A Powerful Pranayama for Keeping Cool
The glorious sun! How wonderful it is to get outside and enjoy its radiance. Long days spent at the beach, in the park, or in the backyard can be deliciously relaxing.
Time spent basking in the sun is lovely, but if you overdo it, you’ll find that pitta dosha will begin to accumulate. Summer is the pitta season: the brightness, the heat, and the sharpness of summer is a reflection of pitta, which rises externally in the environment as well as internally within our bodies and minds.
An excess of pitta dosha will potentially cause discomfort as summer turns to autumn. With this change of seasons, vata dosha increases, and elevated vata—the energy of movement—will distribute that excess pitta dosha to the weaker areas of your body where disease can easily manifest.
So it’s a good idea to take steps to curtail any imbalance that may be developing. There are simple choices you can make to keep pitta in check in the summer: it’s recommended to always wear a hat when out in the direct sun, avoid midday sun, and spend time in the shade if you are going to be outside for a while.
Also, you can make beneficial dietary choices. Reduce or leave out your consumption of refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol—all of which will increase pitta. Also, minimize your consumption of pungent foods (like radishes, hot peppers, and onions) and meat to keep pitta calm in hot weather. Herbal formulas like Healthy Pitta or Pitta Digest can also keep pitta in check.
These basic lifestyle and dietary choices are very helpful for maintaining balance throughout the summer, especially when paired with a regular pranayama practice.
Prana is life force. It is the energy that creates and sustains us. When prana flows easily through all parts of our being, life unfolds with greater ease. Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of Yoga, is a powerful set of practices that harnesses and directs prana to flow the way it is intended. A consistent and balanced pranayama practice can correct emotional and physical disturbances, calm the doshas, and support spiritual awakening.
Sheetali, also known as Cooling Breath, is a simple, calming pranayama that you can add to your day when you need more cooling energy in your body or mind. The word sheetali comes from the Sanskrit root sheet, meaning “cold” or “frigid,” and sheetali translates roughly as “that which is calm, passionless, and soothing”—an excellent pranayama for settling and removing excess pitta!
Sheetali pranayama is pacifying to pitta and is neutral toward vata or kapha doshas. It can be helpful any time there is excess heat—in times of hot weather, after intense physical exertion, prolonged time in direct sunlight, hot flashes, or heated emotions, for instance.
Practice sheetali consistently every day during the summer and you will notice a powerful cooling effect on your body, mind, and emotions.
How to Practice Sheetali Pranayama
Sheetali pranayama is best practiced on an empty stomach—wait at least three hours after eating to practice.
- Sit with an upright spine. Close your eyes and feel the movement of your breath.
- Curl the sides of your tongue up and breathe in slowly, pulling the air across the surface of your tongue. If you cannot curl your tongue, bring the tip of your tongue to touch the back of your bottom teeth, open your lips and teeth slightly, just enough to inhale across the surface of the tongue. This variation is called sitkar.
- Bring your hand into Vishnu mudra: index and middle finger pads touch the pad at the base of the thumb. Close your right nostril with your right thumb and exhale smoothly and slowly out the left nostril.
- Repeat three, six, or up to twenty times if you feel overheated.
- Sit in meditation for at least five minutes after pranayama practice to allow the soothing benefits of the practice to be integrated.
After a period of regular practice, a breath retention may be added. Work with an experienced teacher to establish the best practice for you at any given time.
The great value of an Ayurvedic approach is simplicity. Making simple shifts in diet and lifestyle based on what’s happening in the environment can have great impact on your health and well-being.