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Components of Pranayama

Puraka, Rechaka, Kumbhaka

Yogic breathing practice or pranayama is an essential part to practicing yoga. Each cycle of breathing, usually thought of as merely a single inhaling followed by a single exhaling, may be analyzed into four phases or stages, each with its distinct nature and its traditional Sanskrit name.

As we have explained before, e. The transitions from inhaling to exhaling and from exhaling to inhaling involve at least reversals in direction of the movements of muscles and of expansive or contractive movements of lungs, thorax and abdomen. The time necessary for such reversals can be very short, as may be observed if one deliberately pants as shortly and rapidly as he can. Yet they can be long, as one may notice if he intentionally stops breathing when he has finished inbreathing or out-breathing. The effects of these pause specially when they become lengthened, at first deliberately and then spontaneously-seem remarkable. Thus in our analysis of the four stages of breathing we shall pay special attention to these pauses, how to lengthen them and how to profit from them.

(1) Puraka or inhalation

A single inhalation is termed puraka. It is a process of drawing in air; it is expected to be smooth and continuous. If a person should pause one or more times during the process of a single inhaling, the process might be spoken of as a broken puraka rather than as a series of purakas.

(2) Abhyantara Kumbhaka (Pause after Inhaling) Full Pause:

Kumbhaka consists of deliberate stoppage of flow of air and retention of the air in the lungs, without any movement of lungs or muscles or any part of the body and without any incipient movements. A beginner may experiment by using some force to keep such pause motionless. Quite elaborate instructions and techniques have been worked out for this purpose.

(3)Rechaka or exhalation:

The third stage, exhalation, is called rechaka. Like inhalation, it too should be smooth and continuous, though often the speed of exhaling is different from that of inhaling. Normally, muscular energy is used for inhaling whereas exhaling consists merely in relaxing the tensed muscles. Such relaxing forces air from the lungs as they return to an untensed condition. However, a person can force air out with muscular effort; so when he sits or stands erect and has his abdominal muscles under constant control, muscular effort may be used for both inhaling and exhaling. Especially if one deliberately smoothes the course of his breathing and holds the cycles in regular or definitely irregular patterns, he is likely to use muscular energy at each stage, including the pauses. However, in a condition of complete relaxation, one should expect effort to be needed only for inhaling.

(4) Bhaya Khumbhaka (Pause after Exhaling) Empty Pause:

The fourth stage, the pause after exhaling, is also called kumbhaka, especially when the stoppage is deliberate or prolonged. The fourth stage, the empty pause, completes the cycle which terminates as the pause ends and a new inhalation begins.

The four parts to each breath can be practiced in different ratios. Beginners should start with a 1:1:1 ratio, for example 4 seconds of inhalation, 4 seconds breath retention, and 4 seconds exhalation. One can additionally add a 4 second pause after lungs are emptied. More advanced pranayama practitioners can work there way up to ratios of 1:2:1 and eventually 1:4:2.