The Cooling Breath: Sheetali Pranayama to Balance Pitta in Summer

It’s summertime and, from the Ayurvedic perspective, that means pitta season—when pitta dosha, consisting of the fire and water elements, rules. It’s common at this time of year to feel an excess of pitta’s main qualities—hot, oily, sharp, liquid, and light—which can produce symptoms such as inflammation, acid indigestion, rashes, acne, burning eyes, agitation, frustration, and anger.

With minimal adjustments to your yoga practice, you can harmonize the qualities of pitta and leave the bodymind feeling spacious, calm, cool, and relaxed. Sheetali, the Cooling Breath, is excellent for releasing excess heat—particularly useful during the pitta time of day, between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, when the sun is highest in the sky and the heat is usually at its maximum. Just a few minutes of this refreshing pranayama can greatly support doshic harmony.

Sheetali/Sitkari Pranayama

  1. Choose a cool, quiet location where you won’t be disturbed. Prepare a steady, comfortable seat: Balance the weight between the sitz bones, lengthen 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.
  2. Begin with a body scan. Specifically, assess which pitta qualities are present in your bodymind (for example, excess heat, sharpness, oiliness, irritation, or intensity).
  3. Practice Sheetali by inhaling through a curled tongue and exhaling through the nose. During each exhalation, lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, inviting the cool tip of the tongue to send coolness toward the upper palate. Swallow now and then if the throat feels dry. Continue this cycle for one to five minutes—until you feel refreshed.
  4. 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).
  5. Pause and feel the effects of the practice, noticing any areas of the bodymind that feel refreshed, ventilated, renewed, or cooled.
  6. Finish with several minutes of silent meditation to bask in the sensations of spaciousness.

Watch an instructional video with Larissa on Sheetali pranayama.

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Larissa Hall Carlson, E-RYT 500, MA, 20-year Kripalu faculy and former Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, guides retreats, directs trainings, and provides Ayurvedic consultations across the country.

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