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Yoga Breathing (Pranayama) - Stages of Breathing in Yoga

Breathing is life. It is one of our most vital functions. One of the Five Principles of Yoga is Pranayama or Breathing Exercise which promotes proper breathing. Proper Breathing, in a Yogic point of view, is to bring more oxygen to the blood and to the brain, and to control prana or the vital life energy. Pranayama - the science of breath control, consists a series of exercises intended to meet these needs and to keep the body in vibrant Health.

As we have explained in the Anatomy of Breathing, each cycle of Breathing which is usually thought of as merely a single inhaling followed by a single exhaling, may be analyzed into four phases or stages, each with its distinct nature and traditional Sanskrit name. The transitions from inhaling to exhaling and from exhaling to inhaling involve reversals in the direction of the movements of muscles and of expansive or contractive movements of lungs, thorax and abdomen. The time necessary for such reversals can be very short, as may be observed if one deliberately pants as shortly and rapidly as he can. Yet they can be long, as one may notice if he intentionally stops breathing when he has finished inbreathing or out-breathing. The effects of these pauses, especially when they become lengthened deliberately at first and then spontaneously,-seem remarkable. Thus in our analysis of the Four Stages of Breathing, we shall pay special attention to these pauses, how to lengthen them and how to profit from them.

The Four Stages of Breathing in Yoga

  1. Puraka (Inhalation)

  2. A single inhalation is termed Puraka. It is a process of drawing in air and is expected to be smooth and continuous. If a person should pause one or more times during the process of a single inhaling, the process might be spoken of as a broken Puraka rather than as a series of Purakas.

  3. Abhyantara Kumbhaka (Pause After Inhaling) Full Pause

  4. Kumbhaka consists of deliberate stoppage of flow of air and retention of the air in the lungs, without any movement of lungs or muscles or any part of the body and without any incipient movements. A beginner may experiment by using some force to keep such pause motionless. Quite elaborate instructions and techniques have been worked out for this purpose.

  5. Rechaka (Exhalation)

  6. The third stage, Exhalation, is called Rechaka. Like inhalation, it too should be smooth and continuous, though often the speed of exhaling is different from that of inhaling. Normally, muscular energy is used for inhaling whereas exhaling consists merely of relaxing the tensed muscles. Such relaxing forces air from the lungs as they return to a relaxed condition. Muscular effort may also be used for both inhalation and exhalation. You can force air out with muscular effort like when you sit or stand erect with your abdominal muscles under constant control. When you deliberately smoothes the course of your breathing and hold the cycle in regular or definitely irregular patterns, you are also likely to use muscular energy at each stage, including the pauses. However, in a condition of complete relaxation, you should expect to exert some effort for inhalation.

  7. Bahya Kumbhaka (Pause After Exhaling) Empty Pause

  8. The Fourth Stage of Breathing, the pause after exhaling, is also called kumbhaka, especially when the stoppage is deliberate or prolonged. This empty pause completes the cycle which terminates as the pause ends and a new inhalation begins.

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Article Comments
Thursday 1st October 2009 at 8:54:16 AM  


Monday 5th October 2009 at 8:42:48 PM  

Nice article! Helpful for those wants to learn Yogic Breathing Techniques.
Yogacharya Tonmoy

Durga Bhattacharyya
Saturday 10th September 2011 at 8:56:15 AM  

It does not describe the actual techniques viz. how the inhaling and exhaling are done.The techniques should include how, why and how long each process is done.

Dr. O. P. Sudrania
Sunday 20th November 2011 at 7:21:35 AM  

We must realise that the above article is just a preamble only where it says four stages. It is only a brief description but one must appreciate that Kumbhaka is not a normal natural breathing. It is a part of Yogic exercise.

When we breath normally, the entire process is unconscious and spontaneous. There is no in between stoppage (Kumbhaka). Thus this stage is rightly called a transition phase. A smooth phase of transition, in place of so called kumbhaka.

A detailed description of these exercises will require a big treatise beyond the purview of this small mere less than an introduction. In science we go to a practical laboratory for hands on experience. In Yoga also, this hands on practical experience needs a similar exercise. Please do not remain in ambuguity. God bless

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