Known as 'the cooling breath' sitali pranayama is the ideal practice in the heat of the summer. Within a few easy, soothing breaths it restores our body temperature to a comfortable level. By association it also calms the emotions.
I first learned sitali on a summer retreat, when after a lot of asana (posture) practice it was the perfect way to close an evening pranayama practice (breathing techniques).
For genetic reasons a small percentage of the population can't do the traditional version in which the tongue is extended outside the mouth with the sides curled upwards and inwards to form a tube-like shape. This includes myself (and my teacher), so the alternative is to form an 'o' shape with the lips. This works very well.
Unlike other pranayama, with sitali we breathe in through the mouth - in through the tube-like or 'o' shape. We then gently close the lips and breathe out through the nose.
Find a comfortable seated position (you can see options here). Close your eyes. Breathe in and out as above 10 times. Keep the mind on the breath and any sensations in the mouth/body during the practice. At the end, sit for a few moments and feel the effects. They are striking.
In terms of sequencing, sitali is great in hot weather after physical practice to restore temperature balance before relaxation or meditation. I have been using it this week while we are experiencing a bit of a heat wave in England (you can see in the photo how our lawn is sporting a somewhat scorched look).
Sitali cools down and relaxes not only the body but also the mind, bringing mental and emotional calm. It is helpful at night time to aid sleep.
As with all pranayama it improves the flow of prana (breath, life-force, subtle energy) throughout our being and therefore our health as a whole. It internalises our focus and is a stepping stone towards concentration (dharana) and then meditation (dhyana).
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says of sitali 'this kumbhaka, called sitali, removes illnesses of the spleen, fever, gall bladder trouble, hunger, thirst, and the effects of poison, as for example snake bites'. Now you know.
I hope you enjoy this wonderful practice. Please feel free to share this post with any friends, family and colleagues who would like to keep their cool in hot weather!
Note: sitali is not suitable for those with asthma or other respiratory disorders, or those with low blood pressure. It should not be practised in cold weather, or in a polluted atmosphere.