How to practice Sheetali Pranayama
It’s been a hot couple of weeks for us in the UK and I’ve witnessed a lot of heated, sweaty bodies in my St Helens Yoga classes, including my own!
It’s summertime and, from the Ayurvedic perspective, that means pitta season—when pitta dosha (fire and water elements), is at its most dominant. It’s relatively common at this time of year to feel a lot of pitta’s main qualities—hot, oily, liquid, and light—all of which can encourage symptoms like inflammation, acid indigestion, rashes, acne, burning eyes, agitation, frustration, and anger to come to the surface.
Summertime Is The Pitta Season—When Pitta Dosha (Fire And Water Elements), Is At Its Most Dominant.
In my St. Helens yoga class, the months of June and July have been themed with the third limb of yoga Asana, so it was useful to learn techniques such as the lion’s breath, to help cool the body down during physical practice and removing excess heat, helping to restore balance.
Another technique my yoga students and I explored was the Sheetali breath, otherwise known as the Cooling breath.
How To Do Sheetali Pranayama (The Cooling Breath)?
- Choose a cool, quiet location where you won’t be disturbed. Prepare a steady, comfortable seat: Balance the weight between the sitting bones, lengthen/extend the spine, and close the eyes. You might want to rest your hands on your lap, palms facing up, which keeps them cool during practice, or place the hands, palm facing down to help restore strength and focus.
- Begin with a body scan. Observe which pitta qualities are present in your body-mind (e.g. excess heat, acidity, inflammation, irritation, or intensity).
- Now bring your tongue all the way out and fold both sides of the tongue like a tube or straw.
- Take a long, deep inhalation through the tube in the tongue which is formed by folding the both sides of tongue taking care to expand and not lift up into the chest.
- After inhalation, lower your chin to the chest (Jalandhar bandha) and hold your breath for about 6 to 8 seconds. (During retention of breath lower and bend the chin downward resting it on the throat pit. Actively push hands into legs)
- When you feel like breathe out release the Jalandhar bandha (lift your chin to the normal position) and exhale slowly by the left Nadi (nostril). Using the right hand to block the right Nadi if needed. This is optional and can breathe out of both nostrils if preferred.
- Repeat it about 5 to 6 times.
- In the end, bring your breathing back to normal and feel relax.
- Swallow now and then if the throat feels dry. Continue this cycle for one to five minutes—until you feel refreshed.
- If you are unable to curl your tongue, practice a variation known as Sitkari pranayama. Inhale through the teeth, with the lips parted and the tongue floating just behind the teeth).
- Pause and feel the effects of the practice, noticing any areas of the body-mind that feel refreshed, ventilated, renewed, or cooled.
- Finish with several minutes of silent meditation to bask in the sensations of spaciousness.
My students and I found this technique to be quite useful. Practicing on a daily basis has been known to reduce symptoms of reflux in one of my students too!
It is important to know that you must not try this exercise if you suffer from migraines, are pregnant, or have low blood pressure. The retention of the breath at the top of the inhalation could be unsafe for those who fall into the above category/categories.
I have also attached a link here to a study of the Impact of Sheetali pranayama on brain waves. I found it most interesting.
Do you struggle with hot flushes?
So, why don’t you give it a whirl? Maybe try to add this breathing exercise into your daily lunchtime routine, you may notice a change in indigestion you may suffer from after lunch, or try it after your gym visit, see if it helps you to cool down. A student of mine is also more than happy to share that she found the Sheetali breath a great technique for cooling down during a menopausal hot flush, so if you’re struggling with hot flushes, this may be your answer!
Enjoy and please leave some feedback with your experiences!