Pranayama - Stages Of Breathing In Yoga

All About Pranayama

Pranayama is a part of the eight limbs of yoga and is more a spiritual practice than a set of exercises involving breath control. Yogis who practiced it were known to have occult powers and even today many yogis who practice it leave audiences dumbfounded with their demonstrations. One who is adept in this practice may perform similar feats besides enjoying a perfect health and overall bliss. Let us look at the stages of Pranayama.

Pranayama - Stages, Kinds And The Process Of Breathing

Stages of Pranayama. There are four stages of Pranayama:

  1. Arambha avastha - this is the first stage. It is entered when the practitioner has performed Nadi-sudhi (purification of channels of energy in the body).
  2. Ghata avastha - this is the second stage. This is reached when the practitioner has learnt to suppress his breath for long periods of time. By this time the yogi gains special powers including but not limited to levitation.
  3. Parichaya avastha - this is third and an advanced stage of spirituality
  4. Nishpati avastha - the fourth and final stage where the practitioner reaches a state of perfect bliss. At this point, he is able to perform keval kumbhaka (doing away of the process of breathing at will for long periods of time. He can now go months without food and breathing.

To understand Pranayama however, one needs to understand the breathing process thoroughly. Breathing is a complex process including the following four stages:

  1. Inhalation or puraka in yogic lingo
  2. A pause or kumbhaka
  3. Exhalation or Rechaka
  4. A pause before the cycle begins once again.

In all kinds of breathing, for there are many kinds of breathing, a person goes through all these stages. For example, in fast breathing or panting inhalation and exhalation alternates rapidly with little scope for the two pauses. On the contrary, during sleep the body automatically switches to slow breathing where all these four stages are lengthened. Pranayama recognises four kinds of breathing viz. high breathing, low breathing, mid breathing, and complete breathing. High breathing uses the upper part of the lungs with limited powers of absorbing oxygen. Low breathing utilises the lower part of the lungs and generally enables the breather with a rich supply of oxygen. Mid breathing falls somewhere between these two and complete breathing is the deepest possible breath utilising the lung capacity to its fullest.

Now let us explore the process of breathing itself. It starts with inhalation of course. When we inhale, we allow a quantity of air inside our lungs through the bronchial tube. Air is approximately 20% oxygen rich. Thus, a proportionate amount of oxygen is absorbed by our lungs. The lungs, then, infuse this oxygen into our blood. Our blood has a compound of iron called hemoglobin. It is also known as the oxygen carrier. This hemoglobin carries the oxygen to various organs in our body. Thus oxygen is transported to brain, intestine, and other organs ensuring their proper functioning. Another set of blood vessels carries the used blood back to our lungs. Obviously, this blood is depleted of oxygen and is loaded with carbon dioxide along with other toxins. Back in lungs this impure blood releases this carbon dioxide which is carried out via exhalation. This completes the process of breathing.

Arrested And Resting Breath

In Pranayama, the second stage of breathing i.e. the first pause or kumbhaka is given elaborate treatment. By lengthening this pause, the yogis tend to arrest the breath. This arrested breath, then, rests in the body with the effect that yogis can greatly develop their mental and physical faculties. Exercises around kumbhaka are pretty powerful and expert supervision is advised before a student attempts them.