Breath of Forgiveness
Sitali and sitkari Pranayama.
By Linda Sparrowe
If you feel angry, hurt, resentful, or any other heated emotion, try several rounds of sitali or sitkari pranayama. These cooling breathing techniques (sitali means “cool” in Sanskrit) counter the fight-or-flight response your autonomic nervous system may be stuck in right now. They stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the mind, cools the body, and even lowers blood pressure.
Caution: If, at any time, either practice makes you feel light-headed, dizzy, or in any way uncomfortable, stop and breathe normally for several rounds. Begin again when you’re ready.
- Sit comfortably with your back straight, your shoulders away from your ears, and your eyes closed. Inhale and exhale normally for several breaths as you settle into your seat.
- To start the practice, stick your tongue out, just beyond your lips, and roll it like a tube. Inhale gently through your tongue, raising your chin slightly and feeling your chest and lungs expand with air (taking care to keep your shoulders relaxed). Allow your mind to focus on the cooling sensation.
- At the top of the inhalation, bring your tongue back into your mouth and rest it just behind your front teeth on your upper palate. As you exhale, slowly bring your head down toward your chest in a gentle chin lock.
- Stick your tongue out again, roll it, and inhale as you raise your head and chin. Repeat the sequence six to eight
For those of us who cannot roll our tongues, sitkari offers a perfect alternative.
- Assume the same pranayama posture, but instead of rolling your tongue, open the lips and keep your teeth together (as though you were smiling through clenched teeth).
- Inhale, raising your chin slightly and create a hissing sound. You should feel the cool air enter the sides of your mouth.
- As you exhale through the nose, bring your head down toward your chest, creating a gentle chin lock.
- Repeat the sequence six to eight times
Linda Sparrowe is the author of several books, including A Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health with Patricia Walden. She co-leads yoga and meditation retreats for women with cancer at Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado and Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts.