Sitali pranayama for the heat wave

It’s 104 degrees in NYC today, and the heat index says it feels like 114 degrees. It is HOT. The energy in the streets is much quieter and less frenetic. With everyone affected by this extreme heat, people simply aren’t expending as much energy. I hear fewer loud conversations, less rushing, less horn honking. Everything seems to be running at a slower pace, which makes sense in this heat wave.

Besides drinking lots of water and trying to be in air conditioning or where there’s a lot of air circulation (especially with negative ionization, like at the beach), what’s one to do? The wise yogis of India developed a breathing technique to help in such extreme heat. Called sitali pranayama, it moistens the air as it enters the body, producing a marked cooling sensation along the surface of the tongue, and into the lungs.

Sitali is performed in typical meditation posture (head, neck, and spine in alignment, legs crossed, hips higher than knees) with eyes closed and hands in chin mudra (index finger & thumb touching).

1. Sit in comfortable meditation position, or on a chair with feet on floor, spine tall and aligned, and eyes closed. Breathe rhythmically for a few minutes, focusing on your inhales and exhales.

Forming an "O" with the tongue

2. Open the lips and form the tongue into an “O” shape by curling the edges of the tongue towards the center. If this is not possible, part the lips but keep the upper and lower teeth touching. This is called sitkari pranayama.

3. Inhale through the mouth, feeling the cooling nature of the breath as it passes over the surface of the tongue (or through the teeth).

4. Exhale through the nose.

5. Breath sitali or sitkari pranayama for 2-3 minutes, gradually working up to a 10-minute practice.

Sitali pranayama adds moisture to the system and helps create awareness around breathing. It also reduces bad breath, fatigue, fever, and high blood pressure.

Satali pranayama is best done in hot weather or after a very heating physical practice. Sitali pranayama is not recommended during the winter months when the coldness of the air may bother the lungs, or for those with extreme vata (air) dosha imbalance.

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