dwai

Pranayama and breath holding

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Posted (edited)

I first learned pranayama from my late paternal grandfather when I was around 14 years old, where he taught me the basics, and also the more commonly known breath retention/holding pattern between the inhalation and the exhalation (with lungs full). The technical terminology for pranayama are as follows --

  • Puraka - inhalation
  • Kumbhaka - hold
  • Rechaka - exhalation

 

Now, Kumbhaka is of two kinds -- internal (Antara) and external (bahya). What it means really is, that the first type is done after inhalation, and the other is done after exhalation (and before the next inhalation).

 

Breath-holding is an advanced practice, so beginners are advised against it. But technically, the meditation part of pranayama occurs when the breath stops. The idea is, when the breath stops, the mind too stops (pauses) temporarily. 

 

There are various kinds of pranayama that are popularly practiced, and mostly they are for different health benefits, to treat specific disorders, or to balance specific elements/humors (known as Dosha) within the practitioner, according to their Ayurvedic constitution. 

 

A most powerful one is called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama, which in its simplest form is called anuloma-viloma (alternate nostril breathing) and its primary purpose is to balance the energies in the two channels ida and pingala, which run alongside the central channel (sushumna), to the left and right side, respectively. Ida channel runs the "feminine" energy, and pingala, the "masculine" energy (yin and yang, respectively). Ida is symbolized by the moon, and pingala, by the sun. Ida has the color white, and pingala, yellow/orange (there are other variations to the colors, so don't read much into this). By balancing the two channels, the subtle body (and thereby the physical body) is gradually brought to balance. The result of this practice on the mind is very good -- the mind calms and settles down, and it helps with entering into meditation. 

 

There are other pranayama techniques such as bhastrika (bellows) which increases the fire element (yang energy) , kapalabhati (skull-shining) is also a cleansing process, and increases the fire element, and primarily focuses on the head, brings mental clarity and energizes the 3rd eye, bhramari (bee) which cools the system down, and removes stress, sitali (cooling) which directly cools the system and pacifies fire element imbalances, and so on. 

 

I studied Tamil siddhar yoga for a few years with a traditional yogi, and with his practice, I found a very different kind of pranayama, with the focus on activating kundalini energy in the central channel (raising the kundalini). This was perhaps the most difficult pranayama technique I learnt, and after about six months of breathing without holds, introduced both internal and external holds.

 

The pranayama practice itself was introduced after about a year of simple asana practice which opened up channels within the body. The first kriya was called meru-danda-shuddhi (spinal column purification), which he made me do for about 6 months. The first few weeks of this practice resulted in intense pressure in the head, as the channels there were purified and tonified, in order to handle the rise of kundalini. With time, this balanced out and the channels were sufficiently purified. At which point he added some simple yoga asanas, which opened up specific channels. The thing is, he offered different asanas for different people (with different body-types and constitutions). For some he insisted on head stands (shirshasana), for others, just the shoulder stand (sarvangasana) was sufficient.  The pranayama was introduced after another six months or so of practice.

 

First step to learn in this pranayama was what he called "glottis control". With this, a very subtle control of the epiglottis was developed, such that the breath became soft, long and narrow (if that makes sense). After developing glottis control, he added the bandhas (holds) -- first was mulabandha (root lock/hold) -- which involved subtle tightening of the anal sphincter, which activates the muladhara chakra. The second was the udiyanabandha (the solar plexus lock/hold) -- this created a bridge between the lower chakras (muladhara, svadisthana and manipura) and the heart chakra. Then he introduced the jalandhara bandha (the throat lock/hold), which created a bridge between the heart and the third eye. Once the energy pierces the third eye, it will rise to the crown. There are of course far more detailed descriptions and explanations of these bandhas available if one finds a good reference material.

 

There are different rules for ratio of inhalation, exhalation and retention/hold, depending on whether one is a brahmachari (celibate) or a householder (one size doesn't fit all). First we practiced with inhalation and exhalation ratios. Then holds were introduced. The main practice was sitting in vajrasana (thunderbolt/diamond posture) and cycling through four hand mudras, along with the bandhas and releasing etc. 

 

P.S. I added this post as there is a breath retention topic in the daoist sub-forum pertaining to neidan. Thought, it might be relevant, but didn't want to  muddy the waters there. 

Edited by dwai
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who is going to be there to personally oversee or help a wana be dabbler that could easily get in trouble with this stuff, Dwai?

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28 minutes ago, old3bob said:

who is going to be there to personally oversee or help a wana be dabbler that could easily get in trouble with this stuff, Dwai?

I didn’t actually give out details :) 

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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, dwai said:

I didn’t actually give out details :) 

 

if we can't be there personally as a qualified guru for someone why  openly imply the use of these  particular yogi methods or anything beyond the yama and niyama precepts? 

Edited by old3bob

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1 hour ago, old3bob said:

 

if we can't be there personally as a qualified guru for someone why  openly imply the use of these  particular yogi methods or anything beyond the yama and niyama precepts? 

I don't think there's any harm in describing the yogic process -- so at least people are aware of what it entails. Yogic techniques/teachers are far more widely available than real Neidan/Neigong teachers. Think of it like buying a book on Kundalini yoga etc...enough to let someone know what a legit system entails, so people at least know better than to find themselves in a booty-sculpting yoga studio, i.e., if their primary intention is spiritual and not booty cultivation :) 

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booty cultivation is generally safer than dabbling with breath and or siddhis,  is it not? 

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1 hour ago, old3bob said:

booty cultivation is generally safer than dabbling with breath and or siddhis,  is it not? 

 

The dangerous stuff often makes it into the booty sculpting classes too :rolleyes:

 

A friends girlfriend had all sorts of heat issues and ended up having panic attacks at her local yoga studio - and the idiot teacher encouraged it as a sign of kundalini rising :mellow:

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, freeform said:

 

The dangerous stuff often makes it into the booty sculpting classes too :rolleyes:

 

A friends girlfriend had all sorts of heat issues and ended up having panic attacks at her local yoga studio - and the idiot teacher encouraged it as a sign of kundalini rising :mellow:

 

in that case more than just the purely physical aspects/benefits of hatha yoga would have seemingly been going on?  (as you imply to me by mentioning kundalini. I've seen public beginner classes like that where they get into breath or pranayama methods beyond regular natural breathing) 

Edited by old3bob
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On 2021-01-06 at 5:52 PM, dwai said:

 

Breath-holding is an advanced practice, so beginners are advised against it. But technically, the meditation part of pranayama occurs when the breath stops. The idea is, when the breath stops, the mind too stops (pauses) temporarily. 

The same effect when this happens while doing other traditions, the difference is probably that in some traditions the practitioner waits until it comes spontaneously, while others use it as a controlled technique.

 

Quote

 

P.S. I added this post as there is a breath retention topic in the daoist sub-forum pertaining to neidan. Thought, it might be relevant, but didn't want to  muddy the waters there. 

Yes, good post. It is nice that you write about the complexity of  pranayama, and how one method depends on the development through previous practice. 

 

The question that remains is: Is such a complex practice useful? 

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25 minutes ago, old3bob said:

in that case more than just the purely physical aspects/benefits of hatha yoga would have seemingly been going on?


Yes - lots of forced breathing as far as I understood. It’s quite common in beginner classes, even drop-in classes.

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44 minutes ago, Cleansox said:

The same effect when this happens while doing other traditions, the difference is probably that in some traditions the practitioner waits until it comes spontaneously, while others use it as a controlled technique.

 

Yes, good post. It is nice that you write about the complexity of  pranayama, and how one method depends on the development through previous practice. 

I won't call it complex per se. It is certainly not easy to learn and practice. Though it gets easier with time and regular practice. 

44 minutes ago, Cleansox said:

 

The question that remains is: Is such a complex practice useful? 

It depends. It does help purify the body and mind. 

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27 minutes ago, freeform said:


Yes - lots of forced breathing as far as I understood. It’s quite common in beginner classes, even drop-in classes.

Which is why I am very against hatha yoga lessons from RYT200 type "yogis" and "yoginis" :\ 

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Good friend of many years just approached me at work and asked... 'in your meditations have you ever randomly noticed, or you become aware that it seems like you've not been breathing for some time?'

 

I smiled and said "Yea.  I find it to be a good sign of deep calm in body and mind."

 

He has no formal energetic practice, no meditation background and no real desire to explore awareness or spiritual matters.  But he is an artist who studies human emotions and psyche (actor with deep training and decades of experience).

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