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On this hot and sunny bank holiday weekend you may not only be needing a way to keep cool but also have increased hayfever symptoms. Hayfever can cause inflammation and so you may find your head and throat or whole body feels over heated. Luckily for us, years ago in the days before air conditioning and refrigeration yogis developed a breathing practise to help counteract this.
Sheetali and Seetkari are both cooling breaths that can calm and cool the body and mind. The breathing techniques work by cooling the tongue, mouth and back of the throat which in turn cools the blood flowing to the head and brain and soothes the nerves for the nose and eyes. It is not dissimilar in principle to how dogs cool themselves down by panting!
I have personally found them useful for times when my hayfever symptoms have been high and my nose, ears, mouth and throat feel hot and itchy. I have also known women who use a cooling breath to help with hot flushes during menopause. I would also recommend this for pregnant women over the summer as you can feel hotter than the average person at the best of times and a heatwave can be unbearable! As well as removing excess heat, these cooling breaths can also help counteract stress by soothing the nervous system and it is suggested that it could potentially lower blood pressure.
Preparing to practise:
- A key point to remember is that, this breath should be practised where the air is relatively clean (i.e. not next to a busy road, open fire/BBQ or where people are smoking). Our noses perform the function of filtering out a lot of particles from the air, so when we inhale through the mouth it’s important we are not in a highly polluted environment. If you are practising this for hayfever then consider whether there is a lot of pollen in the environment – the middle of a field or park may not be the best place to practise!
- Get yourself into a comfortable seated position with the spine upright. This allows the body to be more relaxed and makes it easier to breathe deeply.
- Take a few deep regular breaths through the nose to establish a breathing pattern and start to focus your mind.
How to do it:
1. Roll your tongue into a tube/taco shape and stick it out as far as it can comfortably go.
2. Inhale slowly through this tube – you should feel the tongue become cool.
3. Bring the tongue back inside the mouth and press it to the roof of the mouth.
4. Exhale through the nose.
5. Repeat for a total of 12 breaths
6. Sit quietly for a couple of minutes breathing normally
Not everyone is able to roll their tongue – this is simply a matter of genetics. An alternative breath in this case is sheetkari.
1. Place the tip of the tongue behind your lower teeth.
2. Make a cheesy grin with the teeth together so as many of the teeth are exposed as possible.
3. Inhale slowly through the teeth – you should feel the sides and maybe top of the tongue become cool.
4. Close the lips and exhale through the nose.
5. Repeat for a total of 12 breaths.
6. Sit quietly for a couple of minutes breathing normally
- If you feel dizzy at any point just stop and breath normally.
- Don’t practise this if you have a cold/flu.
- If you have low blood pressure start with 3 breaths and see how you feel, build up gradually.
- Avoid seetkari if you have sensitive teeth.
It should only take 3-5 minutes to do the whole practise and can make a real difference to how you feel. Why not add it to your regular yoga practise during the summer or simply practise on an ad hoc basis as and when you feel the need. If you have severe hayfever symptoms practising 3 times a day could be beneficial – on waking, in the middle of the day and before bed.
Give it a try and let me know how you get on!
Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, Swami Saraswati, Bihar School Publications.
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