Pranayama - Arrested And Resting Breath

All About Pranayama

The etymology of Pranayama is self-explanatory. Prana refers to the vital energy aka life force aka breath. Yama means control or restraint. The control of breath - that in a nutshell is Pranayama for you. Pranayama is one of the five principles of Yoga and essentially is a set of exercises aimed at breath control. It has immense benefits in terms of health and spirituality. It can be looked upon as an upgrade on traditional breathing techniques. An important aspect of Pranayama is the concept of the arrested and resting breath. In order to understand this concept, let us review briefly the traditional breathing techniques first.

Pranayama - Traditional breathing Techniques

Yogis and sages in Vedic times recognised four breathing techniques. These are:

  1. High breathing - using the upper part of the chest
  2. Mid breathing - using the middle part
  3. Low breathing - using the area round abdomen, also called diaphragm breathing, and
  4. Complete breathing - using all the parts that assist in breathing. This technique was very popular among yogis. It combines all other techniques and is therefore the deepest of all.

A quick review of the four stages in breathing will be very helpful in exploring the concept of arrested and resting breath.

The reader may be reminded that the four stages in breathing in proper order are:

  1. Puraka - or the intake of air (inhalation)
  2. kumbhaka - or the full pause (retention)
  3. Rechaka - or the discharge of air(exhalation), and
  4. Bahya kumbhaka - or the empty pause.

Arrested And Resting Breath

Now that we are familiar with the stages of breathing we can discuss the concept of arrested and resting breath in some detail. When we inhale air we do not exhale it out immediately. There is a short span of time when we retain the inhaled air. If we try to hold it for long, it certainly gets very painful. Yogis, on the other hand, are able to hold back their breath for fairly long intervals. This is called arrested and resting breath. It is, in fact, kumbhaka extended. So how long should kumbhaka be performed and what are its benefits? Categorically there are three types of Pranayama - Adhama, madhyama, and the uttama variety. Adhama is for the beginners. In Adhama, the student must perform puraka for 12 matras. 1 matra is equivalent to a second. This must be followed by 48 matras of kumbhaka and 24 matras of Rechaka. It is easy to see that the ratio among the three stages in 1:4:2. This ratio is constant for all varieties. Similarly, in madhyama, puraka is performed for 24 seconds and the rest follow suit in afore mentioned proportion. Puraka for uttama variety lasts about 32 matras. This implies that kumbhaka is performed for 128 seconds. This is more than a couple of minutes. If you are impressed consider this. Many yogis in the advanced stages of Pranayama can actually arrest their breath for days. They take Samadhi to demonstrate this ability. A Samadhi is like lying underground in a tomb like structure. One who has achieved mastery in Keval kumbhaka - achieving arrested and resting breath at will - is free from all diseases, perfectly tranquil and capable of feats unheard of. But holding your breath for long or prolonging the full pause is not a child's play. Pranayama teaches some aids or techniques to prolong these pauses. These techniques will be discussed by and by. For the present, its happy Pranayama time!