Pranayama - Techniques To Prolong Pauses

All About Pranayama

The posture of a Yogi is unmistakable. Sitting on tiger skin with his legs folded in Padmasana, he is a picture of tranquillity itself. But what is he doing? Undoubtedly he is practicing Pranayama. He cannot look so still otherwise. He hardly seems to breathe. Well, he is not breathing. He is performing Keval Kumbhaka. Does this sound weird to you? It should not if you know anything about Pranayama- the art of controlling breath. Read on to enrich your knowledge of yoga breathing or Pranayama.

Stages Of Breathing In Yoga

In yogic terminology breathing goes through the following four stages:

  1. Puraka or inhalation of air
  2. Abhyantara kumbhaka or retention of air before exhalation (full pause)
  3. Rechaka or expulsion of air, and
  4. Bahya kumbhaka or the empty pause (before the beginning of a new cycle).

In normal breathing we do not even notice these pauses. They are so short-lived. But in yoga, they say that if you hold your breath for a minute you add that minute to your life. Thus kumbhaka or the pause in breathing is of prime importance in Pranayama. To start with, the easiest exercise in Pranayama requires a kumbhaka of 48 seconds. Gradually, through long practice, you will be able to extend these pauses for more than five minutes. A state will be reached when you will be able to hold your breath effortlessly for extended span of time. Then tranquillity and prosperity will be yours. However, to reach that stage you need some aids or techniques to prolong the pauses first.

Techniques To Prolong Pauses

To perform kumbhaka or the full pause you need to wilfully hold your breath for a long time. Common experience tells us that this is painful. A point is reached when the held breath seems to tear apart the chest and come out somehow. This is natural. But the aim of these techniques is to prolong this pause. This can only be done when we voluntarily block the passage of inhaled air. In Pranayama, this technique is called bandhas. Three kinds of bandhas are specifically mentioned in Pranayama texts. These are: MULA bandha, UDDIYAN bandha and JALANDHARI bandha. In common parlance four kinds of bandhas are easily recognisable:

  1. bandha using lip and palate
  2. bandha using glottis
  3. bandha using chin, and
  4. Bandha using diaphragm.

In the first technique, discharge of air is restricted forcefully by tightly pressing the lips against the teeth. The second bandha is practiced by closing the glottis voluntarily. Glottis is that muscular flap which closes the passage to lungs while swallowing food. An imitation of swallowing movement to attain this closure and stopping at this very point locks the air inside. The third bandha that uses chin is also called jalandhari bandha. The head is dropped so that the chin presses against the chest, thereby pushing the larynx up and aiding blockage of air. The last one is also called uddiyan bandha which is achieved when the practitioner raises his diaphragm by sucking in his abdomen tightly in a sitting or standing position. This helps in blocking the flow of air to a great extent.

Lastly, it is important to mention that the yogi follows a definite pattern of rest in between the stages of breathing. This is done to replenish the body with sufficient oxygen to allow for lengthening the pauses. Furthermore, the reader will find it useful to take expert advice and supervision before attempting to do these strong exercises.