The term Bandha refers to the contraction of specific muscles that are used in conjunction with breath suspension to redirect the flow of prana in the subtle and physical bodies during the practice of asanas and pranayama. All bandhas have the ultimate purpose of awakening the Kundalini, and opening the pineal and pituitary glands. They are very powerful yogic tools, and must be learned correctly and practiced with care.
Yoga Adityam uses four distinct bandhas. When mastered, and combined with certain breathing techniques and concentration, they have the magical effect of uniting prana and apana (two aspects of the universal life energy) in the third chakra (the Manipura). This powerful combination sometimes travels downwards to awaken the Kundalini and sometimes flies upwards to energize and prepare the brain and nervous system for the changes in vibration that the physical nervous system and nadis (subtle energy channels) will undergo during the Enlightenment process.
Mula Bandha (the root lock)This Bandha is performed by contracting the muscles in the perineum area, between the genitals and anus. Many yoga books state that to find this area you should “start by clenching the anus,” but this is not accurate and leads to much confusion. What is needed is a gentle contraction of the pubococcygeus muscle that is located a little above the perineum and attaches to the area behind the bladder. These contractions raise the bladder and makes the perineum contract and ascend. In men, the scrotum ascends a little, and in women, it is the cervix that ascends. This contraction usually creates subtle sensations in the spine that are described differently by different people: tickling, cold or hot rushes, the feeling of ants crawling up the back, and so forth.
We begin the practice of Mula Bandha during the exhalation. So, inhale normally, and as you exhale, gently tighten the abdominal and pubococcygeus muscles. While inhaling, slowly isolate the bladder muscles and bring them in and up, and at the same time, let the chest and upper abdominal area inflate with your inhalation.
While tightening the pubococcygeus muscles, make sure that the anus is relaxed; otherwise peristalsis may reverse some cases provoking acute constipation. Anal contractions can be the foundation for other diseases also, unless the contractions are done quickly and sporadically. There is an easy way to tell if you are doing the Mula Bandha correctly, without contracting the anus. If after a week of practice your digestive system improves and you are capable of evacuating twice a day, then the practice of Mula Bandha has been correctly performed. However, if you stop having bowel movements for more than three days and have gas pain without any way of releasing it, stop the Mula Bandha practice before the problem becomes acute; in all likelihood you are contracting the anus and this is causing the problems. Seek guidance from a professional yoga teacher, and, if necessary, a doctor, before starting the practice again.
Navi Mudra, also known as Navi Kriya or Navi Bandha, involves the contraction of muscles located about two inches below the belly button. Navi Mudra is always practiced together with Mula Bandha.
To perform Navi Mudra correctly we have to mentally isolate the lower abdominal and bladder muscles and contract them until the perineum and testicles in men rise, and the perineum and cervix in women rise. The difference between Navi Bandha and Mula Bandha (above) is that in Mula Bandha we contract the perineum, whereas with Navi Bandha we are contracting the lower abdominal muscles.
The upper abdominal muscles are relaxed, so that the lungs expand downward, thereby allowing for greater inhalation.
The Sanskrit word ‘Uddiyana’ comes from the roots ‘ut’ and ‘di’ which mean to ‘fly up.’ When Uddiyana Bandha is skillfully mastered, the prana ascends through Sushumna nadi, the central channel of the spinal column, to the brain.
Uddiyana Bandha is performed by drawing the abdominal muscles in towards the spine while holding the breath after the exhalation. Empty the lungs completely. Keeping your mouth and nostrils shut, make as if to inhale but without letting air in, so that the abdomen is pulled in and up into the thoracic cavity, through a kind of internal suction.
When you do this, the diaphragm and the muscular segment between the thoracic cavity and abdomen are raised up and the abdominal muscles are pulled backwards. If you bend forwards and place your hand on your quadriceps or knees, you can perform this exercise with great ease. This is actually full Uddiyana Bandha, which is the first stage of Nauli Kriya.
During this Bandha there is a vacuuming action happening that affects the lower, medium and upper abdomen. This action massages and detoxes the internal organs and obligates the Kundalini to climb up with force. Uddiyana Bandha is the mother of Nauli Kriya (where the contraction of the abdominal muscles is vigorously rotated around the abdomen).
Uddiyana Bandha is used in combination with only one asana, Adho mukha svanasana (also called ‘Downward Facing Dog’). It is also used during pranayama.
As you perform Downward Facing Dog, the Uddiyana Bandha movement begins from the substructure of the pubic region, and covers every single muscle in the abdominal region. The diaphragm is very much involved; in fact, it is solely responsible of the sucking action, so if your diaphragm is not involved, then you can know for certain that Uddiyana Bandha is not being accomplished. Both Mula Bandha and Uddiyana Bandha have to be engaged and connected by the pubococcygeus muscle for prana to begin its upward motion. You will know that Mula and Uddiyana Bandhas are engaged when you feel tickling, stinging or sensations of heat along the spine or in the brain.
Jalandhara Bandha (the chin lock) is executed by bringing the chin forward and down towards the chest as far as it can go. If the neck is flexible enough the practitioner will press his chin against the point of the union of the clavicles. This Bandha is only used in Downward Facing Dog or during pranayama, and is capable of forcing Shakti (the internal power) from the ida and pingala nadis (the subtle moon and sun energy channels which run along both sides of the spine) into the center of the spine.
‘Jala’ (the first part of the name ‘Jalandhara’) means net; this refers to the net or mesh of nadis that connect at the level of the neck. This Bandha is also used to prevent the surge of Shakti rising up the spine from entering the head in too forceful a way. The prana trapped in the spine by this Bandha gradually gains power and is redirected to the center of the spine (Sushumna) were it stimulates the nadi Citrini (the nadi of enlightenment), and when we finally let it free as we release the Bandha during our exhalation, the power of Kundalini reaches the brain. Through this practice, prana rushes from the bottom of the spine to the top through the central Sushumna nadi.
Sethu Bandha is performed by bringing the chin forward and the head back simultaneously. This Bandha is to be engaged in all back bends or whenever the head is lifted during a transition from one asana into another.
Sethu Bandha is a very powerful lock, and has to be learned correctly. Especially when it is combined with inhalation retention, in many cases it will surprise the practitioner with overwhelming power that can make him/her dizzy, so it’s important to be mentally prepared for that possibility.
Introduction to Pranayama
In Sanskrit, the word ‘pra’ means ‘to fill,’ and ‘na’ means ‘to live.’ If we join these two root words they will translate as ‘to fill with life.’ ‘Ayama’ means to stretch, expand, lengthen, or prolong. Consequently pranayama can be translated as ‘to prolong and fill with life.’ It can also be taken to mean ‘expansion of the vital force.’
Although the basics of yogic breathing are increasingly known in Western yoga circles, the capacity of pranayama to take the practitioner into states of infinitely expansive crystalline clarity are for the most part unknown in the West. Yoga Adityam cannot leave such a vital spiritual ingredient hidden; we feel that an important part of our mission is to spread the little-known knowledge of the extraordinary power of pranayama in the West. Pranayama is the fundamental yogic secret that will escort the practitioner into realms of profound tranquility and enchantment.
When performed appropriately, and in accordance with the threefold system of Ayurvedic body types (doshas), pranayama will reveal the complex web of mind-created illusions that your ego has spun, and then cut you free from it, so you may discover the timeless freedom that is your true nature. Pranayama will amplify your receptivity, and unbolt your consciousness from the wagon of karmic suffering, and link it instead to the inherent joy of life that belongs to all who know the Divine Self.
All that is in the three heavens is controlled by prana. As a mother takes good care of her children, oh prana, look after us and give us magnificence and wisdom.
~ Prajña Upanishad II.13
To alter matter we have to first harness the power which generated it. In Yoga, it is understood that to bring about a positive transformation in the physical body and mind, we must accumulate prana. Prana can be explained in many different ways and interpreted from diverse angles. Prana is not merely the essential and fundamental life force; it is the primordial structure of all power, functioning on all levels of intelligence. Prana is the life force of each and every individual consciousness, as well as the totality of the vast collective consciousness. The entire universe is nothing but an expression and manifestation of prana.
The Three Bodies
Human beings have three bodies, which are distinct and yet interrelated:
- The physical body (Sthula Sarira) is the detectable and obvious material structure that includes the five senses, vital organs, nerves, lymphatic systems and so on.
- The subtle body (Sukshma Sarira) encompasses mental energy, emotions, and energetic meridians (nadis). Although separable from the physical body (this is what happens at the time of death), the subtle body nonetheless animates and profoundly affects the physical body.
- The causal body (Karana Sarira) is the subtle but powerful karmic seed that contains the essence of our ancient karmic structure and the vasanas (mental patterns) which we have accumulated through all of our past incarnations. It is the very root of our separate existence, and provides the karmic blueprint for our next incarnation. This manifestation of the “I” is relatively immortal, for it does not die when the body dies; indeed, it endures through countless incarnations. And yet it is not ultimately real, for our true nature has never been separate from the Supreme Reality, nor has karma ever touched it. In full enlightenment, all three bodies are transcended, and the indivisible Divine Self is permanently revealed.
Before we begin any discussion about pranayama’s alchemical effects on the three bodies, it is essential to point out that the Rishis (ancient sages) never suggested that the stream of prana can be redirected to different areas of the body purely by physical methods; mental concentration is also very much required to redirect and broadcast the flow of prana.
Prana goes through an adaptation when entering the physical body. It intermingles with the air element, penetrates our cells and thereby fires the foundations of life. The oxygen and carbon dioxide that we breathe, and which keep us alive, are not prana itself but a manifestation of it. They are a vehicle for it.
Prana pervades all of time and space, and resides within every atom and subatomic particle, including those which make up air. However, prana is not by any means limited to air; it is the life force itself. It comes into the body via the breath, food, and even via our thoughts. Prana is a reflection of the unadulterated force that is behind all existence.
The ancient yogis who originally created the science of pranayama observed that prana pervaded every single cell of the physical body, and simultaneously expanded in all directions outside the body outline. Prana is therefore not limited by our physical body; it is inherently universal. And yet prana has a personal aspect as well; as individuals, each of us has our own internal store of prana which we can access and develop through yoga, meditation and pranayama.
The Yoga Vasistha (one of the great Advaita scriptures) portrays prana as a living form of expanded cosmic existence, without restrictions or boundaries. Nonetheless, the ancient sage Vasistha also made it clear that there is some kind of personal prana, which extends approximately twelve inches around the body in all directions. He calls this personal prana “vadasanta.” This roughly corresponds to what is usually known today as the aura.
This individual aspect of prana, which is connected to the I-thought, and is encapsulated by the physical body, is related to the universal energy that we inhale, and yet it has a distinctly personal quality. In the same way that the air that fills a rubber tire comes from the vast atmosphere, and yet takes on an individual quality due to it being encapsulated by the tire, so it is with the prana circulating within our bodies; although universal in source, it takes on an individual aspect. The more we work with and enhance our individual prana through the practice of pranayama, the more we are able to harness and master the universal aspect of prana.
The Benefits of Pranayama
“The soul purified by pranayama realizes the Supreme Spirit, the Para Brahman. There is nothing higher than pranayama.”
~Adi Shankaracharya’s commentary
on Shvetashvatara Upanishad, Chapter 2, verse 7
“The Lord of yoga, through breath-control, gains the eight superhuman powers. He crosses beyond the ocean of sin and virtue and freely wanders in the three worlds.”
~ Shiva Samhita 3, 61
Most of us have breathing patterns that are rapid and shallow. We breathe without awareness, using only a small portion of our lungs. If instead you train yourself to draw in the air slowly and deeply, and then hold it for a while, you will be capable of decreasing your inhalation/exhalation tempo from an average of anywhere from 13 to 17 breaths a minute, to 7 breaths a minute or less. This modification in breathing speed slows down the negative effects of the natural deterioration that the body undergoes over time. The consequences of practicing pranayama are truly extraordinary in terms of health, rejuvenation and longevity. Pranayama manages stress, calms the mind, strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, strengthens the immune system, dissipates tension, increases stamina, has a positive effect on the glands, nourishes the nervous system and takes the mind into realms of deep peace and great expansion. Pranayama can work wonders with obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and many other problems.
In the Sthula Sarira (the physical body), pranayama has the effect of oxygenating the blood. The newly oxygenated and enlivened blood spreads from the lungs to the heart; the heart then propels this blood through the arteries to each sector of the physical body, where it permeates every cell. In turn the cells are incited to eliminate toxins and unhealthy acids such as uric and lactic acid. As a result, the body gradually becomes pain free, and the aging process slows. As practitioners of pranayama advance in age they will enjoy both good health and happiness. Their blood flow will be strong, their diastolic and peristaltic pressure will be balanced, and their arteries will remain healthy; arterial sclerosis won’t afflict them.
The most important benefit of pranayama is that, by a fascinating alchemical reaction, it transmutes both the central nervous system in the physical body and the system of meridians in the astral or subtle body (Sukshma Sarira), thereby enabling them to handle far greater manifestations of divine energy (Shakti). As this Shakti begins to circulate throughout the body, the practitioners will undergo a potent physical and spiritual refinement, and they will be enabled to overcome any obstacles on the path to Enlightenment. This will rapidly tip the scales of their karma, so that any negative effects of past actions will be rapidly eradicated. This will purify the causal body (Karana Sarira), and finally make future births unnecessary.
Pranayama creates the perfect PH balance
The conversion of carbon dioxide to carbonic acid within our bloodstream is a significant regulator of our acid/base equilibrium. If carbon dioxide is low there will be an imminent shift of the body’s pH level towards alkalinity, and this will affect our entire system.
Carbon dioxide regulates the nervous system. If the level of carbon dioxide in the nerve cell walls diminishes, this throws the pH system out of balance and causes a disturbance on the cellular level. The central nervous system then communicates this excitement to all nerve connections and meridians, and both the physical body and mind become agitated and extremely susceptible to external stimuli. Simultaneously, the breathing axis in the brain will encourage the body to breathe faster, and this will throw the whole body out of balance. The symptoms that we as humans may experience due to this imbalance include sleeplessness, stress, irritability, anxiety and allergies.
If an organism is overly alkaline, this will negatively affect how antibodies and antigens bind, and to a large extent this will make the organism more vulnerable to viruses. An overly acidic body can be equally detrimental to the practitioner. Hence it is vitally important to keep the levels of acid and alkaline within our system well balanced. For this, pranayama is the key.
It seems that in the modern age more people have hyper-acidosis than hyper-alkalinity; overly acidic bodies are more common due to many factors, including pollution, the prevalence of acid forming foods, acidic environments, etc. No matter how intense the imbalance may be, by correcting the carbon dioxide and oxygen balance in the lungs through pranayama, we can accomplish perfect pH balance in the physical body and therefore create ideal health.
Carbon dioxide is a muscle tissue dilator; consequently, a scarcity of it in the body can be the cause for brain spasms, and for inflammation in the bronchi and other soft muscle tissue. Lack of carbon dioxide can also result in tenderness and throbbing pain in the chest, high or low blood pressure, angina, and tachycardia. In due course, arteriosclerosis can set in, causing heart attacks and brain aneurisms. Lack of carbon dioxide can also lead to ulcers and poor digestion. Asthmatics can quickly overcome asthma attacks by reinstating carbon dioxide levels with pranayama, which naturally expands bronchial pathways.
Patients with emphysema find a sense of relief and openness in their lungs by practicing pranayama in the prescribed manner. Increasing carbon dioxide and decreasing oxygen in the lungs, if the interchange is done correctly, will balance the pH level of the entire body, and the equilibrium gained by this practice will strengthen the nervous system and have other positive effects as well. The mind will become calm and open, and a sense of wellbeing will ensue. Many people also experience anoxia, a feeling of lightheadedness which sometimes blossoms into a trance-like state, in which the person may have spontaneous glimpses of profound spiritual understanding.
There are numerous examples of yogis who were literally able to levitate in the air due to their pranayama practice; one such example is Nagendra Nath Bhaduri, described in Chapter 7 of Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi.” Pranayama of some kind may also have been used by Jesus, thereby enabling him to walk on water. There is no doubt that certain kinds of pranayama can make the body as light as air.
“When the yogi seated in the lotus posture leaves the ground and remains firm in the air he should know that he has attained mastery over that life-breath which destroys the darkness of the world.”
~ Shiva Samhita, Chapter 3, verses 48-51
Although pranayama has many benefits, it must also be said that it is vitally important that pranayama be practiced properly for those benefits to be received; improper practice can actually create diseases:
When pranayama and other techniques are performed properly, they eradicate all diseases; but an improper practice generates diseases. Hiccups, asthma, coughs, pain in the head, ears, and eyes; these and other various kinds of diseases are generated by the disturbance of the breath. The air should be expelled with proper tact and should be filled in skillfully; and when it has been kept confined properly it brings success.
~ Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatmarama
Fundamentals of Pranayama Practice
Throughout the centuries, the yogis of India have performed the world’s most sophisticated study of breathing and breath control, and created the most refined and well-developed set of breathing practices in existence. These practices have been tested for thousands of years by millions of people. The fact that modern science has not yet made a proper study of the efficacy of pranayama proves only that research money tends to be directed towards the development of costly new “chemical cures”, which leave us addicted to medicines, rather than natural cures which bring us full healing and give no profit to the pharmaceutical companies!
Like many other fundamental spiritual practices, pranayama originated in India. From there it spread throughout Tibet, China, Japan and the rest of the world, in each new place undergoing modifications; in some cases these were improvements, while in other cases harmful misunderstandings crept in.
Before embarking on a course of pranayama, it is essential that the practitioner be completely prepared physically, emotionally and spiritually. No one should proceed merely on the basis of teachings found in a book; the careful guidance of an expert in the field is required. People who try pranayama after just reading a little about it, without being properly prepared and guided in their practice, sometimes get hurt in some way. If the nervous system is not prepared correctly, the energy created by pranayama can literally fry the nervous system; it would be like putting 2000 volts into a cable that can safely hold only 150. The nervous system may just collapse completely, and depending on how grave the injury is, it may never fully recover. So it is vitally important that anyone interested in pursuing pranayama be properly prepared and guided.
It is not a good idea to contradict the many thousands of years of pranayama’s evolution and try to create your own method. Some people try hyperventilating, or holding their breath for a long time, and based on the immediate effects of a feeling of ecstasy or lightheadedness they experience, this kind of practitioners may continue with such breathing exercises in an addictive way in order to feel these sensations, this can only finish in degradation of the nervous system and mind. If you have patience with the prescribed techniques of pranayama, and practice daily, even if the immediate result isn’t ecstatic, you will gradually feel a clear improvement in your overall heath and increasing calmness of mind, which will eventually develop into a constant sense of wellbeing. Peace and bliss, this time supported by strong, healthy nerves and profound equanimity of mind, will pervade your entire psycho-biological structure.
It is strongly recommended that if you have any health problems you consult a physician before embarking on the practice of pranayama.
If you have heart, eye, or ear problems, high blood pressure, a cold, flu, lung weakness, nervousness, anxiety, panic attacks, asthma, or similar problems, you should not hold the breath after an inhalation. For such people, energetic breathing exercises such as kapalabhati and bhastrika should be avoided. People with low blood pressure, low energy or depression should avoid suspending their breath after an exhalation.
You should never practice pranayama when the lungs are congested. Never force or strain the breath during pranayama.
Pranayama should either be practiced in the mornings before breakfast, or four to five hours after eating. Practicing asanas before pranayama is beneficial, but it is generally not recommended to practice asanas directly after pranayama. If you wish to do asanas after pranayama, it is best to start with a 30-minute Savasana (the pose of the corpse). If you practice asanas directly before pranayama, be sure to do a ten minute Savasana at the end of your asana session, and only then begin your pranayama.
Prana and the mind are very much interlinked. When the breath is shallow and uncontrolled the mind will run loose, and when the mind is active the breath will be irregular. By extending and holding the breath we can promote stillness in both body and mind, and this will eventually bring about a total disbanding of the mental modifications (chitta-vritti), which form the basis of the ego-mind.
Basics of Pranayama Practice
Place a pillow or a blanket under your buttocks, to elevate them, and sit in Padmasana or Siddhasana. If you find those postures too difficult, you may simply adopt any comfortable crossed legged position. Raising the buttocks will enhance the natural tilt of the spine, which in turn will provide additional room for the chest to open and the diaphragm to move freely.
Keep your spine straight and perpendicular to the floor. Relax all muscles in the region of the clavicles, shoulders, scapulas, arms, chest, latissimus dorsi area, upper back, middle back, lower back and torso. If you are completely relaxed as you inhale, your chest will be able to expand to its fullest capacity.
Now, let your head incline downwards so that your chin touches the neckline, where both clavicles meet. (This creates the Jalandhara Bandha body lock.)
Be aware of the possibility that during your pranayama session your back may gradually slip out of its correct posture and start hunching over. You should continuously keep adjusting your posture to make sure that the back is completely erect. If your back is hunched over, the forward arch of the spine will increase the pressure on the diaphragm, lungs, brain and heart and can block the flow of prana throughout your body. The Shakti won’t be able to reach the head, and the quantity of prana that can be inhaled will be decreased. Energy may get stuck in the lower chakras, and produce negative effects in some cases. So it’s important to remain vigilant at all times, with your posture correct and yet relaxed at the same time.
The three aspects of breathing
An essential aspect of pranayama is to become aware in great detail of the various aspects of your breathing. What was previously done unconsciously now becomes an object of very careful study. Pranayama is divided into three sections:
Puruka (inhalation), Rechaka (exhalation), and Kumbhaka (retention of breath after the inhalation, or suspension of breath after the exhalation).
Puruka – Inhalation
As observation of your breath begins in earnest, you will become acquainted with your inhalations in a new way. A yogi’s inhalation should not be rushed or abrupt; it must be set in motion at a snail’s pace. Listening to the breath connects the practitioner to his inner expansiveness. Listen carefully to your inhalations, and keep them silky and melodious. Just by listening one regulates the air’s penetration into the body. As you continue to observe the details of your breathing, remarkable openings may occur; the relationship between your mind, lungs, body and the air you breathe may begin to align with frequencies from the vast space and beyond, bringing your whole being into a new level of harmony with the universe, you become presence in the present moment.
To do Puruka correctly the practitioner should breathe in deeply and slowly, and stop inhaling at just the right moment, when the lungs are completely full, but without forcing, we are freeing the inhalation and not controlling it. However, if the practitioner feels any nervous tension while the chest is expanded with this full breath, then the inhalation should be stopped before its full completion avoid any complications. If this rule is not respected, and full inhalations are continued for an extended period despite the tension, this may create such problems as chronic pain, anxiety, panic attacks, hiatal hernia or a fear of insanity. So, it is important to proceed with care and sensitivity, and regulate and modify the depth of your breathing to fit your own capacity. Please do follow this advice; otherwise your nervous system, heart and lungs may suffer unexpected consequences.
“You can heal all diseases with pranayama, but no one can heal the injuries caused if pranayama is done incorrectly and without supervision.”
~ Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi Devi)
When inhaling deeply, pay attention to any strain that may be occurring in the body and mind and relax your body again and again completely, do not let any contraction in the mind contract your body. Never be too vigorous when intensifying and deepening your breathing, since any forceful openings can distress you emotional make up. Gently and carefully is always best. It is important not to use compelling power, especially at the end of your inhalations.
If you find that one of your sinus passages is congested, try to clear it by doing nasya (an Ayurvedic treatment where medicated oils are poured into the sinuses), or a neti pot cleanse of the sinuses, easily done at home with lightly salted water. Otherwise the sinus obstruction can make the lungs and diaphragm struggle, especially when performing Nadi Shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing), and this can cause distress in the nervous system.
Rechaka – Exhalation
Listen to the sound as you exhale and carefully attune to it.
Like the glorious Quetzal bird listens to the air as she flies, listen for the correct vibrational resonance in the lungs, throat and nose as you exhale. The resonance you choose will reveal itself with the quantity of pressure you are putting into your exhalation, impacting the subtle and causal bodies. If you overwork the exhalation, a force arising from the subtle body may cause symptoms such as strong pressure around the temples and eyes; if you persist, this pressure may also spill over into the shoulders and neck. It is even possible that a strong sense of despair may be felt. The resulting discomfort is the physical body’s way of telling you that your exhalation needs to be modified.
If you feel strain, apprehension and pain in the chest area as you exhale, stop, take a break until these symptoms subside and make sure that when beginning again there is no forcing in your exhalation or inhalations. It is essential to maintain harmony within your body during pranayama practice, your mind should be like a lake in a windless day, make subtle adjustments as needed to calm the waves that arise from the subconscious mind.
Kumbhaka – retention
Kumbhaka signifies the deliberate rearrangement of the flow of prana that abruptly stops all mind fluctuations; this is done by consciously holding the inhaled air within the lungs, and delaying the exhalation. As with all advanced yogic practices, Kumbhaka has some risks, and must be practiced with great care, with retentions of only a few seconds, and initial periods of practice being only a few minutes long. Gradually, as the body, nervous system and emotional winds adjust to this new form of breathing, the practice sessions and length of the retentions can be extended.
When a yogi begins practicing Kumbhaka, he must know that it will often produce certain external symptoms, such as nervousness, emotions we thought did not exist may come to the surface with impetus, fears can become magnified and abundant perspiration. According to Krishnamacharya (widely considered the ‘Father of modern yoga’), this perspiration is filled with important and powerful prana, and therefore should to be massaged back into the pores.
In the intermediate phase of Kumbhaka practice the body may tremble and shake. These vibrations are positive – a sign that the energy is moving throughout the system of astral meridians and the structural matrix of the nervous system. The tremors occur when the Shakti hits a meridian that has some kind of blockage. The process of unclogging that specific area produces this shaking, sometimes a strong convulsion or jumping may surprise the practitioner.
In the advanced stages of Kumbhaka practice there will be charges of electrical heat within the body and sometimes intense movements, where the yogi’s body literally jumps off of the mat.
In the fourth phase, a phenomenon known as gagan-chara (‘moving in the sky’), also known as levitation (or ‘Vayu siddhi’) may occur. The yogi’s body may literally hover in the air for extended periods of time. Vayu siddhi can also be interpreted as a state of awareness in which the practitioners feel themselves to be floating in an immeasurable empty sky; this happens on an astral level, rather than on the physical plane.
As with all aspects of pranayama, great care is needed with kumbhaka practice:
Just as lions, elephants and tigers are controlled by a careful taming process, the breath must be tamed and controlled with great care, and in a slow and gradual progression. Otherwise it can kill the practitioner.
~ Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Chapter 2, Verse 15
We will be discussing three distinct types of Kumbhaka here: Antara Kumbhaka, Bhaya Kumbhaka and Kevala Kumbhaka.
“Four times, at dawn, mid-day, sunset and midnight, the chalice [Antara Kumbhaka] should be practiced.”
~ Shiva Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 27
Antara Kumbhaka is done by holding your breath after a deep inhalation. Once the lungs are filled to the brim, discontinue the intake; do not push more air into the lungs and enjoy the immense expansiveness of emptiness. Remember that by forcing more air in an addictive manner and on a regular basis can result over time in a serious injury of the nervous system and the delicate astral channels.
Jalandhara Bandha and Sethu Bandha should always be applied during this kind of retention. If Jalandhara Bandha or Sethu Bandha are not applied while Mula Bandha is locked and Uddiyana Bandha is partially engaged (Navi Bandha), prana may begin to circulate in Surya or Chandra nadis instead of the Sushumna nadi causing a buildup of pressure on the ears, temples and eyes. This could actually become the origin of a physical problem in which capillaries burst in the brain and eyes, which in some cases can develop in to edema of the eyes. This is particularly harmful for people suffering from high blood pressure, migraines, macular degeneration, glaucoma, insomnia, ear infections or any kind of chronic pain in the head area, which should not in any case practice Antara Kumbhaka.
Antara Kumbhaka should be introduced only after inhalations and exhalations are unwavering and pleasantly synchronized with a touch of peace in the back ground.
The five elements (water, earth, air, ether and fire) in the physical body are all profoundly affected by doing Kumbhaka. As we inhale, and the air penetrates the lungs, the earth element inside the body undergoes an alchemical transformation and becomes less material and more ethereal. Subsequently, the empty space in the lungs undergoes a transmutation. When it encounters the prana that has been injected into the earth element, the space within the lungs becomes an expansive life force, and something highly beneficial that is similar to an inner ‘Big Bang’ happens – there is an explosion, with tentacles of blissful fire that extends throughout the whole physical and astral body. Each time we breathe while respecting the synchronization provided by pranayama, this blessed explosion of divine energy can happen within us, bringing about a sequence of powerful purifications of our nervous system.
When the lungs inflate entirely, the air element caresses the earth element in the Muladhara (the first chakra), and this creates sparks that ignite the mystic fire that awakens the Kundalini, which then begins to rise through the spine.
As Kundalini reaches the seventh chakra, the Sahasrara (the thousand petaled lotus at the crown of the head), a marriage takes place between Shiva, the vast emptiness of pure Consciousness, and Shakti, the feminine force of creation.
Take advantage of the astonishing ecstatic sensations that are experienced when the lungs are utterly full. This is a moment in which you can easily embrace infinitely expansive Consciousness.
Bhaya Kumbhaka is the suspension of breath that is done after the exhalation.
During Bhaya Kumbhaka, the Uddiyana Bandha should be fully executed, by sucking in (with a vacuuming action) all the abdominal muscles. This should be done in unison with Jalandhara Bandha, in which the head is dropped forward and the chin is pressed against the clavicles.
There is an unfathomable transformation in the way the waves of the mind calm down when the lungs are absolutely empty. A superb impassiveness takes over one’s whole being.
After a full exhalation is completed, and Bhaya Kumbhaka is executed in combination with contraction of the abdomen as in Uddiyana Bandha, the subsequent inhalation can be a bit unsteady for beginners in the practice. If you notice that there is an abrupt intake of air at the start of your inhalation, take a break, and minimize the length of the Bhaya Kumbhaka, so your inhalation may begin gracefully.
Bhaya Kumbhaka is recommended for people suffering from high blood pressure, migraines, macular degeneration, glaucoma, insomnia, ear infections or any kind of chronic pain in the head area. They should only attempt this kind of Kumbhaka until all these symptoms are erased and health is restored, after this they will be fit to perform the other types of Kumbhakas without any danger.
Kevala Kumbhaka is the process where an involuntary retention of breath comes about, stimulated by deep concentration, either on an object such as a candle flame, the form of a deity, pranayama, mantra repetition or any other practice that requires one-pointed concentration.
If the breath stops naturally and spontaneously, do not try to reignite it. This is a mesmerizing moment. If you are fully absorbed in a divine state, you should not be afraid even if your breath stops for more than one hour; your whole being will be nourished by divine energy during this time, and there is no danger of dying or getting brain injuries. Needless to say, such a state cannot be forced or created merely by will-power. It is a special embrace given by the Divine, and cannot be imitated; it can only be cultivated through genuine devotion and focused spiritual practices.
It is said that Kevala Kumbhaka has the power to cure all ailments, eradicate all thoughts from the mind, eliminate all negativities, and awaken the soul, making it soar to a different realm of consciousness. Kevala Kumbhaka is even said to conquer death and eventually bestow physical immortality.
“When, following the above method, the breath can be stopped for three ghatikas [90 minutes], the yogi can realize all the attainments he wishes for, without doubt.”
Shiva Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 62
The Yoga Shastras state that Kevala Kumbhaka is likely to be accomplished only by a yogi who lives in a cave, and has learned to survive on nothing but milk. Such yogis should also perform Kechari Mudra, in which the frenulum linguae (the narrow strip of flesh under the tongue) is cut, thereby allowing the tip of the tongue to extend back towards the throat, and come to rest inside the duct that connects the nasal canal (velopharyngeal canal) and the opening of the throat (oropharyngeal). The tongue then presses against the soft barrier that separates the brain from the nasal duct; this pressure is on a specific acupressure point in which many nadis are connected, and stimulates the brain glands directly. This action will give the practitioner the ability to survive on nothing but ghee and milk for 108 days, and will quickly confer a low level of samadhi (Sabija Samadhi). This samadhi will, in due course, culminate in the highest samadhis and free the practitioner completely.
This aforesaid is only one of the techniques said to bring about Kevala Kumbhaka; there are other methods that do not involve Kechari Mudra, such as stopping the breath for one minute after each inhalation and for thirty seconds after each exhalation. It is said that by following this technique with dedication, the breath will eventually stop for more than one hour. However, only an advanced practitioner of pranayama could hope to attain this; if beginners try to force such a radical alteration of their breathing, they could cause themselves grave harm. All such things must be approached gradually, and only under expert supervision.
“That breath control in which the breath is held without effort and without breathing in or out, everyone calls the Absolute Chalice, Kevala Kumbhaka…. He who is successful in the absolute chalice, without breathing in or out, finds nothing in the three worlds beyond his reach.”
Visamavrtti and Samavrtti Pranayama Ratios
During pranayama breathing sessions the breath is maneuvered in a variety of ways. In most cases the exhalation is lengthened and the inhalation is shortened; however it can also be the other way around. There are numerous ways the breath can be retained after the inhalation and suspended after the exhalation. The student is free to investigate a range of facets inherent in the amazing space where breath takes place.
Samavrtti means ‘periods of the same duration.’ The indication is that the divisions of the aspects of breath in Samavrtti Pranayama are of equal parts, for example, a ratio of 1:1:1:1 – an inhalation of 5 seconds, a retention of 5 seconds, an exhalation of 5 seconds, followed by a suspension of 5 seconds. Due to its simplicity, this is the technique recommended for beginners and for individuals with any kind of vata imbalance. (For more about vata imbalances and the three doshas see chapter 8.)
In contrast to Samavrtti, Visamavrtti means “periods of different durations,” and refers to the use of differing periods of time for the various aspects of breath. A typical Visamvrtti ratio could be 1:4:2:1. This would consist of an inhalation (puruka) of 5 seconds, a retention (antara kumbhaka) of 20 seconds, an exhalation (rechaka) of 10 seconds, followed by suspension (bhaya kumbhaka) of 5 seconds.
After some days (or weeks) of practicing in this way, when the practitioner feels comfortable and ready on all levels, he could try doubling each of those intervals. While doing Kumbhaka it is wise to augment the timings gradually and slowly.
Many practitioners start with Samavrtti, and then work their way up to Visamavritti, beginning with ratios like 1:1:2:1 or 1:2:2:1. We also find other systems that use ratios of 2:1:4:1 or 1:1:2:4, or even 4:8:1:4, and so on. Each one produces a completely different effect from top to bottom.
Ujjayi Pranayama, or the Breath of Victory
Ujjayi pranayama is the foundation of correct breathing; it should always be used during asana practice and, if possible, even throughout the day.
Precautions: Low blood pressure has to be cured prior to attempting this practice.
In Ujjayi pranayama the practitioner gently constricts the glottis (the region at the opening of the throat), and a rough whispering sound is created. This is similar to the breath of a person who is sleeping deeply. You can hear this for yourself, by getting close to someone who is asleep. This is especially obvious with a baby that is using all its energy to grow; you can easily hear the hissing whispering sound of Ujjayi breath, which is filling up the infant with prana, enabling it to grow and mature.
By regulating the constriction of the glottis, one must try to generate the ideal sound that emulates the resonance of the ocean. The yogi must at all times pay attention to this resonance; it is his internal monitor of his prana intake.
My Ashtanga Yoga teacher Tim Miller use to say that this resonance should be as loud as the mind chattering.
Since the Ujjayi breath increases heat in the body, this breathing technique is excellent for energizing and healing the lower, middle and upper back. It also decreases the accumulation of unwanted weight, as it burns up calories and speeds up the metabolism by warming up the body. When practiced on a regular basis, the practitioners will attain the look and aura of a victorious conqueror.
In Yoga Adityam, Ujjayi pranayama is used to extend each breath during asanas, pranayamas and the whole day if possible. In most yoga schools it is accepted that our life span is calculated by the number of inhalations that are taken during one’s life. When we slow down our breathing rate, and deepen our breath, we subsequently decrease the number of inhalations, and according to the yoga texts this will lead to an increased lifespan.
Ujjayi is also useful in calming the mind. Unsteady breathing is an indication that the mind is vacillating and the nervous system is under pressure. Ujjayi will slow down the flow of breath, and make it more even and steady, and as a consequence the mind and nervous system will become calm, serene and expansive. By carefully synchronizing the breathing tempo, the practitioner frees the mind from the claws of the ego-personality.
How to Practice Ujjayi Pranayama
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed, and breathing through your mouth, start to inhale and exhale deeply. Contract your glottis and, as if exhaling with relief after drinking a cold soda on a hot day, produce a stormy, rough “hhhhha” sound, comparable to the sound you utter when you whisper a secret in someone’s ear.
Now, close your mouth and breathe through the nose, but preserve this identical pitch.
The Ujjayi breath self-generates the necessary extra energy that will assist you in keeping your air passages slightly restricted. Do not employ a great deal of energy; it is a subtle constriction and the sound produced is not loud. A reverberation that is too loud indicates the likelihood that the practitioner’s ego has gotten involved, however if too low the practitioner is in danger since the mind could become exited as an ocean. Be gentle and steady with Ujjayi practice, like a Tai Chi master when practicing his movements.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Nadis are like subtle wires within the body that transmit and distribute vital energy (prana). Shodhana translates as decontamination or purification. Nadi Shodhana is a form of pranayama that involves purification, distillation and refinement of these energy pathways, and the physical nerves as well.
Practice of Nadi Shodhana
Close your eyes and lightly place the thumb and ring finger of your right hand on your nostrils. To make this more comfortable, you can lay your right bicep muscle on your chest so that your arm does not become fatigued or cause soreness or tension in your shoulder. Nadi Shodhana pranayama is achieved by inhaling through the left nostril while closing the right nostril with your thumb, and then exhaling through the right nostril while closing your left nostril with your ring finger. Then, while keeping the left nostril closed, you inhale through the right nostril, and while closing the right nostril with the thumb, exhale through the left nostril. That same cycle is then repeated again and again.
After you master this pranayama while keeping the inhalations and exhalations equal in duration, you can start adding retentions after the inhalations, and suspensions of breath after the exhalations, while performing this same technique. You can then begin to vary the ratio of inhalations, retentions, exhalations and suspensions, as we discussed earlier, in the section about Visamavrtti pranayama.
This technique balances the energy in the Surya and Chandra nadis on both sides of the spine, which in turn will balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
By practicing Nadi Shodhana depression will be gradually eradicated and a mesmerizing sense of freedom will begin to blossom.
Surya Bhedana Pranayama
Surya is the sun god, and here indicates solar energy that flows through the Surya Nadi (Sun or Pingala meridian). Bhedana means ‘transit from beginning to end.’ In Surya Bhedana the practitioner inhales air through the right nostril and exhales through the left. The thumb and ring finger are used in the same manner as in the Nadi Shodhana pranayama, to close off the opposing nostril, but unlike Nadi Shodhana there is no alternation. The inhale is always through the right nostril, and the exhale is always through the left. The result is that prana circulates throughout the Surya Nadi on the inhalation and through the Chandra Nadi (Moon or Ida meridian) on the exhalation.
In my experience, solar energy embraces the yogi that practices this technique. This pranayama increases heat in the body, and awakens the left hemisphere of the brain, which is related to numbers, logical thinking and calculations. It destroys tamas, the quality of dullness, ignorance and laziness within us, and it is excellent for Kapha imbalances. (See chapter 8.) If you are a student preparing for an exam, or are engaged in work requiring a sharp intellect, by all means practice this technique; you will find it highly beneficial.
It is said that by the constant practice of Surya Bhedana, the need for sleep may be overcome completely. It also burns away all impurities and protects the yogi from cold temperatures. Several siddhis (supernatural powers) are said to be accomplished by the dedicated practice of Surya Bhedana.
Do not practice Surya Bhedana continuously for more than 35 minutes in a single sitting.
Do not practice Surya Bhedana if heart disease, high blood pressure, and epilepsy are present. It is not advisable to practice Surya Bhedana during a hot summer.
Chandra Bhedana Pranayama
Chandra means moon, and refers here to the cooling feminine energy that flows through the Chandra Nadi when this pranayama is practiced.
In Chandra Bhedana, inhalation is done through the left nostril and exhalation through the right. The thumb and ring finger are again used to close the right nostril as you inhale and the left as you exhale. This pranayama has the opposite effect of Surya Bhedana, in that it cools down the nervous system, and stimulates the right hemisphere of the brain, which deals with emotions and intuition.
It is said that the heart connects directly to the right side of the brain through a very thin nadi, and that is why the right hemisphere is connected to our emotions. If that nadi is active and clear from obstructions, the mind will be calm and prepared for meditation.
The practice of Chandra Bhedana can heal many skin diseases. When Chandra Bhedana is performed without Kumbhaka, it is an excellent way to induce sleep. This pranayama corrects Vata imbalances (See chapter 8).
It is important, however, to not overdo Chandra Bhedana. As with Surya Bhedana, it should be limited to two 35 minute sessions each day. If done in excess there is the danger of becoming disconnected from the world to such an extent that normal functioning is no longer possible. Some books state that the practitioner who practices this pranayama excessively can end up in a vegetative state.
People who are excessively introverted, or acutely psychologically distressed in some way should not attempt Chandra Bhedana. If you have lethargic digestion, excessive mucus, or any other Kapha imbalances, skip this pranayama.
Bhastrika means bellows. (A bellows is a tool used to make a fire burn more brightly; it forces air onto the root of a fire, thereby providing oxygen which makes the fire burn hotter.)
For Bhastrika pranayama, the air is exhaled and inhaled quickly and vehemently through both nostrils. The abdominal muscles, plus all upper, middle, and lower chest muscles are used in taking and expelling these deep breaths.
Take at least ten strong breaths (each breath consisting of both inhalation and exhalation), and after the last exhalation, take a deep inhalation and hold it for as long as is comfortable.
After the practice of Bhastrika pranayama, the yogi should do several Antara Kumbhaka retentions. Then, after breathing normally for some time, the yogi should follow up with several breath suspensions following the exhale, as in Bhaya Kumbhaka. This will balance the energy created by this rapid succession of breaths. If this transition is not respected, there is a danger of creating a Vata imbalance.
Pregnant women should never practice Bhastrika pranayama; it can potentially harm the fetus in the uterus. If you have a history of high blood pressure, lung ailments, heart, eye or ear problems, or if any of these accentuates with this practice, discontinue it immediately.
If your body structure is very weak as in Vata constitution, or if you have poor lung capacity, this technique could possibly cause injury to the blood vessels in the brain and eyes.
“Very rapidly, breathe in and out lightly, like the bellows of a blacksmith. This is known as Kapalabhati and is said to cure lymph deficiencies.”
~Hatha Yoga Pradipika
‘Kapala’ means cranium, while ‘bhati’ means luminosity. Kapalabhati pranayama is similar to Bhastrika, in that it involves rapid inhalations and exhalations through both nostrils, but the breathing in Kapalabhati is much faster and shallower than in Bhastrika; in Kapalabhati the practitioner uses only the lower abdominal muscles, while in Bhastrika all upper, middle, and lower chest muscles and also the abdominal muscles are used.
Your belly should be concave as you exhale, meaning the abdominal muscles should be pulled all the way in towards the spine. Let the inhalation occur also fast; let them be explosive in nature.
The practice of Kapalabhati fills the mind with dazzling radiance. The sudden alterations of oxygen and power intensity can open the mind to new realms of consciousness.
Just as is required with Bhastrika, after Kapalabhati you should always do some long retentions and suspensions of breath, as in Bhaya and Antara Kumbhaka, to balance the energy created by this rapid succession of breaths. If this is ignored, there is the danger of creating a Vata imbalance.
This is a very vigorous breathing technique, and it can be very demanding on the lungs and therefore affects heart. If this technique is overdone, it is potentially damaging for the entire nervous system. So, keep a careful watch over any possible inner warning signals, and like a pregnant mother being alert and vigilant with her baby in her belly, notice how the energy of this pranayama affects your body, mind and emotions. If you notice any problems, tension nervousness and anxiety stop the technique, return to normal breathing, and seek guidance from a professional yoga teacher before continuing with the practice of Kapalabhati.
Pregnant women should never practice Kapalabhati or any fast pranayamas. It can potentially harm the fetus.
If you have a history of high blood pressure, lung ailments, heart, eye or ear problems, panic attacks, asthma, nervousness, anxiety Kapalabhati is not recommended. If any of these problems accentuates with this practice, discontinue it immediately and do not attempt it again unless you have proper guidance.
If your body structure is very weak (vata), or if you have poor lung capacity, this technique could possibly cause injury to the blood vessels in the brain and eyes.
Dirga Pranayama – Three Part Breathing
This is a very simple but highly beneficial technique for beginners; it is a good preparation for other pranayamas. Both the inhalation and exhalation are divided into three sections: the belly, the lower ribcage and the heart area. On your inhalation, let your belly fill completely with air, and then do the same for your rib cage area, and only then let your heart area and upper chest fill completely with air. As you exhale, empty out the air from the heart area and upper chest first, then the rib cage and then your belly. Become highly aware of those three sections of your breath. This will help expand your breathing into new areas of your lungs, which previously you may not have been fully activating.
Viloma means “not in favor of standard air current.” Viloma pranayama has two phases.
Phase 1: Viloma Inhalation
Inhale slowly for two to three seconds, without filling the lungs completely, and stop. Hold the air in for two seconds and then resume inhaling. Suspend the inhalation for two to three seconds, and then continue the inhalation yet again. Continue this till the lungs are completely full, and hold the breath in for some time. Then, exhale gradually and normally, without any breaks, till you feel completely empty.
Phase 2: Viloma Exhalation
Inhale deeply and normally, without any breaks. When the lungs are full, breathe out for two to three seconds, and then pause for two to three seconds; then continue the exhalation for two to three seconds, and then again pause. Continue with this pattern until your lungs are finally emptied.
Viloma pranayama balances Vata, especially on the exhalation phase. It calms the mind while simultaneously energizing the body.
Anu means ‘moving with,’ while Loma means ‘natural force.’ Anuloma means “Moving with the course of natural force.”
Anuloma Viloma is done by inhaling normally through both nostrils, and then exhaling with the left nostril fully blocked, using the right thumb and ring finger to modify the aperture of the nostrils. Then, inhale normally with both nostrils open, and exhale again with the right nostril fully blocked.
This type of pranayama elongates the breath by stretching out the exhalation. As in Nadi Shodhana, with Anuloma there is an alternation of the nostrils and retentions and suspensions can be included. This type of pranayama is particularly helpful in fully opening the nasal passageways and balancing both hemispheres of the brain. It is also a potent way of generating peace of mind and a sensation of expansive awareness.
For Pratiloma pranayama, start by bringing your chin to the clavicles to form the Jalandhara Bandha. Whereas in Anuloma Viloma, the exhalations were restricted by partially closing the nostrils, in Pratiloma the inhalations are restricted in the same manner, and the exhalations are done through fully open nostrils. The first inhalation is done with the right nostril completely blocked; this is followed by an exhalation with both nostrils fully open. The next inhalation is done with the left nostril completely blocked. The exhalation that follows is again done through fully opened nostrils. The central point of this technique is to manage the stream of air wile stimulating the Ida and Pingala nadis. This technique extends the breath and brings renewing energy to the nerves.
Plavini can be translated as ‘that which floats.’ This pranayama is centered around a certain type of Kumbhaka that engenders a sense of weightlessness, as if you are gliding effortlessly through the air. This state is produced by filling the body up with more and more prana.
Some yogis have taken the name of this pranayama very literally, and thought that it should be practiced while floating in water. But in all likelihood this was not the intended meaning; the floating is probably metaphorical. Those who practice Plavini will feel complete detachment from mundane affairs, and may even mentally drift away from the world enveloped in ecstasies. Plavini pranayama shows us the brilliant spark of life that is hidden within the breath; if you are aware and attentive you may be able to catch a precious glimpse of this great force.
Since the original teaching has been obscured by the passing of time, divergent schools have come up with completely different ways of explaining how to do Plavini pranayama. I will therefore present both techniques:
Plavini Technique 1: Gulp down air through your esophagus into the stomach, as if you were swallowing a drink. In this way, fill your stomach with a substantial amount of air.
After five minutes burp it all out.
This technique is very popular amongst people who are undertaking a fast, as it helps to diminish hunger pangs. (Shitali and Shitikari pranayamas also diminish hunger) According to the scriptures it can also heal a variety of digestive problems.
Plavini Technique 2: Inhale normally, and at the end of your inhalation retain your breath for an instant without too much force. Exhale with ease, and relax your body completely. After your exhalation is finished, remain still, without inhaling, and while keeping your mental focus on the Manipura chakra, at the navel, imagine a spark of power and light there. See if you can actually feel a surge of light and energy emanating from the Manipura chakra, and once you get a glimpse of it, catch hold of it with your thought power, and as you inhale, redirect that light and energy to the upper chakras.
As you repeat this process, more and more energy will be rising from the Manipura up the spine, stimulating all the upper chakras with powerful light and energy.
Murccha Kumbhaka or Akashi Mudra
Murccha means ‘swooning.’
Murccha Kumbhaka is done by inhaling while applying Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha and Sethu Bandha, and then holding the breath. While retaining the breath, concentrate the mind intensely on the spot between the eyebrows, as in Sambhavi Mudra, at the Ajna-chakra. Doing so unites manas (mind) with the Atman (Self) and the result is that mano murcchu, which roughly translates as ‘fainting,’ is accomplished. Although ‘fainting’ is the direct translation, the word is something of a misnomer, since what is produced is not a state of unconsciousness at all, but rather, a heightened state of pure consciousness, in which Kundalini makes everything dissolves into the Self.
This technique may be practiced on its own, but will be most effective when practiced directly after Bhastrika pranayama.
Akashi Mudra while Twisting and Arching
Make sure that you hold your breath after the inhalation as you perform these two variations of this complicated Mudra.
Parshvritta Akashi Mudra (Twisting)
This technique is probably the most dangerous one of all mudras and pranayamas and should be practice after various years of daily pranayama training for your dosha and under the guidance of an expert pranayama teacher, ignoring this warning may endanger the practitioner’s physical body and mental balance.
Bhramari means ‘that which comes from a bee’, and refers to the humming sound made during this technique. A detailed explanation of this pranayama is found in the Gheranda Samhita, an ancient scripture.
Bhramari is accomplished by inhaling normally through both nostrils, and as you exhale, make a low humming sound with your lips. You can keep your mouth shut, to feel the humming more clearly with your lips, or you can keep your mouth open, and play with the formation of your lips to modify the quality and tone of the vibrations.
While doing Bhramari pranayama you can also introduce Sanmukhi Mudra, in which the thumbs are inserted in the ears and the fingers placed over the eyes; this brings the humming vibrations directly to the eyes and ears. Bhramari and Sanmukhi Mudra are traditionally done together.
Alternatively, the right thumb and ring finger can be placed over nostrils like in Nadi Sodhana, and you can vary the technique with different ratios for inhalation, retention, exhalation and suspension.
This technique is suitable for those suffering from nervousness, anxiety and panic attacks; since the consoling effect of the vibrations and the energy generated by extending the breath permeates one’s whole being in an extraordinary way.
Enjoy the sound and vibrations produced by Bhramari pranayama, and feel how they affect your emotions and your energy body. This method of breathing makes a strong impact on the mind, producing a temporary feeling of peace, stillness and quiet ecstasy.
You can do this practice with and without Jalandhara Bandha or Sethu Bandha. If the chin is brought to the chest or back as in Jalandhara Bandha and Sethu Bandha, the resonance will be substantially modified, it is good to try the three different methods and play in this way with different kinds of reverberations of the hummings, which in turn will awaken different chakras.
Svana Pranayama – Dog Breathing
Svana pranayama, and similar techniques, are very popular among rebirthing groups, although some groups have made slight modifications. The core of the practice is to inhale and exhale rapidly through the mouth, with no break between the inhalation and exhalation or the subsequent inhalation.
Svana pranayama is traditionally done by exhaling three-quarters of the air from your lungs. The mouth should be open and the tongue should be out on the lower lip. Energetic and rapid breathing is then executed, with no break between the inhale and exhale; it sounds just like an exhausted dog trying to recover. This eradicates toxins and is well known for helping to remove mucus from the lungs.
For people with a Kapha-dominated constitution, this pranayama can be very positive and rewarding, since it opens channels of perception very quickly and cleanses hidden clusters of emotions and memories which may be forgotten by the conscious mind. But in the case of Vata-dominant people it can actually be harmful, and cause many adverse effects. This type of pranayama is considered by many yoga teachers to be quite primitive; it is well known that breathing through the nose is far more efficient and safe for the nervous system than breathing through the mouth.
Shitali literally means cool, and this is appropriate, because Shitali pranayama will cool down your physical body very efficiently. It is such a valuable technique that you should actually practice Shitali for a few minutes at the end of each session of pranayama practice. It will eradicate any side effects that may have arisen due to the heat that accumulated in your nervous system during your pranayama session. Shitali is also said to cure skin allergies and other skin problems, and also to remove headaches and suppress hunger.
Two ways are described for performing Shitali pranayama, an easy and a more difficult one.
Open your lips in an “o” shape and begin to inhale through the mouth, making sure that your tongue is moist and that the air passing through your mouth touches the tongue. In this way the inhaled air will become cool, and the verifiable result is that your body will cool down. When you exhale, do so through your nose.
More difficult method
The second method is done by curling the tongue into an ‘o’ shape, and then using your tongue like a straw, to suck in air from the atmosphere. Ancient texts compare this o-shaped tongue to the beak of a crow, or a humming bird that extracts nectar from a flower. After inhaling in that way, exhale normally through your nose.
“The yogi who night and day drinks the vital breath through the crow-beak will be free from all disease and can hear from afar, see from afar and can surely perceive subtle things.”
~ Shiva Samhita, Chapter 3, verse 90
For Shitikari pranayama, the lips are almost closed and the tongue is positioned so that it lightly touches the top front and side teeth. As you inhale through the mouth, the air is pulled between the tongue and the upper teeth, and as it touches the moist tongue the air becomes cool. The exhale is done through the nose. (The exhale may be varied, if you wish, from exhaling through both nostrils, to selecting either the left or the right nostril, or alternating between the two.)
You now have a broad overview of the smorgasbord of pranayama practices. Remember: you should begin your practice of pranayama only under the guidance of a pranayama teacher, and proceed gradually and with great care.
 Note: some call this Uddiyana Bandha, but this is not correct. Uddiyana Bandha is powered by an internal vacuuming action in the stomach and intestinal area; this is not the case with Navi Mudra, which relies solely on muscle contraction.