Pranayama From India

Pranayama Sequence of Swami Ram Dev

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

(A brief Version of this article titled as "Pranayama for Millions" was published in the Yoga Therapy in Practice, A publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, August 2006 (Volume 2, Issue 3))

I visited India Nov-Dec 2005 and witnessed the Yoga and health movement led by Swami Ram Deva ji Maharaj (SRDM) that is highly controversial but also revolutionary! His center, "Divya Mandir" is in Kankhal, Hardwar, North India. One part of it is the Patanajali Yoga Pitha, a residential yoga treatment center under construction. SRDM holds outdoor treatment camps (chikitasa shivir) across the country. Each camp (shivir) is attended by tens of thousands of people wherein participants learn a sequence of Pranayama techniques personally taught by SRDM for health and recovery from diseases. These demonstrations and practices are later televised on several channels such as "Astha" and "Samskar." His teachings are televised 7 to 8 hours a day on different channels and viewed by millions of people. Many practice these pranayama techniques and simple exercises in their own homes by watching SRDM's demonstrations on TV.

During a previous visit to India in 2003, I had the first opportunity to view SRDM on morning television when he gave talks and personal demonstrations of Kapalabhati (Breath of Fire/Skull Shining Breath), Nauli (moving and churning of Rectus Abdominis). During these demonstrations SRDM invited viewers to practice prananyama with him. That was an extraordinary shift from the ancient tradition of teaching pranayama only in a face-to-face contact and that too under the close supervision of an experienced teacher. Here was SRDM dispelling much of the guesswork (and also the mystery) related to pranayama and demonstrating them en masse! Utilizing television in service of pranayama at such a large scale impressed me for its bold approach but also intrigued me regarding the potential risks. Pranayama techniques never been so extensively promoted to the general population and never been made so accessible, thanks to the television media. However, that has benefits on one hand and risks and liabilities on the other.

It is estimated that 50 to 100 million Indians view his teachings and demonstrations on TV. Perhaps the cause of SRDM's immense popularity might be his relentless assertions regarding the value of pranayama for overall health, self-confidence, vitality, and for "cure" of such chronic conditions as the chronic respiratory conditions, diabetes, heart problems and obesity.

Therein lies the rub! I watched SRDM on TV several hours a day with my brother and sisters. Every time he promised those incredibly wonderful results of pranayama practice, I would shudder. I would turn to my sisters and brother and say, "There is going to be an enormous backlash when people realize pranayama didn't cure their disease after all." My sibs will simply smile at me and tell me there would be no backlash because people know he is doing everything to help them. I, who has spent half of my life in the west and my brothers and sisters who have always lived in India, react very differently to SRDM's claims about his pranayama sequence as a "cure all" for all the ailments afflicting Indian society. What I saw as "magical thinking" on SRDM's part, my sibs saw as his "passion and strong faith" in what he practiced and preached. I with my western scientific training was taking every word of his claim literally and wanted evidence for the same. My sibs didn't. Talking to other people who were following SRDM's pranayama practice for medical problems, it occurred to me they didn't take these claims literally as I did. They just believed Pranayama is "good for you" anyways and if it's meant to be, it might help you as well. Indians have great tolerance for hyperbole and they somehow factor it in their sense of reality. In one sense it can be regarded as a "healthy" attitude because it allows room for spontaneous recovery and placebo effect. Besides, Indians have strong faith in self-care and Yoga.

In fairness, SRDM and his associates are attempting to study the remedial effects of Pranayama on various medical disorders. They have a medical team that assists in conducting medical tests before and after the attendance of health camps. One can fill a 20-item medical "Feedback Form" at their site ( to report both positive and negative outcomes of Pranayama practice. However, these are rudimentary investigative efforts. Still a large part of the "evidence" is based on anecdotes and personal testimony of people and comparison of the "before" and "after" effect in the individuals attending 10-day shivirs. To the best of my knowledge, randomized, double blind control group comparisons are not there, yet.

It takes a long time to establish objectively verifiable validity. In the mean time we can just rely on "face validity." Face validity means that an assumption APPEARS to be valid at the face of it. SRDM's pranayama sequence appears to have face validity for overall respiratory health. To be more specific, the sequence may be helpful for strengthening and flexibility of the muscles of respiration, increased oxygenation of the body and the brain, and clearing of congestion and blockage of the entire respiratory tract. After all, it is logical to assume that when you take an extraordinary amount of air in and out of your system by pumping your abdominal muscles and move your diaphragm up and down such as in Bhastika, Kapalabhati, Uddiyana Bandha and Anuloma-Viloma, you deliver rich oxygen to your body than would be possible through regular breathing. Humming, Om chanting and Nadishodhana may lengthen the breath in addition to creating a calming and stabilizing effect on breath.

It is not a hyperbole to say modern medicine system has yet to study the long-term effects of deep and full breathing pattern on overall health. It must be done! Furthermore, accomplished yoga teachers have devised beautiful asana sequences and analyzed their potential benefits but a pranayama sequence is a rare commodity. Still rarer is an in-depth analysis of the additive effects of a Pranayama sequence. Preliminary studies at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Bangalore University have been conducted regarding reduction of cortisol (a stress hormone) and depression with Sudarshana Kriya and Bhastrika like Pranayama technique, but extensive research is still required to establish scientific validity through controlled studies.

SRDM states that he has carefully devised the pranayama sequence based on his personal experience and consultations with many accomplished yogis. His arrangement of the sequence may be new but it is based on rationale that has been tested and continually refined for the last four thousand years. Ancient yogis utilized themselves as their own "human laboratories." Therefore, lest we throw the proverbial baby out of bath water, I suggest that we overlook the fantastic claims made by SRDM, set the controversy aside and explore if this sequence has anything at all to offer us and our clients in the area of respiratory health. In my opinion, SRDM's prananyama sequence if done correctly, moderately, gently and cautiously can offer tangible benefits related to diaphragmatic breathing and breath control and to remedy common respiratory ailments.

I have personally practiced SRDM's pranayama sequence for the past year with several modifications to adapt to my special needs. During this past year I have not had any bout of bronchitis, constant nasal discharge, common colds, lingering cough and sinus problems compared to the previous occurrence of severe episodes at 2-3 months interval. In the allergy season, my intake of antihistamines is at the minimum now. Therefore, I am personally motivated to share the pranayama sequence with you if you have not been exposed to SRDM's presentations made in the Hindi language.

Judging from the ever increasing incidence of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other respiratory ailments in U.S., pranayama techniques can be a useful adjunct to the treatment of on respiratory disorders. The sequence has all the basic ingredients of "breath for health" and can be a nice addition to your asana practice. It may also be of interest to you for your students who suffer from various respiratory ailments. As you know Western medicine still doesn't have perfect treatment for common colds or chronic respiratory conditions. With adequate knowledge and experience practitioners can design adaptations to the sequence to augment specific benefits tailored to an individual's needs.

SRDM leads the participants to asana practice after the pranayama session. Most of these asanas can be found in the "Pavanmukta series of Bihar School of Yoga and will not be discussed here. SRDM also discusses and encourages utilization of Ayurvedic medicine, foot acupuncture and hand acupuncture for various medical conditions, which too are outside the scope of this presentation. Note that a treatment shivir is a multimodal program in which positive effects may be derived not only from Pranayama practice but also from other modalities such as Ayurvedic medicine, acupuncture and the overall tempo and morale of the shivirs.

SRDM demonstrates the pranayama techniques on his person and removes the orange sheet from his torso so one can clearly see the abdominal and chest movements. He relies more on the visual demonstration than on the verbal instructions. My description of the techniques is based on my observations of those demonstrations as well as the verbal instructions, books and DVDs by SRDM.

SRDM's Pranayama sequence
1. Bhastrika (The "Bellows Breath")
2. Kapalabhati ("Breath of Fire")
3. Bahya Pranayama (The External Breath)
4. Anuloma-Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing)
5. Bhramari (humming Breath)
6. Udgeeta Pranayama ("Om" chanting)
7. Nadi Shodhana (subtle nervous system purification) or Ujjayi Pranayama ("Victorious breath")

SRDM emphasizes that if your goal is recovery from an ailment, you must strictly adhere to the order of the seven pranayama techniques as laid out in this sequence.


Note: Pranayama techniques described here are ancient techniques modified over the ages by different yoga schools. There is no such thing as a standardized or universal method for these techniques. Don't be confused if you have known the same technique described differently elsewhere. Sometimes, even the same technique is known by another name by another yoga school. We describe the techniques for each pranayama as demonstrated or described in the books authored by SRDM. However, I have interjected my "Author's Note" after the description of each technique to offer important safety guidelines. As a cautionary note, bear in mind that SRDM often demonstrates vigorous and advanced version of pranayama practices. It is safer to begin with a slower, gentler and milder practice. Even if one has practiced asanas at an advance level, it is possible that the muscles of respiration may not be strong and flexible enough to do an advanced practice of pranayama techniques described here. So, give yourself the time it takes to develop a full-fledged pranayama practice.

All pranayama techniques are performed in the sitting position such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Siddhasana (the Pose of the Accomplished), Padmasana (the Lotus Pose), or any pose in which one can be comfortable and sit straight. If you sit in a chair, make sure that your head, neck and trunk are straight. The hands should be in "Dhyana mudra," that is, fingers spread out with the tips of index finger and thumb touching each other while the other three fingers remain straight. People with gastric problems are advised to keep their hands in "Vayu mudra," that is, the index finger instead of touching the tip of the thumb touches the base of the thumb.

Beginners are instructed to perform a 30-minute session of pranayama. However, people with special needs are encouraged to do them slowly and do more repetitions, typically for the duration of an hour.

Bhastrika (The "Bellows Breath")

Duration/repetitions: Minimum: 2 minutes. Maximum: 5 minutes. Beginners should not perform Bhastrika for more than 2 minutes. SRDM provides a time limit rather than specifying the number of repetitions (e.g. 15-25 times). However, if you feel tired or out of breath, you are advised to rest and/or take a couple normal breaths and then resume the practice.

You may practice Bhastrika slowly, moderately or at a faster speed, according to your capacity. Gradually progress from slow to moderate speed and subsequently practice Bhastrika at fast speed. You may perform non-stop Bhastrika at a fast rate for 3 to 5 minutes. A non-stop Bhastrika for 5 minutes will amount to 500-700 repetitions. However, reduce the level of intensity of your Bhastrika practice during the summer season.

Technique: Inhalation should entirely occur in the chest and not in the abdomen. SRDM repeatedly instructs the participants, "Fill air in the chest. Don't fill air in the abdomen," or "Inhale deeply and fill the lungs all the way down to the diaphragm. Let the chest expand as far down as the ribs, but not the abdomen!"

SRDM sits with hands resting on the knees and extended out towards both sides. He initiates inhalation by turning the hands in for better leverage. During inhalation, he lifts the trunk, thrusts the chest forward and raises the shoulders quite prominently. A vigorous and complete inhalation is followed by an equally powerful and vigorous exhalation by pulling the navel in and up.

Here is how I would paraphrase the verbal instructions: "While inhaling lift your ribcage and expand the chest and while exhaling pull the navel and pelvis in and up. First inhale, then exhale! Inhalation and exhalation should be of equal length. Continue in this manner for two minutes (or less if you feel tired)."

Mental focus: Keep the eyes closed. Feel the joy within. Let the face express the joy you feel doing the pranayama. Feel that prana, the cosmic breath is entering inside you with light and energy.

Benefits: Bhastrika helps to breathe deeply, strengthens heart, lungs and brain; promotes resistance against diseases; relieves seasonal colds; chronic cold; allergies, asthma and sinus- and mucus-related problems; and energizes the 10-trillion cells in the human body by providing them rich oxygen. This is good for overall health, promotes glandular health and provides relief from mental afflictions and depression.

Caution: People with high blood pressure, or heart or lung problems should do Bhastrika slowly. If the nostrils are blocked, close the right nostril and exhale and inhale from the left nostril for several times. In the beginning, inhale and exhale slowly, then moderately and subsequently at faster speed. Repeat the same process, this time by closing the left nostril and using the right. Then utilize both nostrils to practice Bhastrika.

*Author's Note: SRDM demonstrates prominent use of chest during inhalation, which may not be advisable if you have a tendency for hyperventilation, paradoxical breathing or asynchronous breathing wherein the movement of the diaphragm, ribcage and abdomen are faultily or poorly coordinately. If you have such a problem, learn to keep your upper chest, neck and shoulders still, and focus on the movement of breathing in the lower abdomen and the diaphragm, which is attached to your lower ribs. The bottom line is that if you experience any problem with your breathing, consult an experienced pranayama teacher, a respiratory or physical therapist before you proceed with your pranayama practice. Please also read the Author's Note in the Caution section of Kapalabhati especially about Spontaneous Pneumothrax before proceeding with Pranayama exercise.

Beginners, your attention please! First get the maximum benefits of slow Bhastrika, because in slow Bhastrika, you have better control over the movement of your breathing muscles, you can engage them better and you can monitor your breathing pattern closely in this way. Practice Bhastrika at such slow speed as perhaps at the rate of 2 seconds per breath, that is, 30 breaths per minute. Then gradually, over a few months, progress to 60 or even 120 breaths per minute. Start with 5, 7 or 9 repetitions in one round, stop and take several normal breaths to normalize your breathing. When you can comfortably do 10 or 12 rounds with a small number, gradually, perhaps over a period of several months, you may do 25-30 repetitions in one round. A total of 100 repetitions might be plenty. Bhastrika, Kapalabhati, Bahya Pranayama require lot of preparatory work for strength and flexibility of the spinal, abdominal and chest muscles and for correct posture for breathing. There are excellent asanas to accomplish for this purpose. There are no short cuts! You must do your homework! People with gastric and intestinal disorders should use caution.

Initially you might experience muscular stress pain in the stomach and/or sacrum, which should go away with time. Rest when you feel tired and do not ever exceed your comfortable capacity. If you yourself or your student has COPD, the physiologic limitations of obstructed lung may not allow you to take large breaths or easily move air in and out, especially moving the air out of your lungs. Moving the air out is very important if you want to avoid hyperinflation of lungs. It is safer to begin with slower breathing rates and small breath volumes, and very gradually increase the breath rate and the volume of your breaths. Never exceed your comfortable capacity.

Don't skip the end part of the sequence, particularly, Nadi Shodhana and/or soft Ujjayi so the breath can slow down and inhalations and exhalations are equalized. When you end your practice with soft, slow and equalized breathing, you minimize the chances of ending up your practice with too much carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) or too little oxygen (hypoxia) in your system.

Kapalabhati ("Breath of Fire")

SRDM translates "Kapala" as forehead or the mind. So, we may translate Kapalabhati as, "forehead-shining breath" rather than the usual translation, "Skull-shining breath."

Duration/repetitions: Beginners may start with a 3-minute practice and, in a month or two, work up to a 5-minute non-stop practice. Depending on your speed, 3-5 minutes of non-stop Kapalabhati may amount to 180 to 700 repetitions. Do not exceed your limit. When you feel tired, rest for a while and do it again. In summer time, people with pitta dominance ("hot natured") should not practice Kapalabhati for more than two minutes.

Technique: Unlike Bhastrika, where the focus is both on forceful inhalation and exhalation, in Kapalabhati, the focus is only on forceful exhalation. To perform Kapalabhati, SRDM instructs, "Exhale from your nose with full strength and the abdomen will go in automatically. When you vomit or blow your nose the stomach goes in automatically. The same thing happens when sniffing forcefully. Concentrate on exhaling vigorously and your abdomen will contract automatically. Keep expelling the breath. Contraction and expansion of the abdomen during exhalation and inhalation will occur automatically. Do not deliberately try to inhale. Simply allow the air to enter the lungs passively."

Mentally focus on the root lock (muladhar chakra) all the way up to the Crown (Sahasrar chakra). Sometimes SRDM suggests concentration on the "command center" (between the eye brows), and to imagine that all toxins, oxidants, negative energy, all negative conditionings, ill feelings, diseases and deficiencies are exiting your system with that "out" breath.

Benefits: SRDM calls Kapalabhati as the "panacea of the earth" and asks the participants to make a firm resolution (Sankalpa) to perform Kapalabhati every day before breakfast. Kapalabhati helps to maintain good posture, but make sure you draw the abdomen in towards the back and bring the chest out. The movements of Kapalabhati provide exercise for all the internal organs including liver, spleen, kidneys and prostate gland. It is good for all stomach ailments, asthma, allergies, sinusitis and all mucus-related diseases. It helps to reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, heart blockage and obesity (particularly the central fat on the belly), and restores gastric health and Vata-Pitta-Kapha balance. Kapalabhati adds beauty and shine to the face and awakens the power of the root lock (muladhar shakti). At the advanced stage, psychic energy sublimates and ascends to the higher centers.

SRDM claims that 5-minute Kapalabhati is equal to an hour of continuous yoga asanas, or two hours of walking. Practice of Kapalabhati every day for a month can reduce 4 to 8 kilo (roughly 8 to 17 pounds in an overweight person and add 2 to 3 kilos (roughly 4 to 6 pounds) to an underweight person. Mental benefits include concentration, clarity of thinking, and cheerfulness.

Caution: Initially you might experience pain in the stomach and/or sacrum, which will go away with time. Rest when you feel tired and not ever exceed your comfortable capacity.

*Author's note: Carefully, read "Author's note" in the Caution section of Bhastrika. Instead of performing continuous Kapalabhati for 1, 2 or 5 minutes, break Kapalabhati practice into multiple rounds and take a few regular breaths between the rounds to normalize your breathing. Be very careful if you have a tendency for fast breathing (more than 15-18 breaths per minute at rest for a healthy young person), or with asynchronous breathing wherein movement of diaphragm, ribcage and abdomen are faulty or poorly coordinated. These faulty movements should be corrected before you progress to more strenuous pranayama exercises. Instead of performing continuous Kapalabhati for 1, 2 or 5 minutes, break Kapalabhati practice into multiple rounds and take a few regular breaths between the rounds to normalize your breathing. Beginners should not do more than 15-30 Kapalabhati breaths in one round until you have well tested your capacity. Limit your total repetitions to 100 or so. This way you avoid the risk of developing a condition called "Spontaneous Pneumothorax." Pneumothorax is an uncommon condition in which the lung collapses. This is usually caused by straining or hard coughing, with pressure developing in the airways and lung, causing rupture of weak areas on the surface of the lung to rupture and therefore and therefore allow air into the chest cavity to cause lung collapse. Persons with COPD and especially Emphysema are more vulnerable. Physicians reported in the professional CHEST publication that an otherwise healthy person ended up in the emergency room with Pneumothorax and they cautioned all fellow physicians to watch for Kapalabhati causing the problem. We believe it might have been a case of an undiagnosed condition, unusually weakened lung tissue and perhaps the extreme practice of Kapalabhati. (See: Letter to the CHEST Editor--Hillsman and Sharma). This unfortunate example emphasize the need for yoga practitioners to proceed slowly and gradually increasing the speed and intensity as they carefully test the strength and endurance and health of their lungs.

Needless to say that people with COPD/emphysema should never practice Kapalabhati to extremes. However, in my humble opinion, simply based on my own experience that gentle, slow and careful Kapalabhati can benefit people with mild to moderate COPD/Emphysema. People with gastric and intestinal disorders should use caution

Bahya Pranayama (The external breath)

This pranayama technique is applied in the state of "Bahya kumbhaka (suspension of breath after exhalation). Bahya Pranayama is referred to elsewhere as "Uddiyana Bandha," which includes the abdominal lock, root lock (mulabandha) and the chin lock (Jalandhar bandha). SRDM refers to Uddiyana bandha simply as the abdominal lock. When all three locks are applied, SRDM calls it "Bahya Pranayama."

Duration/repetitions: Beginners should perform Bahya Pranayama 3 to 5 times. Advanced practitioners can do 11 repetitions. However, in the winter, advance practitioners can do up to 21 repetitions.

Technique: SRDM defines the three locks in this manner:
Contracting the abdomen and drawing it in all the way to the back (abdominal contents float up into the lower chest) is called "Uddiyana bandha."
Bringing the chin to the pit of the throat is called "Jalandhar Bandha."
Contracting and pulling up the region below the navel (pelvic and pubic area) and sustaining the hold is called "Mulabandha."
Begin with exhaling rapidly and completely, hold the breath, apply chin lock (Jalandhar bandha) by lowering the chin and join it with the pit of the throat. Apply abdominal lock (Uddiyana bandha) by bending forward a little and press hands on the knees for leverage. Contract the abdomen and draw it in all the way to the back. Apply root lock (mula bandha) by pulling up the pelvis and hold it up there.
Still holding the breath and the three locks in place, bend forward slightly and pull the abdominal organs as far up as you can, straighten the trunk, holding it as long as you comfortably can. When you are ready to release, bend again, release the abdominal lock and the abdominal organs (while raising the chin to exhale.) and raising the chin inhale.
This completes one round. Do 3 or more rounds of Bahya Pranayama.

Benefits: Good for hernia, stomach ailments, uterus prolapse and all urinary and prostate problems. Channels the energy of the root lock

Caution: People with hypertension and heart problem should avoid performing Bahya Pranayama.

*Author's Note: Read carefully "Author's Note" in the Caution section of Bhastrika and Kapalabhati. Before you proceed with Bahya Pranayama, make sure you can suspend your breath after exhalation for at lest 10-15 seconds because it takes time to apply the chin lock and root lock, pull in the abdomen towards the back and push the abdominal organs into the chest cavity, then release them and inhale slowly. Notice how much time it takes to just say it (it took me 10 seconds to say it); doing it will take at least that much time. Do not tire yourself out. Don't do more than 4 or 5 repetitions.

Also, when you release the locks and are ready to inhale, inhale slowly. If you desperately rush into inhale, in certain conditions, you run the risk of collapsing your airways. People with gastric and intestinal disorders should use caution

Anuloma-Viloma (Alternate nostril breathing)

SRDM identifies the left nostril inhalation as the "chandra svar" that is the breath from the "cooling nerve" or "Ida." Elsewhere this technique of breathing is called "Chandrabhedi," literally, "piercing the lunar nerve." Inhalation from the "right nostril" is described as 'Surya svar," that is the breath from the heating nerve or "Pingala." Elsewhere this technique of breathing is called "Suryabhedi," literally, "piercing the solar nerve." Briefly, anuloma-Viloma (A-V) is "left inhale-right exhale-right inhale-left exhale."

Duration/repetitions: Beginners may start with 3 minutes. If you feel tired, take rest after each minute of A-V practice. In one month, you may build it up to a 5-minute non-stop practice. Minimum: 5 minutes non-stop practice may amount to a total of 250 A-Vs. In summer time, don't practice it for more than 3-5 minutes. Maximum: 10 minutes. However, the advanced practitioner may build up to a 15-minute A-V practice, which may amount to a total of 750 A-Vs. Remember A-V can be practiced at fast, slow or medium speed.

Technique: Block the right nostril with the right thumb and left nostril with the right middle and ring fingers. Little finger and the index finger are free and the palm stays above the nose. Don't place the palm in front of the nose as it blocks the free flow of the air. Apply only mild pressure to the nostrils. To begin, close the right nostril with the thumb. While lifting the ribcage and bringing out the chest (thoracic breathing), inhale from the left nostril. SRDM often reminds practitioners to fill the air in the lungs and not in the abdomen. After completion of inhalation, close the left nostril with the middle and the ring finger, lift the thumb off the right nostril and exhale while pushing the navel towards the back (abdominal contraction). Then inhale with the right nostril performing thoracic breathing and exhale with the left nostril while contracting the abdomen. This makes one round. The second round begins with the left nostril inhale and so on. In the beginning, breathe in and out slowly. Gradually pick up the speed and progress from slow to moderate or even fast rate.

In fast rate A-V, breathing is vigorous, forceful, loud, and without a pause unlike the "Nadi Shodhanam" wherein breathing is soft, relaxed, inaudible and often performed with pauses (e.g. hold after inhalation and/or suspend after exhalation).

SRDM encourages practitioners to not rush while practicing A-V. Exercise patience. Feel the joy and happiness while practicing A-V.

Benefits: SRDM states that A-V like the Nadi-shodhanam purifies the nadis (the subtle nervous system composed of 727.2 million and 210 thousand nerves).

SRDM says that Bhastrika, Kapalabhati and Bahya Pranayama are good for the body below the throat, and A-V for above the throat, notably for such conditions as migraine, sinusitis and asthma. A-V reduces toxins, oxidants, cholesterol, triglycerides, and improves the heart health. It is good for overall mental and emotional functioning and provides relief from depression. Based on his observations of patients, SRDM claims that regular practice of A-V for 3 to 4 months will remove 30 to 40 percent heart arteries blockage.

On the esoteric level, SRDM states that there is subtle energy system at the navel center that energizes intelligence and other mental faculties. A-V stimulates that energy and facilitates the powers of concentration and meditation. A practice consisting of 250-500 repetitions of A-V every day for a sustained period can set off the process of Kundalini awakening.

Caution: People with hypertension and/or heart problems should avoid it completely or do it very slowly and with ease.

*Author's note: Read carefully "Author's Note" in the Caution section of Bhastrika and Kapalabhati. If you are a beginner, start with slow A-V practice. One of the advantage of A-V is that you can isolate one side at a time from ischium to cranium. By isolating one side at a time, you can engage the muscles of one side and fill or empty the lung systematically and slowly. True that air will go to both lungs simultaneously but mentally focusing only on one side makes a difference at least for engaging the muscles of the isolated and focused site. In the lighter vein, I have heard motivational speakers say, "Whatever you pay attention to will expand in your life). Be aware of the following negative consequences of super fast A-V: 1) Difficult to mentally focus and isolate one side of the trunk 2) Difficult to maintain the equal ratio of inhalation and exhalation 3) Possible to exacerbate the existing pattern of wrong breathing, if you have one.

However, as you get good at maintaining equalized inhalation and exhalation, increase the speed of A-V in small increments at a time. Beware! If you inhale too much more air than you exhale for a significant length of time, you can end up with too much air in your lungs. If a nostril is blocked, do not force the air in and out of the blocked nostril because such forcing can lead to deviated septum over time. Instead, relax your nostrils and the upper nose. Keep gently inhaling from the open nostril and exhaling from the blocked one. You may also assist the process by trying to mentally "open" the nostril.

Bhramari (humming breath)

Duration/repetitions: Beginners may practice Bhramari three times and advanced practitioners for 11-21 times.

Technique: Breathe in and out with the nose only. Close the ears with your thumbs, place index fingers just above the eyebrows at the sinuses and the remaining three fingers on the eyes with finger tips slightly pressing the ridge of the nose on each side. Inhale deeply and while exhaling make a humming sound like that of the black beetle. Say "Om' in a soft humming sound while making the humming sound.

Mental focus: Concentrating on the center of the eyebrows (ajna chakra) visualize light in the center. Feel that your body, mind and soul are radiating with light. Try to experience inner joy and bliss.

Benefits: Good for sinus problem, hypertension, heart blockage, etc. Vibrations created by humming destroys negative energy, reduces stress/tension, depression, fears and doubts.

*Author's note: it is better to do soft humming that gently reverberates in the sinuses and the skull rather than powerful vibration. Four to five repetitions of Bhramari is plenty. People with epilepsy, head trauma or tumor, migraine, severe or persistent headaches should avoid Bhramari.

Udgeeta Pranayama ("Om" chanting)

Udgeeta Pranayama is often referred to as, "Omkari japa," that is, chanting of Om. "Udgeeta" means singing in a loud pitch/note. Thus, Udgeet pranayama means chanting of Om in a loud pitch. While chanting, the sound of "O" should be 3 times longer than the sound of "makar" (mmm), which is often transcribed in Samskrita as "O3M."

Duration/repetitions: Minimum 3 times. For the maximum limit, SRDM once said, "Keep chanting until you feel tired or reach the state of absorption in the sound of Om."

Technique: Inhalation and exhalation should be long, slow, soft and subtle. Inhale slowly and when ready to exhale, chant Om slowly and steadily. With practice, lengthen each breath to one-minute, that is, to say inhalation and exhalation should total one-minute of time. Visualize the breath entering and moving inside the body. Beginners may feel the breath just in their nose but with practice and proper concentration, they may feel the "touch" of the breath inside their whole self.

While chanting, feel the joy and remain in the spirit of surrender (to the higher power). Feel that the sound of "Om" has filled the entire space from inside and outside. Focus on the "agnya" center (the command center") that is, the point between the two eyebrows.

Benefits: Good for insomnia and for deepening the quality of sleep and relieving bad dreams. Helps the mind to become one-pointed and facilitate the practice of conscious sleep (Yoga Nidra).

Nadi Shodhana (subtle nervous system purification)

Duration/repetitions: Minimum three times. Maximum: unlimited.

Technique: Close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale very slowly from the left nostril. Upon completion of inhaling, hold the breath in (antara kumbhaka) and apply the chin lock (Jalandhar bandha) and the root lock (mula bandha). Release the chin lock and very slowly exhale from the right nostril. Upon completion of exhaling, inhale very slowly from the right nostril and hold the breath in (antar kumbhaka) with chin lock and root lock in place. When ready to release, exhale very slowly from the left nostril. This completes one round. The second round begins with left nostril inhalation and so on. Note that inhalation and exhalation should be soft and inaudible to the person sitting by you.

You may also do mentally directed Nadi Shodhana in which fingers are not used to close and open the nostrils. Simply mentally direct your breath to and from one nostril at a time. Mental alternate nostril breathing is also initiated with left nostril inhalation.

Ratio for breathing and breath holding: Beginners should maintain the ratio of 1:2:2 for inhalation-hold (after inhale) and exhalation. Example: Inhalation=10 seconds; hold after inhale (antar-kumbhaka)=20 seconds and exhalation=20 seconds. Advanced practitioners may keep the ratio of 1:4:2.

Benefits: Same benefits as those for Anuloma-Viloma. Mentally directed nostril breathing is particularly beneficial for concentration, mental stabilization and calming.

Caution: 1:4:2 ratio is discouraged by some other yoga schools. After the mastery of this ratio, advanced practitioners may go on to include the suspension of the breath after exhalation (bahya Kumbhaka) in their practice.

Example for the ratio for the advanced practitioner: Inhalation=10 seconds; hold after inhale (antar-kumbhaka)=40 seconds, exhalation=20 seconds and suspension of breath after exhalation=20 seconds.

In Nadi Shodhana, SRDM stresses that the more the breath is slow, long, subtle, smooth and easy, the greater are the physical and mental benefits. Do Nadi Shodhana according to your comfortable capacity. The duration of inhalation, exhalation and breath holding should be determined by your personal capacity. If you feel tired during or after the practice of Nadi Shodhana, you might be doing too much. End the practice with meditation/awareness of soft and slow inhalation and exhalation and the sound of "Om."

*Author's Note: Please always end the pranayama sequence with Nadi Shodhana or soft Ujjayi so the breath slows down and inhalation and exhalation is equalized. When you end your practice with soft, slow and equalized breathing, you minimize the chances of ending your practice with too much carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) or too little oxygen (hypoxia) in your system.

Ujjayi Pranayama ("Victorious breath")

Note the Ujjayi presented here is different from the more popular and better-known version of Ujjayi. SRDM elsewhere describes the popular version of Ujjayi, which is not presented here.

Duration/repetitions: 3 times. But for relief of thyroid problem, you may practice up to 11 times.

Technique: Bring your mind to the throat and contract it (referring to glottal contraction). Throat contraction is just like when you close the fist by contracting your hand. Beginners should first simply practice inhaling and contracting the throat and making short sounds like "oo" "oo" several times during one inhalation. Having acquired the awareness of throat contraction and some voluntary control over throat contraction, you are ready to practice Ujjayi. Deeply inhale while contracting the throat and making a sharp shrilling sound like "OO."

Stop at the half or three-fourth point of your inhalation capacity. Avoid filling air all the way into the upper chest without close supervision of a teacher. Apply chin lock (Jalandhar bandha) and hold the breath to your comfortable capacity. Close the right nostril with the right hand and exhale from the left nostril. Each time when you are ready to exhale, exhale from the left nostril.

Benefits: Modifies thyroid problems, snoring and asthma.

*Author's Note: Please always end the pranayama sequ

ence with Nadi Shodhana or soft Ujjayi so the breath slows down and inhalation and exhalation is equalized. When you end your practice with soft, slow and equalized breathing, you minimize the chances of ending your practice with too much carbon dioxide (hypercapnia) or too little oxygen (hypoxia) in your system


I offer the following brief explanation of some of the physical benefits of the sequence as I see it:

  • Bhastrika and Kapalbhati can (a) increase your breathing capacity and thus the blood flow to the body and the brain (b) massage abdominal organs and heart and (c) clear nasal passages and reduce lung congestion, if any. However, be flexible to swap the order between Bhastrika and Kapalabhati or intermix them, based on your observations of their effect on you. Make your decision on the basis of your respiratory stamina and health that day. Some may insist that it has to be "always Bhastrika" or "always Kapalabhati." These are not the rules that should be etched in concrete. Some days it might make better sense to you to do Kapalabhati first and Bhastrika second and other days vice versa.
  • Bahya Pranayama by sealing the lungs from the top and the bottom and pushing up the diaphragm against the lungs higher than in Bhastirka and Kapalabhati can provide high pressure cleaning of the filter, that is, the lungs. Dr. Sella says that in Uddiyana Bandha, i.e. "The volume and air pressure in the thorax during inspiration may modify the venous & lymphatic blood volume in the thorax, abdomen and pelvic cavity as well as the position of the viscera. The trunk muscles, functioning simultaneously in concerted contraction and relaxation modify further the abdominal & pelvic cavity pressures and the functional consequences."
  • A-V helps to isolate one side of the trunk at a time. Such isolation can help to bring further strength and flexibility to the respiratory muscles and other muscles of the trunk and improve lung health. By paying close attention, you can better engage the muscles and the lung of that side. A-V can help you to work on the asymmetry of the physical structure by coordinating the breath and movement one side at a time. Furthermore, should you still have congestion and blockage in one nostril, A-V provides you an opportunity to do further work on that nostril.
  • Humming of Bhramari reverberates into the facial sinuses, hard palate, throat, upper nasal passages and the base of the brain, providing you another opportunity for clearing the respiratory track and sinuses. Vibrations in the throat can prepare you for Ujjayi Pranayama. Bhramari can also be utilized for lengthening exhalation and slowing the rate of breathing.
  • Udgeeta Pranayama works more directly on the vocal cords, lengthens the breath and stimulates glottal contraction, which could be a good preparation for Ujjayi.
  • Nadi Shodhana and Ujjayi can be utilized for slowing and lengthening the breath. They have a calming effect on the body and the mind and set the stage for meditation, if desired. If you are short on time on a given day, it is better to shorten any of the first four techniques than to compromise on the last three techniques, particularly the very last technique, the Nadi Shodhana or the Ujjayi.

In summation, SRDM's sequence appears to be a well thought out sequence in which the first four techniques contain the potential for energizing, strengthening, toning and cleansing the entire respiratory system. The latter part of the sequence contains the potential for calming, relaxing and slowing your breathing. This is a good way to end the pranayama session to move on to the business of the day or to slide into meditation if so desired. The sequence if approached with proper cautions and individualized modifications can be very promising! It is important that practitioners understand the intention and the effect of each pranayama technique on their body and mind and make their choices with buddhi, the discriminative intelligence.

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Copyright 2005, Mind Publications 
Posted September 2006


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