Besides these, there are other characteristics of Pranayama which must be kept in mind while practicing it. Pranayama is normally done in a relaxed sitting condition in which the demand for oxygen from the body is minimal. When the haemoglobin is fully saturated with the oxygen, no more quantities of oxygen can be accepted. The human body cannot and does not store oxygen anywhere in the body. During kumbhaka phase more time is available for the exchange of gases between the blood and air. Naturally then, more carbon dioxide is accumulated in the blood and the lungs than that in the normal breathing. If one calculates the amount of oxygen, available in one minute of normal breathing and compare it with the amount of oxygen we are getting in one minute of pranayama it will be clear that the amount of oxygen, available in pranayama, is even less than that of the normal breathing. It is therefore wrong to say that in pranayama one gets more oxygen. Moreover, Practice of pranayama requires a conscious control over the breathing. One remains fully aware of what he is doing during different phases of Pranayama. To put it in other words, Pranayama is never done mechanically. Awareness of breathing is most important while practicing Pranayama. No other bodily action is associated with pranayamic phases.
Talking and singing are also voluntarily controlled respiratory acts but they cannot be compared with Pranayama. Singing or talking involves some kind of emotions or expressions and more over they are the acts of communication. Pranayamic breathing does not produce any emotion nor does it express any thought or desire. Simply holding a breath during underwater swimming is not a kumbhaka as swimming involves some physical and mental activities. During kumbhaka phase a total stand-stillness is necessary, even at the mind-intellect level. That is, while practicing kumbhaka no imagery or thought process is allowed.
Each cycle of Pranayama is a complex voluntary act, consisting of three distinct phases, i.e., puraka, kumbhaka and rechaka.
As far as kumbhakas are concerned there are 3:-
1. Abhyantara or Antar kumbhaka
This is a controlled suspension of breath after Puraka. Since the inhaled air is compressed in the alveoli during this retention, the intra-pulmonary pressure is raised and maintained for some length of time.
2. Bahya or Shunya kumbhaka
It is a controlled retention of breath after rechaka phase. The intra-pulmonary pressure is lowered and maintained for some length of time.
3. Keval Kumbhaka
The suspension of breath appears automatically somewhere in a mid stage of respiratory acts, after a long practice of Pranayama. This stage is characterized by equal atmospheric and intrapulmonary pressure.
Hatha yoga recommends some bandhas to be applied along with each cycle of pranayama. Moola bandha is practiced during puraka, uddiyan bandha is done in rechaka, while in kumbhaka, all the three, i.e., moola, jalandhara and uddiyana bandhas are advocated.
The following important features are commonly observed whilst practicing all kinds of Pranayama:
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