”The science of breath begins with awareness,
and ends with awareness.”
Pranayama is the art and science of yogic breathing techniques. It is said that these techniques bring Physical well-being, Lightness of heart; Clarity of mind and Inner and outer health and fulfillment. There are many techniques, and for the purpose of this blog, I shall focus on The Full Yogic 3 part Breath with Retention. As a practitioner of pranayama methods such as Kapalbhati and Nadi Suddhi, I am intrigued by the intensity of the retention of breath and the potency of applying bhanda.
The breath is our link between body and mind. It has been said… ‘bring the breath under control and the mind will follow’.
”The mind is like a kite, flying here and there,
and the breath is like the string of the kite bringing the mind back into the present moment.”
Prana is cosmic energy; it is the power, that pervades the whole universe – that causes all movement – from thoughts to the movement of the wind. ‘The body is not merely flesh and bone; it is imbued with prana, life-force. All mental fluctuations have a direct effect on this pranic flow, which in turn manifests as physical sensations and disease. Like wise, pranic flow has a direct influence on the mind: ‘As within, so without’ …when we gain mastery over the pranic flow within the body, we not only experience the ability to control the disturbances of mind, we also learn to control the prana outside too – ‘they are one and the same force on different levels’ – Satchidananda
3 part breath – Dirga Svasam – is a deep breathing practise, involving drawing the breath through three chambers – the lower abdomen, the ribcage and the upper lungs. Including retention is a slightly more advanced pranayama; retaining the breath increases the strength of the lungs, brings more oxygen to the bloodstream allowing for deeper breathing.
The benefits of practising Dirga Svasam are: reduced tension through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, increased lung capacity and circulation. In addition, it improves mental performance and encourages focus as it delivers more oxygen to the brain.
It has been said that Dirga Svasam should be performed with a ratio of inhalation:exhalation of 10:20 before beginning to retain the breath. This will indicate the lungs capacity for safe retention. Antara Kumbhaka is the retention on the inhale. It should be practiced first., starting with a retention of a count of 4. Antara meaning ‘interior’ and umbha meaning ‘pot ‘ (a traditional image of the human torso as a container for the breath with two “openings” at the throat and base of the pelvis) Bahya (meaning ‘outer’. ) Kumbhaka is the retention on the exhale..
The forms of breath retention are very stimulating, and cause energy to awaken and arise. However, that energy needs to be trained to be used in positive ways. Otherwise the energy just becomes nervous tension. If you examine the effects of breath retention on the autonomic nervous system, you will see that it creates sympathetic arousal, or stress, unless one has advanced in their physical, emotion, and mental health to a certain point. (Swamji.com)
It is advised that advanced pranayama and more vigorous techniques are used with caution otherwise one can experience adverse effects on the mind. The yoga scriptures describe pranayama as playing with a cobra – play well and the cobra will dance. Rush or play improperly and the cobra can kill. Do everything gently, no rush and do not strain.
The Bandhas go along with the retention practices, and also regulate energy. Mula Bhanda and Jalandhara Bhanda can be applied on the retention of the breath of both Antara and Bayha Kumbhaka. As we ‘lock’ the muscles of the perineum and close the base of the throat, we ‘unlock’ pranic energy in mula bhanda and allow apana (downward moving force) to rise up. As we seal the energy in at the base of the throat, we direct energy in the upper torso to the central channel – Sushmuna.
In the tantras it is written that the 72,000 nadis originate in a place just above muladhara chakra known as “medhra.” Given their proximity, it is believed that mula bandha stimulates all 72,000 nadis at their source, an effect which makes it very powerful. Beyond the annamayakosha and the pranamayakosha, the physical and pranic bodies, mula bandha is also said to affect the manomayakosha, the mental body. The yogic scriptures describe granthis, or psychic knots, which represent blockages of awareness manifesting as tensions, anxieties, and unresolved conflicts. Applying the bhandas and breath retention can release emotions from their structural binding and freeing the aspirant from their depressive effects. (Kathleen Summers, Prescribing Balance at the Yogadr.com)
Iyengar said, “Pranayama is communication, and communication is required between the common soul (self) and the super soul (universe). Pranayama is the guide or medium.”