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'Air Conditioner Breath': Cooling Yoga For The Next Heat Wave

This article is more than 8 years old.

I'm armed and ready for the next heat wave. The CDC just sent over this link to its "extreme heat" page, with all kinds of basic public health precautions for when the mercury rises. And now I've got an extra secret weapon.

The moment my friend mentioned that her yoga teacher had a technique called "air-conditioner breath," I wanted it. Of course, this was on 103-degree Friday, and I'm not feeling quite so desperate now. But in this warming world, I fear it will come in handy all too often, and I'm deeply grateful to Ceylan Akturk, a yoga teacher and therapist in the Boston area, for sharing it. She writes:

A key philosophical precept of yoga, handed down from the sage Patanjali, is ‘Yoga is the cessation of fluctuation.’ Every summer, the request I hear most from practitioners, family, and friends is for yogic ways to cool off when the mercury fluctuates uncomfortably upwards.

While we can’t do anything about what’s fluctuating around us, we can turn inwards, harnessing our natural central air to create balance through Śītakārī Prāṇāyāma, a cooling breathwork variation that anyone at any age or condition can do anytime, anywhere. Śītakārī, and its cousin, Śītālī, come from the Sanskrit root Śītālā, which means to cool. Benefits of this cooling breathwork include increased energy, soothing of the eyes and ears, support of the liver and spleen, improved digestion, and relief of thirst. (To learn more, see B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Pranayama.)

There are several variations of both Śītālī and Śītakārī Breath, but the version below is the one that my teacher, Bo Forbes, calls ‘Joker Breath’ for the shape of the mouth (Batman fans will understand). It’s easy for those of you who have difficulty curling the tongue:

Find a comfortable seated position, sit up tall, lift the chin parallel to the floor.
Smile widely, lips open, teeth apart, creating space in the mouth.
Take the tip of the tongue upwards, behind your upper teeth but not all the way up to the soft palate, keeping the tongue soft, like a leaf curling upwards.
Close the eyes and focus your inner gaze, or drishti, on the center of the forehead, visualizing a cool blue point. If this is difficult, lower your gaze to the floor.
Breath through the mouth with slow, deep inhales and long exhales, creating a sound somewhere between hissing and slurping as cool air circulates around the tongue. Pay attention to the turnover, allowing the inhale to flow easily into the exhale, exhale into inhale, creating a continuous flow of energy, or prana.
Do this for as long as it takes to cool off, anywhere from 3-10 minutes.

Finish by lying comfortably on your back in Savasana, or Corpse Pose, drawing a pillow or bolster underneath the knees for a tweaky low back. Close the eyes, breathe normally through the nose, noticing the benefits of your breathwork. To enhance relaxation, cover the eyes with an eye pillow or folded towel (perhaps soaked in cold water then wrung out if you’re especially overheated).

How cool is that?

You can find Ceylan Akturk at exhale spa, Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women, or ceylan.akturk@ gmail.com.

And readers, if you try this, please let us know how it goes!

This program aired on July 25, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.

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