How to Keep Your Cool with
Sitali and Sitkari Pranayama and essential oils
As we approach the warmer months of summer it’s time to start bringing the amazing practices of Sitali and Sitkari pranayama back in. These breathing techniques are exactly what you need to calm emotions, soothe stress and cool an overheated body and mind. And I love to combine these with a simple but effective cooling spray to make sure everything stays calm and collected!
Cool, poised and zen. That’s what you’d imagine a yoga teacher’s natural demeanor to be right? Erm, not here. My constitution is made predominantly of Pitta, the fire dosha. Whilst excellent at organizing everything, and everyone, I have a tendency to be deeply stressed. And a good dollop of Vata means I also have anxiety too. Which is why I love yoga so much! It helps me to keep the stress and anxiety in check.
The Ancient Medical System That Can Teach Us To Be Calm
According to the ancient medical system of Ayurveda we are all made up of three doshas – Pitta (Fire), Kapha (Earth) and Vata (Air).
The balance (or imbalance) of these doshas determines how ‘well’ we are. Modern lifestyles, food, eating and drinking habits and work patterns rarely balance our doshas well. We can make small (or big) changes to affect our wellbeing through balancing the doshas but first it helps to know what your own personal constitution is.
Have a go at finding your own constitution with the Dru Yoga quiz [https://druyoga.com/health/ayurveda]
And read more about how to use Nutrition to balance your doshas in this excellent blog by Nora Draganova.
If one, or more, of your doshas are out of balance you are not going to feel very well. By bringing them back into balance we can really improve our wellbeing.
Because I am naturally very high in Pitta anyway, when the seasons are in a Pitta cycle (summer), keeping my Pitta in check is an ongoing task for me. I love summer but if I’m not careful I will be attracted to all the things that make my fire symptoms worse (coffee, alcohol, sun…).
Luckily the Sitali and Sitkari pranayama or breaths below can help to reduce the levels of Pitta which bring with them feelings of dis-ease. These can take the form of symptoms such as indigestion, skin flare-ups, burn out and getting into bad habits like going to bed late!
Whether your heat is generated by hormonal changes occurring in the peri, or full, menopause, external heat or stress, it’s going to help to cool it all down. As well as having the Sitali and Sitkari pranayama in my first-aid-kit, I also carry a really simple cooling spray. It doubles up as a chemical-free and zero waste deodorant too. Which is really important if your hormones are giving you some challenges!
A Note About Cool Climates
Due to the cooling nature of these incredible breathing practices they should only be practiced in warm environments. Because you are drawing the cooled breath straight into the lungs they should only be practiced when your immediate environment is warm or hot.
Also, if you have particularly bad asthma or breathing problems, it’s best you don’t do these techniques.
How To Do Sitali and Sitkari Pranayama, Cooling Breaths
Sitali breath requires you to be able to curl your tongue, which not everyone can. So if that’s you, skip straight to Sitkari Breath instead. If you can do both, great!
- Sit comfortably and make sure your spine is nice and straight
- Focus on your breath, using the diaphragm to control the breath, breathing in and out of the nose – do this for a couple of minutes, or longer if you can
- Open your mouth and form an O with your lips
- Curl your tongue and stick it out of your mouth
- Draw your breath deeply across your curled tongue and into your mouth, rather like breathing through a straw
- Feel the cool breath passing through the body, into the lungs and abdomen
- Bring the tongue back in to breathe out, and exhale through your nostrils
- Continue breathing in over the curled tongue, and out through the nostrils for a couple of minutes
- The return to the nose breathing for a little while
- Sit comfortably and make sure your spine is nice and straight and focus on your breath
- Press your lower and upper teeth together gently, separating your lips as much as you can without straining. Your teeth should now be exposed to the air
- Draw your breath in through the gaps in your teeth
- You should hear a hissing sound as you inhale, focus on this
- Close your mouth to breathe out and exhale through your nostrils
- Repeat up to 20 times
How To Make Your Cooling Spray
This is incredibly easy. I make it using essential oils from a local supplier who I trust. Try and find organic oils that are of a good quality – many high street and online retailers sell very dubious oils!
You will need:
Water – I use boiled and cooled water as I use my spray very quickly. For a longer lasting spray use distilled water Spray bottle – I strongly advocate repurposing a spray bottle you already have. Let’s create less waste and reuse where we can. Wash out with warm soapy water and rinse well, including the pump action.
Essential Oils – I use Lemongrass* and Peppermint for summer as the Lemongrass is also an insect repellent.
*Lemongrass can be irritating to the skin so it must be diluted well. It’s a good idea to test the spray on a small area of skin to check for any sensitivity before using liberally!
I simply 3/4 fill my spray bottle with the water (boiled and cooled or distilled) and then add a few drops of Lemongrass and Peppermint.
For a 30ml spray I would add about 5-10 drops of each oil, for 100ml about 10-20 drops. It depends how strong you want it and if you are sensitive to the oils at all. Play about and get used to the quantities, after all it is for you!
If you want the spray to last longer you can top up the bottle with some vodka (not for drinking!) as the alcohol will mix the oils better and preserve the spray.
For Sports and Yoga Kit
You can also ‘pimp up’ your spray if you practice sweaty sports and want to keep your equipment in good condition. I add a few drops of Tea Tree Oil to a separate spray and use this on my Roller Derby pads and also my yoga mat. The Tea Tree Oil acts a natural disinfectant.
As we can’t take out all our external stresses and lifestyle choices, I hope that these techniques will help you stay cool-headed this summer. They are of course even better when practiced alongside yoga and meditation, which you can experience first-hand on retreat with me at Lucia Yoga’s Nature Reserve center.