Deep in the Himalayas, ancient sages observed and imitated the world around them in the noble attempt to master body, breath, and mind. They noticed the curve of a bird’s lower beak, a new green leaf uncurling, and the hiss of a cobra—and emulated those shapes and sounds in a practice called sitali (the cooling breath). In this pranayama, the inhalation is moistened as it passes through the curl of the tongue (alternately described as a bird’s beak and an uncurling leaf), so that you are “drinking” water-saturated air.
Sitali cools the body, adds moisture to the system, and soothes a pitta imbalance(common in the summer). Besides building breath awareness, this practice is said to calm hunger and thirst and cultivate a love for solitude. In addition, this practice reduces fatigue, bad breath, fevers, and high blood pressure.
How To Practice Sitali
Sit in a comfortable position with the head, neck, and spine in alignment.
Close your eyes, breathe diaphragmatically for several minutes, then open the mouth and form the lips into an “O.”
Curl the tongue lengthwise and project it out of the mouth (about 3/4 of an inch).
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, exhaling completely through the nostrils.
Continue doing sitali for 2 to 3 minutes, return to diaphragmatic breathing for several more, and repeat the cooling breath for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Gradually you can work your way up to a 10-minute practice.
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.
How to practice Sitkari:
Exhale as described above. Instead of curling the tongue, keep it flat and place the tip of the tongue against the back of your teeth. The bottom and top teeth are together, (but not a biting action, keep the jaws relaxed). Inhale through the teeth. Also, there should be a slurping sound.