This is a video segment on breath-control exercises (pranayama) and in particular breath retention (kumbhaka) with internal locks (bandhas) from a workshop I was invited to teach in June 2012 in Moscow by the really amazing teachers and students of the Yoga 108 School in Moscow and Wild Yogi Magazine.
Along with fellow physiotherapist and co-director of Yoga Synergy, Bianca Machliss, I teach this type of information in our courses at YogaSynergy called Yoga Fundamentals and Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga.
(Reference: ‘Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga‘, by Borg-Olivier and Machliss, 2012).
Breath Retention (Kumbhaka):
- Inhale as shown then hold the breath in with the head down and neck back (ha-jalandhara bandha) while expanding the chest (tha-uddiyana bandha) and expanding the abdomen (the-mula bandha). This is one of the easiest versions of using the bandhas while holding the breath in.
- Much more difficult and potentially very dangerous with breath retention is to bring the throat forward and lift the head up (tha-jalandhara bandha), but you have to be careful if you lift the head like this so as not to allow pressure to come to the head.
- You can also use compressive bandhas of the abdomen (ha-mula bandha) and chest (ha-uddiyana bandha) and head but for these its important you hold the head down. This can bring a lot of pressure onto your spine (which can be good or bad depending on how you do it) and a lot of pressure could come to the head especially if you do not have the head down and the neck back (ha-jalandhara bandha.
This type of breath retention with compressive bandhas is very powerful but it makes the duration of the breath retention much shorter and until you can hold the breath at least 3 minutes, so i don’t generally teach or recommend it to people.
If done incorrectly this practice could be lucky and just get a headache but if you are not so lucky you might get a stroke and die!. So at least in the beginning it is so safer not to do pranayama with the bandhas like this.
ha-jalandhara bandha (head down and neck back)
tha-uddiyana bandha (expansion of the chest) and either ha-mula bandha (abdominal compression using the muscles of forced abdominal exhalation) or tha-mula bandha (using the diaphragm and often the rectus abdomens) on exhalation retention.
- Exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahya kumbhaka), and just relax the abdomen.
- Exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahya kumbhaka), relax the abdomen and expand the chest, as if you are trying to breathe into the chest, but not actually take in any air (tha-uddiyana bandha).
- Exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahya kumbhaka), relax the abdomen, expand the chest (tha-uddiyana bandha), then contract the abdomen by drawing the navel towards the spine like trying to exhale to the abdomen (ha-mula bandha).
- Exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahya kumbhaka), relax the abdomen, expand the chest (tha-uddiyana bandha), then push both hips forward to activate both sides of the rectus abdominis (tha-mula bandha/nauli).
- Exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahya kumbhaka), relax the abdomen, expand the chest (tha-uddiyana bandha), then push alternate hips forward to activate left and right sides of the rectus abdominis (tha-mula bandha/nauli).
- Create a sequence of four steps based on the above: Exhale fully and hold the breath out (bahya kumbhaka), relax the abdomen, expand the chest (the-uddiyana bandha/nauli), then
- push the right hip forward to activate the right side of the rectus abdominis (tha-mula bandha/nauli)
- push both hips forward to activate both sides of the rectus abdominis (tha-mula bandha/nauli)
- push the left hip forward to activate the left side of the rectus abdominis (tha-mulabandha)
- then contract the abdomen by drawing the navel towards the spine like trying to exhale to the abdomen (ha-mula bandha).
- Make a continuous smooth sequence out of #6 and roll the abdomen from side to side (lauliki).
In this next video I am demonstrating a type of shakti chalani mudra while sitting in a cold river. This is quite an advanced mudra that incorporates several types of pranayamas, bandhas, kriyas and mudras while holding the breath in and out.
If done correctly by an experienced practitioner it is very effective in enhancing internal energy and health.
If done incorrectly it can causes minor problems such as headaches, but if done badly by an unprepared person it can cause stroke or death. Therefore it should not be attempted until each element of the mudra is mastered individually and there is the guidance of an experienced teacher.
For people who are newer to breath-control (pranayama) it is a good idea to practice each of the techniques described here separately. Each of the individual elements of this mudra have tremendous benefits when practiced alone. For example there are benefits to be gained by separately practicing the following. Again please be cautious and make sure you have the guidance of an experienced teacher for each step you make:
- inhalation through the mouth,
- lengthening the neck,
- lengthening the tongue,
- lengthening the spine,
- holding the breath in,
- compressing the trunk while holding the breath in,
- tensioning nerves and acupuncture meridians,
- breathing through alternate nostrils,
- holding the breath out, and
- expanding the chest while holding the breath out.
This breath-control exercise begins with a complete yogic breath using the diaphragm. The diaphragmatic inhalation first expands the perineum, then lower back, then the abdomen (the diaphragm stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and the relaxation response).
Then with the diaphragm still active and the air held in the lower trunk the inhalation continues using the breathing muscles of chest into the upper back (which is kept lengthened throughout the pranayama to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system).
The breath then continues into the chest while keeping the breath in the abdomen as well (it is generally very hard for most people to inhale into the chest with the abdomen relaxed and expanded due to the diaphragm being still active, hence the complete yogic inhalation done in the proper way is very challenging).
The inhalation is through the rolled tongue (sitali) which cools the body (the water in this river is actually quite cold but tremendous heat can be generated with this pranayama so a cooling breath is warranted).
At the end of the inhalation the breath is held in. The throat is then moved forward and chin moved upward (tha-jalandhara bandha) to create a negative pressure that brings energy up the spine and blood to the brain. At this point the tongue is stretched towards the chin, which stretches the front of the tongue.
Then the tongue is curled backwards towards the throat and gently sucked backwards into the throat (talabulam mudra), which stretches the back of the tongue. The tongue is a very ‘connected ‘organ, so stretching it in this way has a very powerful effect.
The tip of the tongue is the tip of the kidney meridian. The tongue connects via various tissues to the skull, the chest and the spine. Therefore stretching the tongue has a powerful effect on the internal organs as well as the musculoskeletal system.
The head is then brought downwards and the chin is brought into the throat (ha-jalandhara bandha). The breath is held in and then compressed with the muscles that normally use to exhale from the chest and from the abdomen.
In other words the chest and abdomen are compressed with a type of Valsalva manoeuvre (ha-uddiyana bandha and ha-mula bandha) that increases intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure to give a type of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a means of increasing the partial pressure of oxygen to bring it deeper into the body tissues. This type of therapy which is done medically in a hyperbaric chamber has been shown to increase cellular oxygen and promote healing.
While holding the breath in I am moving my arms and trunk in specific ways to stimulate various subtle channels (nadis) and acupuncture meridians. The changes in physical pressure increase the flow of oxygen (prana) to all the cells in the body but particularly into the spine with is kept lengthened throughout.
After holding the breath in for some time the tongue is released from the back of the throat and a swallowing action is made that inhibits the urge to breathe. The tip of the tongue is then placed at the back of the upper teeth. The right hand is used to block the left nostril and the air is released through the right nostril.
The exhalation is initially passive from the chest and when the passive exhale is complete, the rest of the air is expelled by actively drawing in the perineum and then bringing then navel to the spine without making the abdomen hard. One the air is fully expelled the breath is retained out and the abdomen is relaxed so that the navel moves away from the spine.
Once the breath has been out, a type of Mueller manoeuvre is applied that allows chest to be expanded (tha-uddiyana bandha) like inhaling to the chest. The abdominal muscles are then progressively activated then relaxed in a way that gives an observer the impression the abdominal muscles are rolling from left to right. This is an illusion (named lauliki) that is an internal cleansing process (kriya) generated because there is a sequential activation of:
- right rectus abdomini muscle,
- both rectus abdomini muscles (nauli = ha-mula bandha),
- the left rectus abdominis and then
- a positive pressure compression of the abdomen (which actives the external oblique muscles) (ha-mula bandha)
After holding the breath out for some time the chest is brought downwards (compressed), the tongue released from the back of the upper teeth and a swallowing gesture is made. Then a new cycle can begin.
Each cycle of this pranayama (which is generally about 2 minutes long ideally) leads to rapid buildup of carbon dioxide which causes an increase in blood flow to the brain and heart (via vasodilation) and cells (via the Bohr effect), calmness to the nervous system, deep clarity to the mind and a very reduced need for food. This gives tremendous benefits to your circulation, your energy levels and your internal health in general.
To learn more about breath-control, internal locks, energy control gestures, and internal cleansing processes you can enrol in our online courses:
To learn more about these techniques you can get the Yoga Synergy DVD entitled ‘Stilling Calming Cleansing Body Breath and Mind in Dynamic Meditation’ from https://yogasynergy.com .
This video was filmed by Zac Human in the river near Ubud, Bali while i was teaching at Daniel Aarons Radiantly Alive Teacher Training course in 2008. The energy in and around this river was amazing. I must say this was one of the most nourishing yoga practices I have ever done in my life probably because of where I was.
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