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ACCORDING to Patañjali "Prãnãyãma is the cessation of the inspiratory and expiratory movements of breath which follows when that has been secured; thence the cover of light is destroyed and the mind becomes fit for concentration."[1] [1] The Yoga Sutra of Patańjali, ii, 49, 52, 53. Vãchaspati says, "Prãnãyãma renders the mind fit for concentration, by making it steady."[2][2] Ibid., Văchaspatis gloss, ii, 104.

Our text opens its chapter on prãnãyãma as follows:

Posture being established, a Yogi, master of himself; eating salutary and moderate food, should practise prãnãyãma, as instructed by his guru. When Prãna (the life breath) moves, the mind also moves. When Prãna ceases to move, the mind becomes motionless. (The body of) the Yogi becomes stiff as a stump. Therefore, one should control Prãna. So long as the (breathing) air stays in the body, so long is life. Death consists in the passing out of the (breathing) air. It is, therefore, necessary to restrain the breath. The breath does not pass through the middle channel (susumnã), owing to the impurities of the nãdis. How then can success be attained, and how can there be the unmanî avasthã [mindlessness].[3]3] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 1-4.

All texts agree that prãnãyãma is impossible until the nerve channels (nãdis) are thoroughly cleansed.

When the whole system of nãdis which is full of impurities, is cleaned, then the Yogi becomes able to conserve the Prãna (breath). Therefore, Prãnãyãma should be performed daily with sãttvika buddhi (intellect free from rajas and tamas or activity and sloth), in order to drive out the impurities of the susumnã.[4][4] Ibid., 5-6. Compare the opening section on Purification of Nădis in Gheranda Samhită, v, 33-5: "He should sit on a seat of Kusa-grass, or an antelope skin, or tiger skin or a blanket, or on earth, calmly and quietly, facing east or north. Having purified the nădis, let him begin Prănăyăma. Candakăpăli said. Ocean of mercy! How are nădis purified, what is the purification of Nădis; I want to learn all this; recite to me. Gheranda said, The Văyu does not (cannot) enter the nădis so long as they are full of impurities. How then can Prănăyăma be accomplished? How can there be knowledge of Tattvas? Therefore, first the Nădis should be purified, and then Prănăyăma should be practised."

The generally accepted method for purification of the nãdis by breathing is then given.

Sitting in the Padmãsana posture the Yogi should fill in the air through the left nostril (closing the right one); and keeping it confined according to ones ability, it should be expelled slowly through the right nostril. Then, drawing in the air through the right nostril slowly, the belly should be filled, and after performing Kumbhaka [suspension] as before, it should be expelled slowly through the left nostril. Inhaling thus through the one, through which it was expelled, and having restrained it till possible, it should be exhaled through the other, slowly and not forcibly. If the air be inhaled through the left nostril it should be expelled again through the other, and filling it through the right nostril and confining it should be expelled through the left nostril. By practising in this way, through the right and the left nostrils alternately, the whole of the collection of the nãdis of the yamîs (practisers) becomes clean, i.e. free from impurities, after three months.[5]

[5] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, 7-10. Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 38-45: "Sitting in the Padmăsana posture, and performing the adoration of the Guru, etc., as taught by the Teacher, let him perform purification of Nădis for success in Prănăyăma. Contemplating on Văyu-Bija (yam) [the seed syllable of the energy of air], full of energy and of a smoke-colour, let him draw in breath by the left nostril, repeating the Bija sixteen times. This is Puraka. Let him restrain the breath for a period of sixty-four repetitions of the Mantra. This is Kumbhaka. Then let him expel the air by the right nostril slowly during a period occupied by repeating the Mantra thirty-two times. The root of the navel is the seat of Agni-Tattva [Fire-essence]. Raising the fire from that place, join the Prthivi-Tattva [Earth-essence] with it; then contemplate on this mixed light. Then repeating sixteen times the Agni-Bija (ram) [The seed syllable of the energy of fire] let him draw in breath by the right nostril, and retain it for the period of sixty-four repetitions of the Mantra, and then expel it by the left nostril for a period of thirty-two repetitions of the Mantra. Then fixing the gaze on the tip of the nose and contemplating the luminous reflection of the moon there, let him inhale through the left nostril, repeating the Bija tham sixteen times; let him retain it by repeating the Bija tham sixty-four times; in the meanwhile imagine (or contemplate) that the nectar flowing from the moon at the tip of the nose runs through all the vessels of the body, and purifies them. Thus contemplating, let him exhale repeating thirty- two times the Prthivi Bija lain [the seed syllable of the energy of earth]. By these three Prănăyămas the nădis are purified. Then sitting firmly in a posture, let him begin regular Prănăyăma." This would be true only in the event that one is already a Yogi. For others a much longer period is obviously needed.


Compare Siva Samhită, iii, 22-4: "Then let the wise practitioner close with his right thumb the Pingală (the right nostril), inspire air through the Idă (the left nostril); and keep air confined-suspend his breathing-as long as he can, and afterwards let him breathe out slowly, and not forcibly, through the right nostril. Again, let him draw breath through the right nostril, and stop breathing as long as his strength permits; then let him expel the air through the left nostril, not forcibly but slowly and gently. According to the above method of Yoga, let him practise twenty kumbhakas (stopping of the breath). He should practise this daily without neglect or idleness, and free from all duels (of love and hatred, and doubt and contention), etc."

This process of alternate breathing is the accepted traditional technique and by far the most satisfactory. I have been taught several varieties, but none of them is of such outstanding importance that it should be recommended for practice. I was directed to use bhastrikã to purify the nãdis; however, those who are unable to develop bhastrikã, as I have described it, can use this standard method of alternate breathing.

In the traditional manner, the subject of regular prãnãyãma is introduced as follows:

Brahmã and other Devas were always engaged in the exercise of Prãnãyãma, and, by means of it, got rid of the fear of death. Therefore, one should practise Prãnãyãma regularly. So long as the breath is restrained in the body, so long as the mind is undisturbed, and so long as the gaze is fixed between the eyebrows, there is no fear from Death. When the system of Nãdis becomes clear of the impurities by properly controlling the prãna, then the air, piercing the entrance of the Susumnã, enters it easily. Steadiness of mind comes when the air moves freely in the middle (Susumnã). That is the manonmani condition, which is attained when the mind becomes calm. To accomplish it, various Kumbhakas are performed by those who are expert in the methods; for, by the practice of different Kumbhakas, wonderful success is attained. Kumbhakas are of eight kinds ,viz. Sürya Bhedana, Ujjãyi, Sitkãri, Sitali, Bhastrikã, Bhrãmari, Murchhã, and Plãvini.[6]

6] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 39-44: Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 46: "The Kumbhakas or retentions of breath are of eight sorts; Sahita, Súrya-bheda, Ujjăyi, Sitali, Bhastrikă, Bhrămari, Murcchă, and Kevali." The variations will be discussed in their proper sequence.



These are the fundamental breathing practices used to suspend the flow of breath arid to conquer the mind according to Yogic tradition. The inherent danger of any such undertaking is self-apparent; therefore the individual investigator is advised to take every precaution.[7]  

[7] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 15-20: "Just as lions, elephants and tigers are controlled by and by, so the breath is controlled by slow degrees, otherwise (i.e., by being hasty or using too much force) it kills the practiser himself. When Prănăyăma, etc. are performed properly, they eradicate all diseases, but an improper practice generates diseases. Hiccup, asthma, cough, pain in the head, the ears, and the eyes; these and other various kinds of diseases are generated by the disturbances of the breath. The air should be expelled with proper tact, and should be filled in skillfully, and should be kept confined properly. Thus it brings success. When the nădis become free from impurities, and there appear the outward signs of success, such as lean body and glowing colour, then one should feel certain of success. By removing the impurities of the nădis the air can be restrained, according to ones wish, and the appetite is increased, the divine sound is awakened, and the body becomes healthy."


Compare Siva Samhită, iii, 31: "The following qualities are surely always found in the body of every Yogi :-Strong appetite, good digestion, cheerfulness, handsome figure, great courage, mighty enthusiasm and full strength."


Each practice has its own individual purpose. Though it is not necessary to use them all, I learned all and shall discuss each in the order in which I was instructed - the order most helpful to my progress.

The first is surya bhedana (piercing the solar discus). The technique is simple:

Taking any comfortable posture and performing the ãsana, the Yogi should draw in the air slowly, through the right nostril. Then it should be confined within, so that it fills from the nails [of the toes] to the tips of the hair [on the head], and then let out through the left nostril slowly.[8]

[8] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, ~ For the effect this practice is supposed to have on the body (see so): "This excellent Súrya Bhedana cleanses the forehead (frontal sinuses), destroys the disorders of Văta and removes the worms, and, therefore, it should be performed again and again." Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 58-68: "Inspire with all your strength the external air through the sun-tube (right nostril): retain this air with the greatest care, performing the Jălandhara Mudră. Let the Kumbhaka be kept up until the perspiration burst out from the tips of the nails and the roots of the hair.


"The Văyus are ten, namely, Prăna, Apăna, Samăna, Udăna, and Vyăna; Năga, Kurma, Krkara, Devadatta, and Dhanamjaya.

"The Prăna moves always in the heart; the Apăna in the sphere of anus; the Samăna in the navel region; the Udăna in the throat; and the Vyăna pervades the whole body. These are the five principal Văyus, known as Prănădi. They belong to the inner body. The Năgădi five Văyus belong to the Outer body.

"I now tell thee the seats of these five external Văyus. The Năga-Văyu performs the function of belching; the Kurma opens the eye-lids; the Krkara causes sneezing; the Devadatta does yawning; the Dhanamjaya pervades the whole gross body, and does not leave it even after death.

"The Năga-Văyu gives rise to consciousness, the Kurma causes vision, the Krkara hunger and thirst, the Devadatta produces yawning and by Dhanamjaya sound is produced. This does not leave the body even for a minute.

"Let him raise all these Văyus, which are separated by the Suryanădi, from the root of the nave!; then exhale by the Idă-nădi, slowly with confidence and with unbroken, continuous force. Let him again inhale through the right nostril, retaining it, as taught above, and exhale it again. Let him do this again and again. (In this process, the air is always inspired through the Súrya-nădi.)

"Súrya-bheda Kumbhaka destroys decay and death, awakens the Kundali sakti, increases the bodily fire, O Canda! thus have I taught thee the Suryabhedana Kumbhaka."


For a comparative description of the Văyus see Siva Samhită, iii, 1-9: "In the heart, there is a brilliant lotus with twelve petals adorned with brilliant signs. It has the letters from k to th (i.e. k, kh, g, gh, n, ch, chh, j, jh, n, t, th), the twelve beautiful letters. The Prăna lives there, adorned with various desires, accompanied by its past works, that have no beginning, and joined with egoism (Ahankăra). From the different modification of the Prăna, it receives various names; all of them cannot be stated here. Prăna, Apăna, Samăna, Udăna, Vyăna, Năga, Kurma, Krikara, Devatta, and Dhanańjaya. These are the ten principal names, described by me in this Săstra; they perform all the functions, incited thereto by their own actions. Again, out of these ten, the first five are the leading ones; even among these, the Prăna and Apăna are the highest agents in my opinion. The seat of the Prăna is the heart; of the Apăna, the anus; of the Samăna, the region around the navel; of the Udăna the throat; while the Vyăna moves all over the body. The five remaining văyus, the N5ga, etc., perform the following functions in the body; Eructation, opening the eyes, hunger and thirst, gaping. or yawning, and lastly hiccup. He who in this way knows the microcosm of the body, being absolved from all sins, reaches the highest state.

A general description of the supplementary disciplines that I was taught by my teacher will be helpful. This particular practice derives its name from the fact that the inhalation is always through the right nostril. It may be performed in any cross-legged posture that is comfortable; however, padmãsana is the required posture for the last stages of prãnãyãma. For the most part I used siddhãsana, and I encountered no special difficulty. Inhale to full capacity through the right nostril, swallow, suspend, and then bury the dim, in the jugular notch. This last act is called jãlandhara mudrã (chin lock)[9]  

[9] This is a simple technique used to prevent the air from rushing up into the head. For classical. description see below, pp. 70-71.



and should be used whenever the breath is suspended. During suspension, contract the muscles of the abdominal area as in uddiyãna. These acts help to lock the air within the body and create an abdominal pressure. The purpose assigned to this pressure is that it enables one ultimately to control the breath at will and thus to gain control of the mind. However, I was advised never to hold the breath so long that it caused undue strain. It is the repetition of the practice that is recommended, not the use of a great amount of effort.

One round of this practice consists of a deep inhalation through the right nostril, a suspension, and an exhalation through the left nostril. Start the next round immediately, without a pause, by inhaling through the right nostril and suspending as before. The length of the suspension will vary in each individual case. I started with thirty seconds which is considered a good measure for the average beginner. Ten rounds was my first standard. When I could do this without any discomfort, I increased the total number of rounds by units of five rounds until the maximum of eighty was reached. It is important that the process be continuous, with the breath under constant control. Eventually this method of breathing becomes as natural as normal breathing. I was instructed that in all breathing practices it is paramount that the breath never be allowed to escape rapidly. I judiciously heeded every word of advice, and therefore cannot report what ill effects might result from letting the breath burst out.

When I first began to practise the breathing exercises I did them every morning and every evening. Later I introduced another practice period at noon, and finally one at midnight.[10]  

[10] See Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 11: "Kumbhakas should be performed gradually four times during day and night (i.e. morning, noon, evening, and midnight), till the number of Kumbhakas for one time is 8o and for the day and night together it is 320." Compare Siva Samhită, iii, 25: "These Kumbhakas should be practised four times: once (1) early in the morning at sunrise (2) then at midday, (3) the third time at sunset, and (4) the fourth time at midnight." This is the accepted discipline for any breathing practice; however, three periods, or even two, are sufficient in the beginning.


However, this is quite unnecessary for the beginner. I was warned never to practise until exhausted. In accordance with instructions, I rested afterward for some thirty minutes before engaging in any vigorous action or eating heavy food. This is to permit the body to adjust itself. After finishing it was my practice to sip a small glass of milk. This I found to be most satisfying, as well as strengthening.

There is a traditional technique used for closing the nostrils.[11]  

[11] Gheranda Samhită, v, 53: "Let him practise, thus alternating the nostrils again and again. When inhalation is completed, close both nostrils, the right one by the thumb and the left one by the ring-finger and little-finger, never using the index and middle-fingers. This nostril is to be closed so long as Kumbhaka is."


Press the first finger and the middle finger against the palm and use the thumb to close one nostril and the ring finger and the little finger to close the other nostril. When both nostrils are open, the fingers may rest on the bridge of the nose. When it is not necessary to regulate the flow of the breath from one nostril to the other, it is customary to place the hands in the lap, letting one hand rest in the palm of the other. Another way is to join the tip of the thumb and the tip of the first finger and let the back of the wrists rest on the respective knees with the fingers extended.

The description in the text of the next practice, called ujjãyi (victorious) is simple.

Having closed the mouth the air should be drawn again and again through the nostrils in such a way that it goes touching from the throat to the chest, and making noise while passing. It should be restrained, as before, and then let out through Idã (the left nostril). This removes slesmã (phlegm) in the throat and increases the appetite. It destroys the defects of the nãdis, dropsy and disorders of Dhãtu (humours). Ujjayi should be performed in all conditions of life, even while walking or sitting.[12]

[12] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii , 51-53. Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 69-72: "Close the mouth, draw in the external air by both the nostrils, and pull the internal air from the lungs and throat: retain them in the mouth. Then having washed the mouth (i.e. expelled the air through mouth) perform Jălandhara. Let him perform Kumbhaka with all his might and retain the air unhindered. All works are accomplished by Ujjăyi Kumbhaka. He is never attacked by phlegm-diseases, or nerve-diseases, or indigestion, or dysentery, or consumption, or cough; or fever, or (enlarged) spleen. Let a man perform Ujjăyi to destroy decay and death."


This is an easy method of deep-chest breathing with a slightly closed glottis. Any posture suitable for prãnãyãma is allowed. It may be practised in almost any condition of life, while standing, sitting, or even walking; however, I have never had occasion to test it in any posture but the postures of meditation. I was taught to wash the tongue and mouth before starting the practice. The technique is accomplished by inhaling in such a manner that a soft sobbing sound of uniform pitch is made. After the suspension, swallow, do jãlandhara, and suspend. While holding the breath, elevate the chest and contract the muscles of the abdominal walls as in the practice just described. The text advises to exhale through the left nostril; however, I was permitted to exhale through both nostrils, making a sound similar to the one made during the inhalation. The abdominal muscles should be contracted until the last vestige of air has been removed from the lungs. The exhalation should be twice the length of the inhalation, but it should not be prolonged until it is impossible to proceed immediately to the next inhalation without snatching a few extra breaths. Each step must be regulated so that a process of rhythmic breathing is established. To prepare for this practice it is permissible to omit the suspension for the first week or so and develop control of the inhalation and exhalation. I started with four rounds a minute and was able to establish control within a week.

The next two practices should be described together.

Sitkari [hissing sound] is performed by drawing in the air through the mouth, keeping the tongue between the lips. The air thus drawn in should not be expelled through the mouth, but by the nostril. By practising in this way, one becomes next to the God of Love in beauty. He is regarded adorable by the Yoginis [female yogis] and becomes the author and destroyer of the cycle of creation. He is not afflicted with hunger, thirst, sleep, or lassitude. The Sattva of his body becomes free from all the disturbances. In truth, he becomes the lord of the Yogis in this world.[13]

[13] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 54-6. This first stage is not listed in the Gheranda Samhită.

The next technique follows:

As in the above (Sitkãri), the tongue to be protruded a little out of the lips, when the air is drawn in. It is kept confined, as before, and then expelled slowly through the nostrils. This Sitali [cooling] Kumbhaka cures colic (enlarged) spleen, fever, disorders of bile, hunger, thirst, and counteracts poisons.[14]

[14] Ibid., 57-8. Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 73-4: "Draw in the air through the mouth (with the lips contracted and tongue thrown out), and fill the stomach slowly. Retain it there for a short time. Then exhale it through both the nostrils. Let the Yogin always practise this Sitali Kumbhaka, giver of bliss; by so doing he will be free from indigestion, phlegm and bilious disorders."

There is little need for special comment on these two methods. They are supposed to be used for cooling the system; however, I have never had occasion to test them for this purpose. The first is done by locking the teeth and suspending the tongue so that it does not touch any part of the mouth. Suck in the air between the teeth, making all the noise possible, and then exhale through the nose without suspending. I was taught two ways of doing sitali. The first is to turn the tongue back until it touches the soft palate and then inhale, do the chin lock, and suspend. The second is to roll the tongue lengthwise into a trough and then protrude it a little beyond the lips. While holding the tongue in. this position, draw in the air, perform the chin lock, and suspend. In both instances exhalation should be through the nostrils. No special problem should arise with these two practices.

The next practice is bhastrikã,[15]  


[15] See above, pp. 44-45.

which was discussed above as a purification technique. The remaining kumbhakas listed in the text are bhrãmari, murchhã, and plãvini. "Bhrãmari consists in filling the air with force, which makes noise like a male bee, arid in expelling it slowly which makes a noise like a female bee; this practice causes a sort of ecstasy in the minds of Yogindras."[16]  


[16] See Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 68. Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 78-82: "At past midnight in a place where there are no sounds of animals, etc., to be heard, let the Yogin practise Puraka and Kumbhaka, closing the ears by the hands. He will then hear various internal sounds in his right ear. The first sound will be like that of crickets, then that of a flute, then that of a beetle, then that of bells, then those of gongs of bell-metal, trumpets, kettle-drums, mrdanga, military drums, and dundubhi, etc. Thus various sounds are cognised by daily practise of this Kumbhaka. Last of all is heard the Anăhata sound rising from the heart; of this sound there is a resonance, in that resonance there is a Light. In that Light the mind should be immersed. When the mind is absorbed then it reaches the highest seat of Visńu (parama-pada). By success in this Bhrămari Kumbhaka one gets success in Samădhi." This practice is frequently called the beetle-droning kumbhaka. It can be done in any comfortable posture and is best practised at midnight in absolute silence. The sound is accomplished by uttering Ah as low in the throat as possible vibrating the palate. Eventually this tone becomes dear. This practice is designed to produce a specific condition in the mind, but this cannot be effected until it is possible to hold the breath for several minutes at a time. Only the most highly developed Yogis experience these various sounds.

"Closing the passages with Jãlandhara Bandha firmly at the end of Puraka, and expelling the air slowly, is called Murchhã, from its causing the mind to swoon arid giving comfort."[17]

[17] See Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 69. Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 83: "Having performed Kumbhaka with comfort, let him withdraw the mind from all objects and fix it in the space between the eyebrows. This causes fainting of the mind and gives happiness. For, by thus joining the Manas (Mind) with the Atman (Soul), the bliss of Yoga is certainly obtained."


 This practice derives its name from the fact that it causes the mind to faint. This is accomplished by locking the air within the body during the suspension and focusing the mind on the space between the eyebrows until it swoons. I was also taught to do this by suspending the breath outside the lungs. The beginner is advised not to work on this practice during his preparatory period. It has a normal place in the more highly developed stages of prãnãyãma when working with the mind. "When the belly is filled with air freely circulating within the body, the body easily floats even in the deepest water, like the leaf of a lotus."[18]

[18] See Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 70.


This condition obtains only for those who have mastered prãnãyãma in its advanced stages. These are techniques for inducing certain psychological phenomena which are out of place at this time. I was not given these practices until I had fully developed prãnãyãma.

The concluding discussion of the text presents the ultimate aim of all breathing practices.

Considering Puraka (filling), Rechaka (expelling) and Kumbhaka (confining), Prãnãyãma is of three kinds. Accompanied by Puraka and Rechaka, and without these, Kumbhaka is of two kinds only, i.e., Sahita[19]  


[19] Compare Gheranda Samhită, v, 47-57: "The Sahita Kumbhaka is of two sorts; Sagarbha and Nigarbha (Sound and Without Sound). The Kumbhaka performed by the repetition of I3ija Mantra is Sagarbha; that done without such repetition is Nigarbha. First I shall tell thee the Sagarbha Prănăyăma. Sitting in Sukhăsana posture, facing east or north, let one contemplate on Brahma full of Rajas quality of a blood-red colour, in the form of the letter A. Let the wise practitioner inhale by the left nostril, repeating A sixteen times. Then before he begins retention (but at the end of inhalation), let him perform Uddiyăna Bandha. Then let him retain breath by repeating U, sixty-four times, contemplating on Han, of a black colour and Sattva quality. Then let him exhale the breath through the right nostril by repeating makara thirty-two times, contemplating Siva of a white colour and of Tamas quality. Then again inhale through Pingală (right nostril), retain by Kumbhaka, and exhale by Idă (left nostril), in the method taught above, changing the nostrils alternately. Let him practise, thus alternating the nostrils again and again. When inhalation is completed, close both nostrils, the right one by the thumb and the left one by the ring-finger and little-finger, never using the index and middle-fingers. The nostrils to be closed as long as Kumbhaka is.

"The Nigarbha (or simple or mantraless) Prănăyăma is performed without the repetition of Bija mantra; and the period of Puraka (inhalation of inspiration), Kumbhaka (retention), and Rechaka (expiration), may be extended from one to hundred mătrăs. The best is twenty Mătrăs: i.e., Puraka 20 seconds, Kumbhaka 80, and Rechaka 40 seconds. The sixteen mătrăs is middling, i.e. 16, 64, 32. The twelve mătrăs is the lowest, i.e. 12, 48, 24. Thus the Prănăyăma is of three sorts. By practising the lowest Prănăyăma for some time, the body begins to quiver (especially there is a feeling of quivering along the spinal cord). By the highest Prănăyăma one leaves the ground, i.e. there is levitation. These signs attend the success of these three sorts of Prănăyăma. By Prănăyăma is attained the power of levitation (Khecarî Sakti), by Prănăyăma diseases are cured, by Prănăyăma the Sakti (spiritual energy) is awakened, by Prănăyăma is obtained the calmness of mind and exaltation of mental powers (clairvoyance, etc.); by this, mind becomes full of bliss; verily the practitioner of Prănăyăma is happy."


(with) and Kevala[20]  

[20] Kevali is the eighth kumbhaka listed in Gheranda Samhită and is described at length; see v, 84-96: "The breath of every person in entering makes the sound of sah and in coming out that of ham. These two sounds make (soham I am He) or (hamsah The Great Swan). Throughout a day and a night there are twenty-one thousand and six hundred such respirations (that is, 15 respirations per minute). Every living being (Jiva) performs this japa (repetition) unconsciously, but constantly. This is called Ajapă găyattri. This Ajapă-japa is performed in three places, i.e. in the Mulădhăra (the space between the anus and membranum virile), in the Anăhata lotus (heart) and the Ajńa lotus (the space where the nostrils unite). This body is ninety-six digits long (i.e. six feet) as a standard. The ordinary length of the air current when expired is twelve digits (nine inches); in singing, its length becomes sixteen digits (one foot); in eating, it is twenty digits (15 inches), in walking, it is twenty-four digits (18 inches); in sleep, it is thirty digits (22.5 inches); in copulation it is thirty-six digits (27 inches), and in taking physical exercises, it is more than that. By decreasing the natural length of the expired current from nine inches to less and less, there takes place increase of life; and by increasing the current, there is decrease of life. So long as breath remains in the body there is no death. When the full length of the wind is all confined in the body, nothing being allowed to go out, it is Kevala Kumbhaka.


"All Jivas are constantly and unconsciously reciting this Ajapă Mantra, only for a fixed number of times every day. But a Yogin should recite this consciously and counting the numbers. By doubling the number of Ajapă (i.e. by 30 respirations per minute), the state of Manonmani (fixedness of mind) is attained. There are no regular Rechaka and Puraka in this process. It is only (Kevala) Kumbhaka. By inspiring air by nostrils, let him perform Kevala Kumbhaka. On the first day let him retain breath from one to sixty-four times. This Kevali should be performed eight times a day, once every three hours; or one may do it five times a day, as I shall tell thee. First in the early morning, then at noon, then in the twilight, then at midnight, and then in the fourth quarter of the night. Or one may do it thrice a day, i.e., in the morning, noon and evening. So long as success is not obtained in Kevali, he should increase the length of ajapă-japa every day, one to five times. He who knows Prănăyăma and Kevali is the real Yogin. What can he not accomplish in this world who has acquired success in Kevali Kumbhaka?"

(alone). Exercise in Sahita should be continued until success in Kevala is gained. This latter is simply confining the air with ease, without Rechaka and Puraka. This unassisted Kumbhaka is Prãnãyãma par excellence.[21]  

[21] Compare Siva Samhită, iii, 39: "When the Yogi can, of his will, regulate the air and stop the breath (whenever and how long) he likes, then certainly he gets success in Kumbhaka, and from success in Kumbhaka only, what things cannot the Yogi command here?"


When it can be performed successfully without Rechaka and Puraka, there is nothing in the three worlds which may be difficult to obtain. He who is competent to keep the air confined according to pleasure, by means of Kevala Kumbhaka, obtains the position of Raja Yoga undoubtedly. Kundalinî awakens by Kumbhaka,[22]  

[22] Kundalini is believed to be the static background against which the phenomena of life are manifest. In order to understand the full implication of this term, which has no Western equivalent, see Serpent Power, by Arthur Avalon. It is fully discussed in that volume. The awakening of this latent force which is believed to reside in man is the final aim of all Hatha Yoga. That is why it is frequently called Kundalinî Yoga; however, special techniques are needed to effect this result. Compare the statement on "The Awakening of Kundalinî," in Siva Samhită, iv, 12-14: "Now I shall tell you the best means of attaining success in Yoga. The practitioners should keep it secret. It is the inaccessible Yoga. When the sleeping goddess Kunda1ini is awakened through the grace of Guru, then all the lotuses (nerve centres) and the bonds are readily pierced through and through. Therefore, in order that the goddess, who is asleep (latent) in the mouth of the Brahmarandhra be awakened, the Mudrăs should be practised with the greatest care." "Brahmarandhra" is said to be the fontanel.



and by its awakening Susumnã becomes free from impurities and success in Hatha Yoga is accomplished. No success in Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga, and no success in Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga.[23]  

[23] Compare Siva Samhită, v, 181: "The Hatha Yoga cannot be obtained without the Răja Yoga, nor can the Răja Yoga be attained without the Hatha Yoga. Therefore, let the Yogi first learn the Hatha Yoga from the instructions of the wise Guru."


One should, therefore, practise both of these well, till complete success is gained. On the completion of Kumbhaka, the mind should be given rest. By practising in this way one is raised to the position of (succeeds in getting) Raja Yoga.[24]

[24] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 71-7. Patańjali mentions only four kinds of prănăyăma; see the Yoga Sutras of Patańjali, ii, 50-1: "Manifestation as external, internal and total restraint is regulated by place, time, and number; and thus it becomes long in duration and subtle. The fourth is that which follows when the spheres of the external and internal have-been-passed." By place is meant the duration of these which is called Mătră. This is generally considered to be equivalent to our second. Văchaspati in his Gloss on this aphorism says, "A mătră (measure) is the time which is taken up by thrice turning up ones hand over ones knee and then snapping the fingers once. Measured by thirty-six such mătrăs is the first attempt (udghăta) which is mild. Twice that is the second, which is middling. Thrice that is the third, which is intense. This is the Prănăyăma as measured by number."


Kevala is absolute suspension, the ultimate aim of all breathing practices; however, it is not to be attempted until the body has been thoroughly purified and some degree of control over the flow of breath has been established. I was required to perfect bhastrikã to cleanse the system and to use the simple process of alternate breathing for regulating the breath. At various periods I tried all these regulatory processes and observed no marked reactions that would lead me to recommend one in preference to another. They seem to vary more in. degree than in. value, one imposing less of a strain upon the system than another; so the simpler forms should be used in the beginning.

The technique I finally used was simple. After some fifteen minutes of bhastrikã, I began prãnãyãma, which consisted of deep inhalation, suspension for two minutes, and slow exhalation. I was taught to let the breath out twice as slowly as the rate of inhalation. In the beginning the inhalation, was ten seconds and the exhalation was twenty seconds. Later I increased it to fifteen seconds for the inspiration and thirty seconds for the expiration. At all times I kept the breath under complete control and did not have a pause to rest or inhale extra air between such rounds. I started with ten rounds, which is an easy standard for anyone in good condition; however, it is not enough to enable one to take up the next stage of Yoga, control of the mind.

After the first week I began to increase my suspension by units or thirty seconds; however, I never added more time until I could execute the standard at hand without the slightest muscular effort and sense of strain. When I had held my breath for a minute or so there was an automatic impulse to start breathing. This was subdued by performing the act of swallowing and exerting greater force on the contracted muscles of the abdomen. At the same time the air would try to force itself out and various singing sounds made themselves felt in my head. I was told never to go beyond this point, for this was the measure of my capacity. Until all these symptoms had passed away and I could remain at perfect ease with breath suspended, I was not allowed to increase the duration of my suspension. In this way all dangers were avoided.

No special difficulty was encountered until I reached a four-minute suspension. I had no trouble in holding my breath for that length of time for a single suspension, but I found that to use it as a standard for ten rounds was a real task. The automatic impulse to breathe became so strong that it was almost impossible for me to subdue it.

At this time I was instructed to begin using khecarî mudrã. This is a technique of swallowing the tongue which will be discussed later. After this I had no special problem. It was then only a matter of time. I finally developed my capacity so that I could use a five-minute suspension for my ten rounds; however, three minutes can be used. For a single suspension I could hold my breath several minutes longer as a test of my general condition. Still, this is far from the standard required by the texts for attaining the supernatural powers described in all Yogic literature.[25]  

[25] See Siva Samhită, iii, 53-4: "Then gradually he should make himself able to practice for three Ghatis (one hour and a half a time, he should be able to restrain breath for that period). Through this, the Yogi undoubtedly obtains all the longed-for powers. The Yogi acquires the following powers: Văkya Siddhi (prophecy), transporting himself everywhere at will (Kămachări), clairvoyance (duradristhi), clairaudience (durasrute), subtle-sight (Suksmadristi), and the power of entering anothers body (Parakăyapravesana), turning base metal into gold by rubbing them with his excrements and urine, and the power of becoming invisible, and lastly, moving in the air."


To acquire such powers it is necessary to hold the breath for an hour or more; it is easy to understand why samãdhi is so seldom achieved. The discipline is too severe.

During the practice of prãnãyãma there are certain perceptible stages. They are given in the text.

In the beginning there is perspiration, in the middle stage there is quivering, and in the last or the third stage one obtains steadiness; and then the breath should be made steady or motionless. The perspiration exuding from exertion of practice should be rubbed into the body (and not wiped) i.e. by so doing the body becomes strong and light.[26]

[26] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 12-13. Compare Siva Samhită, iii, 40-1: "In the first stage of Prănăyăma, the body of the Yogi begins to perspire, When it perspires he should rub it well, otherwise the body of the Yogi loses its Dhătu (humours). In the second stage there takes place the trembling of the body; in the third, the jumping about like a frog; and when the practice becomes greater, the adept walks in the air."


I experienced the first stage at the very onset. After one or two rounds the perspiration began to flow freely. As I developed strength and power, it was slower in making its appearance and was not so extreme as when I was straining. It was several weeks before I observed the second stage, quivering, and this was at a time when I was perfecting bhastrikã. First there appeared itching sensations. As I continued the practice, the sensations increased. Soon I began to feel as though bugs were crawling over my body. While I was working, my leg would suddenly shake. Later, other muscles unexpectedly contracted, and soon my whole body would shake beyond control. At this time I was told always to use the padmãsana posture. This prevented the body from going into convulsions. By adhering to my schedule, these manifestations all passed away. Another trying experience resulted from the agonizing pains that pierced the abdominal cavity. At first there were loud croaking noises as the intestines became filled with air. This was caused by swallowing the air as it tried to find its way out. The increased pressure was the source of this problem; but I was told that it would cease in time, and it did. At such periods, if one does not have an understanding of the principles upon which the practices are based, his faith is likely to forsake him. It is difficult to hold in mind the advice of the text: "Verily there are many hard and almost unsurmountable obstacles in Yoga, yet the Yogi should go on with his practice at all hazards; even were his life to come to the throat."[27]

[27] Siva Samhită, iii, 47.

The purpose of prãnãyãma is to produce certain psychological phenomena; but this requires special techniques, which will be described in the next chapter. However, there are some specific physical results that are supposed to be observable. The text says:

When the body becomes lean, the face transparent, Anãhatanãda manifest, and the eyes are clear, the body is healthy, bindu [semen] under control, appetite increases, and the Nãdis are purified, there are the signs of success in Hatha Yoga.[28]

[28] Hatha Yoga Pradîpikă, ii, 78. Compare Siva Samhită, iii, 43-6: "... from the perfection of Prănăyăma, follow decrease of sleep, excrements and urine. The truth-perceiving Yogi becomes free from disease, and sorrow or afflictions; he never gets (putrid) perspiration, saliva and intestinal worms. When in the body of the practitioner, there is neither any increase of phlegm, wind, nor bile; then he may with impunity be irregular in his diet and the rest. No injurious results then would follow, were the Yogi to take a large quantity of food, or very little, or no food at all. Through the strength of constant practice, the Yogi obtains Bhuchari-siddhi [Moving on the earth], he moves as the frog jumps over the ground, when frightened away by the clapping of hands." I experienced many of these signs.

I had always kept myself in fair physical condition; so it is difficult to report specific causes of these results; however, these bodily conditions made themselves evident in my case, though I cannot attach any one of them to any one exercise.