Pranayama - Traditional Breathing Techniques

All About Pranayama

So is Pranayama the next big thing in wellness industry..? The answer is yes and no. It's big no doubt but it's not next. It has always been there - at least since Vedic times. And its stature as a system of treating diseases or preventing them is established firmly. But Pranayama is not about breathing alone. It has its pre-requisites and conditions. To practice it one must adhere to these rules to get maximum benefit. First, a suitable place is to be chosen. A suitable time must then be assigned for Pranayama. And once initiated one has to be particular about diet as well. And since Pranayama, as the name suggests (Prana = life force or breath + yama = control), is largely concerned with breathing a brush up on the importance of breathing at this point will not be out of place.

Importance Of Breathing

Breathing is synonymous with existence. How well do you breathe? How much air do you inhale at one go? How long you retain it? And how fast you expel it? These questions may sound mundane but are quintessential in determining how sound your body and mind is or will be as a result of your breathing habits. An intake of air is proportional to the amount of oxygen supplied to the blood and carbon dioxide taken out of it. Oxygen is necessary for combustion and release of energy. It ensures the proper functioning of muscle tissues and brain. Expressions like 'bated breath', 'breathless', 'breathing down the neck' or 'breathing like a dog' show how irregular breathing habits can be, at times. Right breathing techniques can work wonders with our body. Yogis of the yore knew this, and they evolved a whole doctrine around it. The result is Pranayama. Breathing may not be rocket science but is an important science nevertheless. It is a scientific process most of all. It is cyclic, needless to say. That is, it has a beginning and an end. You inhale air and you exhale it. Between there is a pause. But this is common knowledge. Where does yoga come in? Well! Yoga recognises these stages too and deals with them but the approach is far from trivial. Let's review the stages of breathing in yoga now.

Stages Of Breathing In Yoga

Pranayama recognises the following four stages in breathing:

  1. Puraka - the intake of air through nostrils or inhalation
  2. Abhyantara kumbhaka - the pause before discharging the inhaled air or the full pause
  3. Rechaka - the discharge of inhaled air or exhalation, and
  4. Bahya kumbhaka - the pause after Rechaka and the next Puraka or the empty pause.

We may not realise but normal breathing passes through all these stages too. The two pauses are so short lived that we hardly take note of them. The point is that stage two and three are not yogic inventions. Only they are assigned much importance in Pranayama.

Having reviewed these stages, we can now proceed to a detailed study of the traditional breathing techniques chronicled in the yogic texts devoted to Pranayama.