitta dosha imbalance. This is due to the constitution’s fiery nature. Oftentimes, Pitta energy needs help to cool and calm down.
These people may also find support from Sitali pranayama:
- Pregnant or menopausal women
- Anyone who regularly experiences anxiety
- Those who often experience intense anger or agitation
- Those needing extra support in digestion
- Those suffering with high blood pressure
- Those with an imbalance of pitta dosha
Why Regulating the Flow Of Prana Calms The Nervous System
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you’ve probably been able to create a stronger connection with your breathing. When we strengthen this connection, we realize that our breathing pattern really can change our state of mind. And thanks to modern science, we can actually prove this now. It turns out, there’s a direct connection between the arousal center of our brain and the group of nerves responsible for regulating our breathing. So, according to Science magazine, this means our breathing has a direct effect on the activity levels in our brains.
This connection becomes evident whenever you’re feeling anxious or over-stimulated. When you do, your breath becomes rapid and shallow. If you want to soothe your nervous system, you should work to intentionally lengthen and restrict your breath. That way, you can ease some of the mental overexertion. Since Sitali breath requires you to slowly restrict your breath, this is a good breathing pattern to reduce stress and anxiety. Manipulating your breath may seem counterintuitive to reducing stress, but it really works!
Sitkari Pranayama: The Alternative for People who Can’t Roll Their Tongue (Like Me)
Fun fact: Some people are born with the ability to roll their tongue, and others are not. It’s actually a genetic trait! If you’re like me and can’t roll your tongue into that perfect taco shape no matter how hard you try, don’t stress – there is an alternative.
Sitkari is the sister practice to Sitali pranayama. It creates the same effect in the body – reducing body temperature – using a different shape in the mouth. Sitkari allows you to breathe through your closed teeth or smoothie-sipping lips (check out my video below to see what I mean) rather than through a rolled tongue. Follow along for step-by-step instructions:
How To Practice Sitali Pranayama (Plus The Alternative)
Practicing Sitali breath is fairly simple. This breathing technique is beginner friendly and super easy to learn. If you’re unable to roll your tongue for Sitali breathing, try the equally simple variation of Sitkari pranayama. Here are the basics:
- Start in a seat. If you’re making Sitali pranayama part of your seated meditation or vinyasa practice, come to a comfortable position where you can be relaxed but still sit tall. If you’re out and about, take a moment to ground both feet evenly into the ground and relax your shoulders. For both positions, close your eyes for a moment and bring your awareness into your body. Make your spine tall and relax your chin.
- Center yourself. Before you go into the Sitali practice, take a few deep breaths to start. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly through your nose. Bring your awareness to your breath and to your body.
- Find your preferred variation. For Sitali pranayama, curl your tongue lengthwise into a taco shape. Stick your curled tongue out between your pursed lips. For Sitkari pranayama, gently bring your lower and upper teeth together and open your lips as much as possible.
- Inhale slowly. For Sitali, inhale through your rolled tongue as if you were sipping in air from a straw. For Sitkari, inhale through your closed teeth while making a soft hissing sound. Try to keep your tongue pressed to the bottom of your mouth while you do so.
- Exhale fully. For both variations, release the shape in your mouth and exhale slowly through your nose.
- Repeat. For both Sitali and Sitkari, repeat steps 3 – 5 at least five times. If you’d like to strengthen the effect of the practice, you can try it for a couple of minutes.
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