Kumbhaka

KUMBHAKA

Kumbhaka has many benefits if practiced with caution, precision, persistence and patience while acknowledging the potential contraindications

CEREBRAL VASODILATION

Breath retention creates a build-up of carbon dioxide which causes cerebral vasodilation. The main function of cerebral vasodilation is to increase blood supply to parts of the body in need. Cerebral vasodilation is the widening of the blood vessels, due to smooth muscle relaxing. One of the benefits of cerebral vasodilation is reduced blood pressure. Carbon dioxide is also essential for good health.  

PARASYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

Slowing the breath to six per minute while focusing the breath in the belly will soothe the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve connects most of the bodies vital organs and has fibres connected to the sympathetic nervous system. Under stress the vagus nerve becomes agitated which causes the respiratory and heart rate to increase along with the sympathetic nervous system (fight & flight). Controlling the breath encourages the rest and relax nervous system (parasympathetic)      

PRANA DHARANA

The mind is fired by Prana, so more breaths means more activity in the mind (chitta). Controlling the breath and eventually suspending it means the mind becomes calmer paving the way for Pratyahara, Dharana and Dhyana.     

HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA ON PRANAYAMA

Chapter 4 on Pranayama

1: Having established in the practice of asana, a yogi, who is self-restrained and consumes wholesome and moderate food, should undertake the regular practice of pranayama, as instructed by the guru.

62:

Practice of pranayama comprises three phases

  • Rechaka – exhale
  • Puruka – inhale
  • Kumbhaka – retention

Kumbhaka is of two kinds

  • Sahita kumbhaka – the means
  • Kevala kumbhdaka – the goal

Note:

  • Kevala Kumbhaka is suggested for Dhyana (Cudamani Upanishad)

63:

When Kumbhaka is accompanied by Puruka and Rechaka it is called Sanita      Kumbhaka.

One should continue practicing Sahita until one attains Kevala

Note:

  • Sahita Kumbhaka is the means to achieve Kevala Kumbhaka.
  • Kevala Kumbhaka is a spontaneous retention, which the yogi holds at will

64:

Retention of breath with great ease irrespective of inhalation or exhalation is called Kevala Kumbhaka

65:

When one masters Kevala Kumbhaka, irrespective of inhalation or exhalation nothing remains unachievable for him in the three worlds    

Note

  • 1. Three worlds or Triloka refers to the gross world, heaven and atmosphere
  • 2. Other sources talk of 14 worlds, with 7 higher planes above the earth and 7 lower planes below the earth.  The 7 higher are said to be linked to be linked to the Chakras. The earth is the lowest of the7 higher realms and is represented by Mulhadhara chakra.

Note

  • Make the mind objectless by retaining the breath after exhalation. This practice also brings about a state of Raja yoga (Dhyana or meditation)  
  • The practice of Kumbhaka brings arousal of Kundalini, which leads to free passage of Prana into Shushumna so one attains success in Hatha Yoga.   

KUMBHAKA

Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali

1.34

By Exhaling and Restraining the Breath also (The Mind s Calmed)

Meaning:

Exhaling or expulsion is the ejection of the internal air through the apertures of the nose by a special kind of effort.

 Restraining or Pranayama is retention of the breath.

The mind can also be calmed or stabilised by these methods.

Commentary:

For calming the mind, it should be made to hold on to something. Therefore, practising breathing only without attempting to settle the mind would never result in calmness.

In fact, if Pranayama is practised without Dhyana (deep meditation) the mind instead of becoming calm would get more disturbed. That is why for every effort for control of breath, the mind should be made one-pointed with a particular thought with every inhalation.

The Sästras say that the breath should be attuned to a conception of the void. In other words, when exhaling, it should be supposed that the mind is vacant, has no thought in it.

Exhalation with such thought calms the mind; otherwise not. The effort with which breath is exhaled has three steps.

  • First, the effort to exhale it slowly
  • Secondly, the effort to keep the body still and relaxed
  • Thirdly, the effort to keep the mind vacant or without any thought
  • This is how the breath is to be exhaled

Then, to remain as far as possible in that vacant state of the mind is Pränäyäma.

In this method there is no effort to take in the breath, which will take place naturally, but it should be watched that the mind continues to remain vacant at that time also.

That the ego is disentangling itself from the body and the ‘feeling of self’ in the core of the heart is moving on to the wordless, thoughtless state of concentrated ‘0M ‘—this thought is possible only at the time of exhalation and not at the time of inhalation.

That is why no reference to inhalation has been made in the Sütra.

In exhalation and retention of breath, the nerves of the body get relaxed and the mind gets into a sort of vacant, inactive state which is not possible at the time of inhalation.

To practice this method, the breath should be exhaled with prolonged and appropriate effort. The whole body and the chest should be kept still and inhalation and exhalation should be done by the movement of abdominal muscles. When this is practiced assiduously for some time, a happy feeling or feeling of lightness spreads all over the body. Further practice is to be continued with this feeling, and when that is mastered, retention need not be practiced after each exhalation, but at intervals, which will not tire the devotee excessively.

When the practice is advanced, gradually it might be easier to have retention after each exhalation. The special feature of this practice is to arrive at a unification of exhalation and retention so that the two can be achieved in the same process, and no separate effort has to be made for each. At the time of exhalation, the entire volume of internal air need not be ejected. When some air remains, the exhalation should be reduced and passed on to retention. Carefully mastering this, it should be watched that both the

body and the mind remain still and in a vacant state, specially at the time of natural inhalation in none too fast a manner. When with practice, it can be continued for a long time without interruption, and can be done whenever wanted, then the mind gets settled without any fluctuation and this may lead to the state of concentration (Samädhi).

With breathing, in one effort, a disturbed mind can be easily anchored to a particular place internally; that is why it is one of the approved ways Of achieving stability of the mind.

This sort of Pränäyäma can be practiced constantly, it is very suitable for attaining tranquility.

Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali

2.50

That (Pranayama) Has External Operation, Internal Operation and Suppression. These, Again, When Observed According to Space, Time and Number Become Long and Subtle

Meaning:

That which brings suspension of movement after exhalation is an external operation, that which brings suspension after inhalation is an internal

Operation. The third is suppression. In this, the other (internal/external) are absent.

These three operations, again, regulated by

  1. Space, that is so much space is its scope
  2. Time, according to the calculation of moments
  3. Number

Pranayama becomes long and subtle after one gets habituated to it in this way.

Commentary:

The words ‘Rechaka’ (expulsion of air), ‘Püraka’ (drawing in of air) and ‘Kumbhaka’ (suspension of air) were not used in ancient times in the sense in which they are understood now. Had it been so, the author of the Sütras would certainly have used them. They were coined

later.

  • External operation (Vähya-vrtti)
  • internal operation (Abhyantara)
  • and suppression (Stambha-vytti)

These three are not the same as:

  • Expulsion (Rechaka)
  • drawing in of breath (Püraka)
  • suspension (Kumbhaka)

The author of the Bhäsya has described external operation as want of Movement after exhalation. This is not the same as (Rechaka).

Rechaka is a form of exhalation. In fact, commentators only tried to reconcile the newer forms with the practices mentioned in this commentary. But none succeeded in reconciling them.

In some books it is stated that

  • the suspension of breath after exhalation is the Vedic form of Pranayama
  • and suspension after inhalation is its Täntric form
  • Thus, external operation etc. are not the same as merely Rechaka, Püraka and Kumbhaka, as understood in modern times.

The particular form of effort, which brings about suppression, may be described as an effort at internal contraction of all the limbs of the body.

When that effort becomes firm, suspension of breath can be maintained for a long time; otherwise it cannot be maintained for more than two or three minutes.  This should be clearly understood.

In the Hatha-yoga that effort is called

  • Müla-bandha (contraction of the anus)
  • Uddiyäna-bandha (contraction of the abdomen)
  • and Jälandhara-bandha (contraction of the throat).

The operation called Khecharimudrä is also similar. For the practice of this posture, the tongue has to be repeatedly pulled to elongate it gradually. Pressing the extended tongue into the nasopharynx and applying pressure on the nerves therein, or pulling them, it is possible to maintain suspension of breath and vital energies (state of catalepsy) for some time.

As a result of these efforts at contraction, the nerves being inclined towards suspension, the breath and life energy may be suspended. By the adoption of a particular form of diet, and practices performed with a healthy body, the nerves and muscles attain a Sättvika form of alacrity with the help of which this

strong effort can be made (Buddhists describe this alacrity as gentleness

and dexterity of the body). This effort cannot be made with a flabby body which is not muscular, hence there are instructions to make the body strong and perfectly healthy by the adoption of various postures and practices.   

This is how präna (breathing) can be stopped with Hatha, i.e. by practices.

This, however, does not lead to stoppage of the activities of the mind, though it may help the process. After perfecting Pranayama if one practises control over the mind by means of Dhärana etc., then only one can advance in the path of Yoga; otherwise one will gain nothing, except keeping the body like a corpse for a period of time.

Apart from this, there are other methods of restraining the activities of Prana. The functioning of Präna may also be stopped by means of the Sättvika form of restraint brought forth by sublime joy arising out of one-pointedness of mind of those who practise ishvara pranidhana (devotion to God) or Dhärapä on Consciousness for making their minds one- pointed. And once the one-pointedness becomes continuous, one can, remaining wholly absorbed in it, reduce or stop the intake of food and easily achieve Samadhi by stopping prana.

Yoga means control over the mind, not over the body.

Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali

1.51

The Fourth Pranayama Transcends External And Internal Operations

Commentary:

When external operation regulated by space, time and number, is mastered it can be transcended by skill acquired through practice. Internal operation also, similarly regulated, can be transcended through practice.

After proficiency is attained through practice, both these operations become long and subtle. Gradual suspension of external and internal Operations, after these are mastered through practice as stated above, is the fourth Pranayama. Suppression of movement with one effort, without considering space, etc., is the third Pranayama.

When regulated by space, time and number it becomes long and subtle. After acquiring proficiency in observing space etc. during inhalation and exhalation, gradual suspension of movement transcending them is the fourth Pranayama. This is the difference between the third and fourth Pranayamas. 

HATHA YOGA PRADIPIKA ON KUMBHAKA

HYP 26

For success, one should inhale, retain and exhale in a very judicious manner

HYP 27

Purification of the nadis leads to prolonged breath holding capacity, increase in bodily fire, manifestation of the nada and feeling of well being

HYP 30

The mind becomes poised, as the prana moves into the middle path. The poised state of mind is called manonmani

HYP 31  

To attain such a state, the adepts practice various kumbhakas. Surprising results can be achieved by practicing various kumbhakas 

Martin Thompson

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