When it gets to a certain point in the year, we all start to yearn for summer. Long evenings sat outside, fresh fruit and salads at mealtimes and the knowledge that if you forget your coat, it really doesn’t matter. Yes, summer is wonderful and we can all appreciate it, especially after a long winter – but when it comes to staying cool in the heat, it can get a little tricky.
Sweaty HIIT workouts are a great way to get those endorphins flowing and keep your energy levels up. However, if you’re stuck in a summer heat wave; exercising, or in fact doing anything that gets your body temperature up, can be the last thing you want to do.
There are many ways to help you stay cool in summer. Taking a cold shower, sipping on some ice water or, if all else fails, putting a bag of frozen peas on your face, are all fantastic ways to keep your body cool when the temperature starts to rise. However, there are also various breathing techniques which can be used to help keep you cool – something many people are surprised by! Practicing a breathing technique will not only help your body to relax, it can also cool down your mind – helping you to cope and stay calm if you’re prone to anxiety, frustration or anger. Plus, breathing techniques can be done wherever you are in the world!
What is Pranayama?
In yoga, breathing exercises are called pranayama, referring to the regulation of the breath. While many of the yogi breathing exercises heat up the body through building energy, there are two that help to keep you cool. These breathing exercises are known as Sitali and Sitkari.
“Pranayama is control of Breath”. “Prana” is Breath or vital energy in the body. On subtle levels, prana represents the pranic energy responsible for life or life force, and “ayama” means control.
What is ‘Sitali' breathing?
The name Sitali comes from Sanskrit, with Sita meaning cooling or soothing, and we can assure you that this breathing exercise does both!
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back
- Begin to focus on your breath, using the diaphragm to breathe. You should feel as if you are breathing from your belly and not from your chest
- Open your mouth to form an O shape with your lips
- Fold your tongue at the sides leaving a passage for the air to pass through. Stick your tongue out slightly and open your lips enough to let your tongue through
- Draw your breath in deeply through your curled tongue and into your mouth. Imagine you are breathing through a straw.
- You should notice that the air feels cool, especially as it moves over your tongue. Try to continue to focus on the cool temperature of the air
- Feel your cool breath passing through the lungs and into the abdomen. Try to visualize this cool, fresh air filling your body.
- To breathe out, bring the tongue back into your mouth and exhale deeply through your nose.
- Continue to breathe in this way for a couple of minutes, returning to the deep breathing for a little while when you are finished.
How will Sitkari help improve your Health
Much as our bodies try to help us out the best they can, sometimes they simply don’t play ball, and there’s many of us who cannot roll our tongues in the way Sitali breathing requires, no matter how hard we try!
Sitkari is a great alternative, helping to cool our bodies down without the need to fold your tongue in half. Sitkari means hissing in Sanskrit, a sound we are sure you will notice as you practice this method of breathing!
- Assume the same upright position as Sitali. Comfortably seated with a straight spine and relaxed shoulders.
- Bring your teeth together – but do not clench them tightly or tighten your jaw.
- Separate your lips as much as you can without straining yourself. Your teeth should now be exposed to the air and may already feel quite cool.
- Draw the breath in between the teeth – try to focus on the hissing sound that you will hear.
- The air should feel quite cool as it flows between your teeth. Try to imagine this cool air filling your body, flowing through your lungs and down into your abdomen.
- To exhale, close your mouth and exhale deeply through your nose.
- Repeat up to 20 times
To reap the mental benefits of these breathing exercises, as well as the physical cooling effects, try to maintain your focus throughout. This doesn’t mean trying to block thoughts from your head (this is practically impossible!). Instead, focus on the feel of the cool breath through your mouth or across your tongue, and if you notice your attention has wavered, bring your awareness back to this feeling.
Why Does This Work?
Many skeptics are surprised to discover that both Sitali and Sitkari work extremely well when it comes to cooling you down. But why is this the case? Well, when you breathe in through your mouth instead of your nose, the air stays the same temperature until it reaches your lungs. This air is usually cooler than our body temperature, which is why it helps to cool you down. By forcing the air in across the tongue or teeth, the air is moistened. This combination of wet and cold air does a fantastic job at cooling down our bodies.
Breathing through your nose, on the other hand, heats up the air before it gets to your body. This is why most breathing techniques build heat and energy in your body.
What Are The Benefits to Sitali and Sitkari?
Practicing breathing exercises like Sitali and Sitkari does so much more than just cool your body down. The mental benefits of breathing exercises are second to none, helping to reduce anxiety, stress and make you happier! Combining breathing exercises with physical yet mindful activity such as yoga is the perfect way to keep you happy, present and increase your ability to cope with whatever life throws at you!
There are also many physical benefits to practicing breathing exercises like these. Decreased blood pressure, better sleep, and increased immune system are just a few of the benefits you can expect to see from a regular meditation or breathing practice.
If you suffer from any respiratory problem, such as asthma or bronchitis, these breathing techniques should be avoided. Likewise, if you have a heavy cold or a chesty cough, and find inhaling deeply difficult. There are plenty of ways to meditate that don’t involve deep breathing, so you are perfectly able to reap the benefits without risking your health. If you are unsure then it is best to consult with your doctor.
If you are somewhere very polluted, it’s also best to give these exercises a miss. Breathing in the heavily polluted air is extremely bad for your health, so we recommend waiting until you are somewhere quiet and clean before you practice!
Finally, do not practice Sitali or Sitkari in extreme temperatures. As the air enters your body at the same temperature it is outside, any extreme temperatures are likely to make you very uncomfortable and could even damage your lungs. This includes air that is both very cold and very hot. While it may feel good at the time, it is simply not worth the risk.
We hope you are feeling inspired to give Sitkari or Sitali a go! With summer well on its way, we’re starting to spend more and more time outside, and these breathing exercises are a great way to keep us cool, present and grateful for the moment. While they may not beat the feeling of an ice-cold glass of water or a cold shower after a heavy workout, Sitkari and Sitali are simple and easy techniques to get your body back to the perfect temperature.
Kosta Miachin is the creator of VIKASA Yoga method – a unique, challenging and effective approach to yoga. He is also the founder of VIKASA Yoga Academy. You can find him online: http://www.vikasayoga.com