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Kumbhaka (Breath Retention) Pranayama

In this post and a few of the upcoming posts, I will be describing pranayama techniques which involve breath retention (kumbhaka). Some of these techniques also involve application of the three bandhas, as appropriate.

Samavritti Pranayama

The word "sama" means equal or same number and "vritti" means rotation or simply action.  If you recall, in a previous post, we talked about four phases of a breathing cycle:

  • Puraka – inhalation
  • Rechaka – exhalation
  • Antar-kumbhaka – breath retention after inhalation
  • Bahya-kumbhaka – breath retention after exhalation

In samavritti, we make all these four components of the breathing cycle equal in duration. For most people, the duration of breath retention after exhalation is the shortest of the four. So, the effort in this pranayama would be to make all four the same duration as the duration of retention after exhalation.

Step-by-step

  1. Sit in any comfortable cross-legged sitting posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Start with simple deep, ujjayi breathing, without any retention, keeping the durations of inhalation and exhalation equal. Take four to five deep breaths.
  3. Introduce retention of breath after inhalation only, none after exhalation. Over a period of four to five deep breaths, gradually increasing the duration of retention after inhalation, make the three components – inhalation, retention and exhalation – of equal duration.
  4. Now introduce retention after exhalation also. Over a period of four to five deep breaths, gradually increasing the duration of retention after exhalation, make all the four components – inhalation, retention, exhalation and retention – of equal duration.
  5. Continue with Samavritti practice for 8 to 10 breaths.
  6. End the practice with relaxed, regular breathing pattern.

Viloma Pranayama (Interrupted Breathing)

This is another controlled breathing pattern where we interrupt the breathing cycle every two seconds for a duration of two seconds. During the breathing cycle, no strain should be felt.

Step-by-step

  1. Sit in any comfortable cross-legged sitting posture with the spine upright, arms and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Start with simple deep, ujjayi breathing, without any retention. Take four to five deep breaths.
  3. For the next 3 to 4 deep breaths, interrupt the inhalation every two seconds for  a duration of two seconds. Make sure there is no strain while breathing. At the end of inhalation, the lungs should be filled to capacity.
  4. Exhale with a natural deep breath with no interruption.
  5. For the next 3 to 4 breaths, take a natural deep inhalation (no interruptions) followed by deep exhalation which is interrupted every two seconds for two seconds.
  6. Now you can introduce interruption of breath, every two seconds for a duration of two seconds, both during inhalation and exhalation.
  7. At the end of interrupted inhalation, try to hold the breath for five to ten seconds. The duration of retention should be such that the quality and depth of the following exhalation is not impacted. If you are able to hold the breath for more than five seconds, then apply Jalandhara Bandha (chin lock) during retention.
  8. Continue the interrupted breathing cycles for about five to seven breaths.
  9. End the practice with relaxed, regular breathing pattern.

Benefits

Both Samavritti and Viloma pranayama involve total concentration on the breathing pattern in order to maintain the appropriate durations of breath and retention. As such, these techniques help us stay in the present moment, not letting the mind drift away. Moreover, they are helpful techniques as preparation for meditation as they provide a form of pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana (concentration).

17 comments to Kumbhaka (Breath Retention) Pranayama

  • sanjay s joshi

    Sir i want to know whether three actions purak rechak and kumbhak are of same duration like 4 or 7 seconds for each action to perform correct pranayama. but it become difficult for me to control purek and rechak for exactly same duration please explain on my E-MAIL

  • sir,

    I want to know that ANTHE_KUMBHAK pranayam can be performed after Anulom_Vilom Pranayam.

  • Shreyas

    Hi Sir

    Thanks for the info, can you tell me do I start with small duration of breath retension and gradually increase because I have heard Kumbhaka pranayam can cause heart or lung damage if not done correctly

    • admin

      Yes, Shreyas, you need to be careful while practicing kumbhaka. Indeed, you must start with short kumbhaka and increase only gradually over a period of time. At no time during your pranayama practice should you feed any strain of any kind. The breath following kumbhaka should be relaxed and deep.
      All the best with your yoga practice!

  • pandey

    Sir,
    I wouldbe greatful if you could guide me on pranayams that can help in curing PCOS syndrome.

    Thank You

  • Shreyas

    Hi Sir,

    Do you practise and teach kundalini yoga and activation, I am interested in it, can you guide me online as I stay in Bangalore, India.
    If you dont can you suggest some good Guru who can guide me in Bangalore

  • No, Shreyas, I don’t practice Kundalini activation. Since Kundalini work should be done under personal supervision and guidance from a qualified teacher, you would need to find someone local to your area who can guide you. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about teachers in the Bangalore area. I wish you all the best.

  • K M JAISWAL

    Sir,
    can we reduce severity of asthma by Pranayam?
    If yes pl suggest me proper sequence of Rechak- kumbhak – poorak with Kal bhed.

    • I have seen reports (unfortunately I can’t trace the reference) where it was mentioned that practicing Kapalabhati and Bhastrika, followed by gentle Anuloma Viloma can actually help with asthma. For practicing Kumbhaka and determining the proper timings, I suggest you consult with a local yoga teacher who can guide and monitor your practice on a regular basis.

    • Dear K M, I am sorry for not responding to your query earlier. As far as I know, asthma can be helped by the practice of Kapalabhati, Bhastrika and just simple deep breathing. To my knowledge, Kumbhaka may not contribute much towards asthma. Best of luck.

  • Shume

    Sir what is the meaning of interruption?how to do it? Will u please give an explanation?

  • Dear Shume,
    The interruption works as follows:
    Start deep inhalation and count your breaths as “OM 1, OM 2″ which gives us a two-second period. After inhaling for two seconds, hold the breath for two seconds. Then continue the inhalation for another 2 seconds followed by another retention for 2 seconds. Continue in this manner until you can’t inhale any more. At that point give a brief pause by holding the breath for 3 to 5 seconds, and then start the exhalation process. Exhale for two seconds and then hold the breath for two seconds, exhale and hold, each two seconds and continue until you can’t exhale any more. That completes one cycle of breath. After each cycle, if you need to, you can take a short breather for a couple of breaths. Then continue with the next round. In this manner you should try 5-7 deep breaths.
    Let me know if you still have doubts. Thanks.
    Subhash

  • shantanu

    Mr. subhash
    Dont you think, giving lessons on pranayams on internet without proper description can injure the aspirants?
    It is again n again repeated in many books that yoga practices especially those that deals directly with ‘prana’ like kubhak n all, should not be practiced without the direct guidance of a competent guru. Else in long run, it may lead to various nervous troubles and even insanity!
    I respect your intension but by telling these yoga practices openly to all, without knowing about their current spiritual state, You are unknowingly doing a harm to them. as far as i know, these practices requires a very trained body and mind, very disciplined life, n most of us dont have that, n those who have wont ask on internet.
    Kindly think about it sometime seriously. I am sure u wont publish my comment, sure , dont do it. But please for the sake of innocent ignorant seekers,please dont cause them undeliberate injury.
    Sorry if I hurt you.
    regards
    shantanu

  • Dear Shantanu,
    First of all, please accept my gratitude for taking the time to read my blog. I truly appreciate your candid feedback.
    As you have observed, my objective for the blog is to educate and guide the readers in various yoga techniques, including asana, pranayama, meditation etc. I do my best in providing the most accurate and detailed instructions so the readers can practice them on their own safely and derive the benefits.
    As you are well aware, not everyone has access to a yoga teacher. Even if they do, they may not be able to cover some of the technique that I cover on my blog.
    I offer instructions about various techniques in the spirit of helping people.
    You mention about harm that pranayama practice can cause if done inappropriately. To me, any practice if done inappropriately can cause harm – be it asana, pranayama or even meditation. No one can minimize the value of receiving instructions from a qualified yoga teacher. However, instructions available online or in books fill the gaps that not every teacher can provide.
    As for pranayama, there are a large number of books and blogs by celebrated writers that cover all aspects of pranayama including kumbhaka and the bandhas. For example , one of the most recognized books, The Light on Pranayama by BKS Iyengar has very detailed description of these practices. Similarly, another book, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika from the Bihar School of Yoga, a highly prestigious yoga institute also provides great details on these pranayama techniques.
    In most of my blog posts I try to emphasize the need for restraint in the sense that no one should use force or strain themselves while doing any of these practices.
    I would love to hear what other readers have to say about these posts. From most other comments that I receive it appears to me that people are finding them helpful in their practice.
    I always welcome comments and questions.

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