In the past few months, I talked about the importance of pranayama, a very useful technique in learning to deepen and extend our breath. Although breathing is one of our involuntary body functions — it happens whether we think about it or not — by regulating our breath through yoga breathing we are able to deepen it and bring about changes in our consciousness, including establishing better overall health.
The technique is composed of 3 phases: puraka meaning inhalation; recaka meaning exhalation; and, kumbhaka meaning retention. So far, you have seen the first two steps of this technique during which we have worked on the inhalation and the exhalation. In the first step, you practiced inhaling and exhaling from the same nostril. In the second step, you practiced alternate breathing from both nostrils. In the third step of this technique, you will incorporate the third phase of the pranayama breathing technique, that is retention.
Remember that this technique must be learned gradually, as progress takes place over time. With that in mind, we will never insist enough on the importance of never rushing on to a new stage of practice until you have mastered the previous steps. This is the best way to obtain the most benefits. Therefore, if you are new to this series of articles, please refer to the preceding ones.
As I mentioned already, you can do this technique sitting either on the ground, or in a chair. It is advisable to place a woolen blanket over your meditation seat and yogic texts further recommend it be covered with another layer of silk as it is said to provide insulation against the gravitational pull of the earth. For those of you who are not familiar yet with this technique, I am including once again the nakisagra mudra, which is the positioning of the fingers while practicing the technique.
Positioning your fingers for the Breathing Technique
The thumb and the first three fingers of the right hand
are used in the Nasikagra mudra.
The index and middle finger are placed against the forehead.
The thumb is placed gently on the side of the right nostril.
The ring finger is placed gently on the side of the left nostril.
If you find this position difficult to hold for any length of time, you can support
your right elbow with your left arm, as shown in the picture to the right.
In this month’s technique, you will practice retaining your breath after inhaling. Next month, we will conclude with an explanation of the last step, which is retaining your breath after exhaling.
Technique #3: Retention after Inhalation (Antar Kumbhak)
- Once again using the Nasikagra mudra, close the right nostril with the tip of your thumb, and inhale slowly through the left nostril for the count of 5.
- While keeping the right nostril closed, close the left one with your ring finger, preventing any air from escaping through either nostril. Retain your breath for the count of 5.
- Now open the right nostril, and exhale for the count of 5.
- While keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right one, for the count of 5.
- Still keeping the left nostril closed, close the right one preventing any air from escaping through either nostril. Retain your breath for the count of 5.
- Now open the left nostril, and exhale for a count of 5. This completes one round. Practice 10 rounds.
In addition, as I mentioned in the first article of this series, you will benefit tremendously by doing the paschimottan yogic exercise before doing the breathing technique (please refer to part I of my article in the newsletter of March 2011). This exercise stimulates the manipura chakra, and is very effective to increase digestive fire. It also tones the entire digestive track. By stretching the whole spine, the central nervous system (CNS) pushes the pranic impulses to the higher centers.
Also, it is highly recommended to use a Neti pot in order to benefit even more from pranayama. By doing so, you will breathe deeper which will facilitate your pranayama practice. However, in addition, you will take advantage of the many benefits that the Neti pot brings (please refer to part II of my article in the newsletter of April 2011).
Next month, you will learn the last step of this technique. I will also explain in greater detail each phase of the pranayama technique, inhalation, exhalation, and retention. In the meantime, good luck in your practice and please feel free to contact me for any questions or scheduling time to practice these techniques together.