Breath Control in Concentration, Exercises Step-by-step

Breath Control in Concentration, Exercises Step-by-step - sharp muscle
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Updated: March 21, 2023

The Breath control gradually increased in importance, and advanced techniques are developed. Controlled inhalation and exhalation became an important factor in breath control (Aitareya Brāhmaṇa).

The three stages of breath control, listed below, are practiced with the mantra (Aitareya Brahmaa) –

  • Controlled inhalation
  • Exhalation
  • Breath suspension

Breath suspension was practiced with mantra (Satapatha Brahmana). The length of the mantra was regulated according to the breathing power. An interrelationship between the mind and the breath was recognized (Satapatha Brahma). It was further believed that the mind played a powerful role in controlling the breath (Kausitaki Brahmana).

Breath Control in Concentration

Breath control is the fourth limb of the eightfold Yoga; These are eight limbs:

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

It’s likely that some kind of breathing control existed before it became a part of yoga. It was probably associated with religion in the Stone Age.

Presumably intellectual Stone Age priests somehow realized the usefulness of breath control in relation to prayer and concentration and practiced it in one form or another.

This archaic breathing regulation gradually transformed into breath control in the Chalcolithic age:

  • A system of breath culture was practiced in the time of the Rigveda;
  • The importance of purification, development and control of breathing power was recognized (Suklayajurveda);
  • Long slow type of breathing control practiced with breath suspension was practiced (Atharvaveda).

Breath control gradually increased in importance, and better techniques was developed. Controlled inhalation and exhalation breath, in breath control (Aitareya Brahmana), become an important factor.

Controlled inhalation, inhalation, and breath suspension—three phases of breath control were practiced with with mantra (Aitareya Brahmaa).

Breath suspension was practiced with mantra (Satapatha Brahmana). The length of mantra was regulated according to the breath, an interrelation between the mind and breath was recognized (Satapatha Brahmana). It was recognized that the brain played an important role in controlling the breath (Kausitaki Brahmana).

The unbroken concentration (dhyana) and breath control become main part of yoga in the post-Vedic period. The breath control part, which is called Saguna Yoga, became a system, which included five limbs and twenty-four kinds of breath control exercises (Mahabharata). It was done with and without mantras. Breath control with mantras was called sabija and without nirbija (Mahabharata).

The importance of breath control was mind control was demonstrated,according to Yajnavalkya, the mind is purified by brain control (Garuda-Purana). It is said that Lord Brahma controlled his mind through the control of breath (Bhagavata-Purana).

The purification of breath, sensitivity and brain is absolutely necessary for the successful practice of mental concentration, and it is best affected through the purification breath control (Bhagavat-Purana). This is the reason that the Rishi (the sage of ancient India) practiced regular breath control. It was his initial practice for Samadhi (Shiva Purana). Lord Krishna practiced himself breathing control (Mahabharata).

Yama and Niyama

Yama (Self-restraint) and Niyama (Self-regulation), the first two limbs of eightfold yoga, have five aspects each.

The Yama include:

  • Ahinsa (abstinence from injury, non-harming or non-violence in thought, word and deed)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (abstinence from theft)
  • Brahmacharya (sexual control in thoughts, emotion, and actions)
  • Aparigraha (abstinence from acceptance of gifts, or non-greed or non-hoarding)

The Niyama include:

  • Saucha (cleanliness)
  • Santosa (contentment)
  • Tapas (asceticism, discipline, austerity or ‘burning enthusiasm)
  • Svadhyaya (study of the self and texts)
  • Ishvarapranidhana (Meditation on God, or surrender to a higher being, or contemplation of a higher power)

Yama and Niyama are actually a mode of life in which discipline has been imposed to save the student of Yoga from physical, moral and spiritual decacy. The power to overcome hunger, thirst, sleep and sexual impulses develops and one becomes aware of our spiritual existence.

Role of Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga, which explains the physical basis of concentration, emerged from the expansion of some of the practices of eightfold yoga, notably posture, breath control, cleanliness, and sexual continuity.

Posture, breathing control and cleanliness were transformed into separate sub-systems. The vital flow supplying the necessary power of the mind to manifest its desires up to the point of satisfaction must be under control to create the most suitable mental environment for the growth of concentration. Therefore Lord Siva, the first guru (teacher) of Hatha Yoga, says that its practice is essential for success in Raja Yoga, which essentially involves concentration with all its stages.

Hatha yoga is, in fact, a systematic method of education, aimed at purification, rebuilding, vitality and control of the body to enable successful breathing control.

Breathing control ultimately causes the body to mold the mind into a pattern most appropriate to a form in which it is able to pass through the stages of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

The word Hatha is made up of two letters “ha” and “tha”. “ha” denotes the Sun and “tha” denotes the Moon. The Sun symbolizes the manifestation of energy and the Moon the protection of the same.

There are two major processes continuously working in our body, one in which energy is expended and the other in which energy is earned and conserved. The energy-consuming force is manifested by the Sun principle and the energy-creating force is manifested by the Moon principle. Hatha yoga is that form of yoga in which concentration is achieved through the generalization and union of these two principles through breathing control.

Concentration exercises, control exercises, posture exercises, purificatory acts, and other procedures were employed to bring about this normalization, embracing all the processes and tissues of the whole body. Under this ideal physical condition, breathing control becomes really effective and eventually leads to the acquisition of a state of mind in which concentration is properly developed. This is Hatha yoga, and breathing control is its principle process.

There are many indications that Hatha yoga was practiced in the Vedic period. One of the seals discovered at Mohenjodaro depicts a three-headed human figure, surrounded by animals and wearing a horned headdress, seated in a bent leg posture, with the heels touching each other. is touching and the body and arms are extended downwards with hands resting on the knees.

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There are two more seals from Mohenjodaro which represent the same bent leg posture. The figure in one is three-faced and in other has one face.

This bent leg is an important posture of Hatha yoga, named as Happy Posture (Bhadrasana). The word “bhadra” appears in the Rigveda and other Vedas and means “happy.” The name implies that the asana is designed to give happiness. This is the development of Siddha Mudra (Siddhasana or Accomplished Pose).

In Siddhasana the left heel is set against the perineum, while in the Bhadrasana both heels are set against the perineum. This asana is a great pelvic exercise. An advanced Hatha yoga student also uses it as a concentration pose.

Breath Control in Yoga Exercise

Hatha yoga teaches that the relatively new role of muscles—the static change of dynamic muscles, which is the basis for the development of the reflective aspect of human existence—becomes most effective when dynamic functioning is not ignored but used properly.

Hatha yoga aims to achieve maximum results in concentration through immobility of the body without sacrificing the organic soundness of the body, which can be maintained only through muscle movement.

Thus yoga exercise evolved in two directions, concentration exercise based on static bodily attitudes and dynamic exercise based on movement.

Hatha Yoga has demonstrated that these two forms are not in fact opposites to each other, but are dual functions of an organized whole, cooperating with each other to support the achievement of a higher order of mental life while maintain a vigorous form of physical life. Yoga exercises are essentially based on the delicate static-dynamic balance of the body.

Concentration practice involves keeping the body motionless, breathing controlled and mind focused.

In dynamic exercise the muscles are energetically brought into play, regulated respiratory movements are executed, and the mind is focused on the muscles and their movements.

Dynamic forms at the height of its development included:

These are the main division and there are also subdivisions.

Therefore breath control and posture have two aspects –

  1. Concentration, which is primary
  2. Health, which is secondary

All systems of yoga have adopted the breathing control and concentration aspect of posture, but in Hatha yoga the health aspect is dealt with more specifically.

Breath Control Stage-by-stage

Breath control in concentration and exercises for physical education purposes are primarily used to educate the respiratory muscles, lungs, heart, blood vessels, and nervous system, thus allowing them to function more efficiently and enables to develop the power to control over them.

Respiratory exercises can be grouped under the following:

  • Short-quick breath-control exercises
  • Long-slow breath-control exercises
  • Breath suspension exercises

It appears that the earliest form of breathing control is what is known as the long-slow type with breath suspension. In the long-slow type of breath control, the inhalation and exhalation are prolonged and consequently slow, allowing them to be properly adjusted for the breath suspension.

This type of breathing control seems to have started with breathing in through both nostrils, followed by breath suspension and then exhalation through both nostrils. When breath suspension is done without tension, it is called Easy Breath
Suspension (Sahaja Kumbhaka). This form of breath control can be practiced when the body is maintained in the walking or motionless state.

Another easy form gradually evolved from Easy Breath
Suspension (Sahaja Kumbhaka): Ujjayi (Both-Nostrils Breath Control).

It involves inhalation through both nostrils with the glottis partially closed, breath suspension, and exhalation through the left nostril with the glottis partially closed. The breath can also be exhaled through both the nostrils. The front abdominal wall can be slightly controlled or kept relaxed. The Easy Type Breath Control does not involve special locking procedures. Therefore they can be practiced not only in sitting posture, but also standing and walking.

Gada Kumbhaka (Right-Nostril Exhalation Breath Control) also evolved from Easy Breath Suspension. This involves inhaling through both nostrils, breath suspension, and exhaling through the right nostril.

Instead of one long, continuous inhalation, an interrupted inhalation with intermittent breath suspension can also practiced.

Interrupted inhalation consists of a series of inhalations, each followed by a suspension. It’s inhalation-suspension-inhalation-suspension, and so on. Interrupted exhalation with suspension between can also practiced.

From interrupted inhalation and exhalation breath control, the short-quick type of breathing control evolved. The two main short-quick types of breathing control are Kapalabhati (Abdominal Short-Quick Breathing) and Bhastrika (Thoracic Short Quick Breathing).

  • In Kapalabhati exhale and inhale one after the other with no breaks and no rest until one round is completed.
  • In Bhastrika also involves quick exhalation and inhalation without interruption until one round is completed.
  • The tempo rate in any of this exercise is 60 to 120 breaths or more per minute.

Bhastrika has been used to lengthen the respiratory suspension. This short-quick breathing exercise creates the perfect situation to gain more control over the suspension.

This is why the long-slow variety also forms part of this breath control. The long-slow type with breather suspension is to follow soon after the short-quick type is completed. The long-slow type involves inhaling through the right nostril, suspending and exhaling through the left nostril.

Development of Sahita

In the intervening phases an attempt has made to stop the flow of breath in inhalation and exhalation and to prolong the breath suspension. The flow of breath is controlled in inhaling and exhaling by partially closing the nostrils. This is called Diminutive Breath Control (Apakarsa Kumbhaka).

This restricted process prolongs the inhalation and exhalation. When the suspension of breath was taken to the limit, it was called Advanced Breath Control (Utkarsa Kumbhaka).

The well-known Alternate-Nostril Breath Control with Breath Suspension (Sahita) was developed by combining Right-Nostril and Left-Nostril Inhalation Breath Control to incorporate the principles of Diminutive and Advanced Breath Control.

In the Sahita inhalation through the left nostril, closing the right nostril with the right thumb, holding the breath, closing both nostrils with the thumb and little and ring finger, and exhaling through the right nostril, while closing the left with the right ring and little fingers. In this way again inhale through the right nostril, suspend and exhale through the left nostril.

In this breathing control, inhalation, exhalation and suspension are measured in a certain manner. The duration of the breath suspension is four times the duration of the inhalation and the duration of the exhalation is twice the duration of the inhalation, resulting in a ratio of 1–4–2.

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As a part of this type of breathing control were introduced:

  1. Jalandhara Bandha (Chin Lock)
  2. Uddiyana Bandha (Abdominal Retraction)
  3. Mula Bandha (Anal Lock)

At the end of inhalation, the Jalandhara Bandha is done, and during the breath suspension Uddiyana Bandha and Mula Bandha are done. At the end of the suspension, all three Bandhas are released. In Jalandhara Bandha, the chin is pressed tightly against the sternum (breastbone).

Two special exercises were introduced for the perfection of the Jalandhara Bandha. They are:

  • Meru Calana (Cervical Exercise)
  • Mani Calana (Trunk Cervical Exercise)

An exercise called Cakri Bhanda (wheel-forming lock) was practiced to invigorate the whole body.

Over time, mantra and concentration factors were added to Sahita Breath Control. When done with mantra and concentration of mind it is called Sagarbha and when done without it it is called Nigarbha. The mantra used may be the shortest Bija mantra (one conjunct letter) or a many-lettered mantra, for example the Gayatri (with sixty-two conjunct).

Primary Sagarbha Sahita Breathing Control has been used as an advanced Nadi Suddhi process, called Bhuta Shuddhi Breath Control. After exercise and before concentration, the practice of Conscious Relaxation (Audasinyasthiti) was prescribed. Other contributing factors were fasting, frugal diets, baths and massages.

The power of levitation is attained in the final stage of Sahita Breath Control. Now animation has gained more and more control and is finally suspended. There is no inhalation and exhalation. Sahita Breath control eventually culminates in the state of Natural Breath Suspension (Kevala Kumbhaka). In this state the outward flow of the mind is completely controlled and the concentration reaches the state of Samadhi.

A modified form of Sahita Breath Control was developed in which suspension of breath was abolished, it is called Alternate Nasal Breathing (Vata-Krama Kapalabhati). This is a respiratory purification exercise. This includes inhaling through the left nostril, exhaling through the right, then inhaling through the right and exhaling through the left.

Development of Bhramari, Murccha, Sitali and Sitkari

Bhramari and Murccha Breath Controls were also developed to increase the power of concentration.

In Sound-Producing Breath Control (Bhramari Pranayama) the inhalation, suspension, and exhalation are performed with special techniques, resulting in the production of a variety of internal sounds, known as Anahata in which the mind is completely absorbed.

In Mental Absorption–Causing Breath Control (Murccha Pranayama), inhalation is done with greater force; During suspension a pressure is applied to the brain and then released, thus creating a state in which deep concentration is developed.

Breathe-in through the mouth, in the manner of a crow’s beak, as if drawing water from a pipe. Air is expelled through the mouth or nostrils. Sitali Pranayama (Lingual Breath Control) and Sitkari Pranayama (Dental Breath Control) with this form of breathing were developed.

In Sitali Pranayama, there is inhalation through the rolled up tongue, then suspension and exhalation through both nostrils.

Sitkari Pranayama include inhalation through locked teeth with a “seeth” sound, suspension, and exhalation through nostrils, or inhaling through a wide-open mouth and nostrils, and mouth breathing with a “seeth” sound.

One-Nostril Inhalation

The One-nostril inhalation was developed through the right or left nostril, with inhalation followed by breathing suspension.

One-nostril inhalation evolved into Right-Nostril Inhalation Breath Control (Surya Kumbhaka)—in which inhalation through the right nostril is followed by breathing suspension and exhalation through the left nostril—and Left-Nostril Inhalation Breath Control (Chandra Kumbhaka) – which is to inhale through the left nostril, then hold the breath and finally exhale through the right nostril.

Right-Nostril Inhalation Breath Control (Surya Kumbhaka) originated from Right-Nostril Breath Control (Surya-Bhedana Pranayama), this involves inhaling through the right nostril, holding the breath, and exhaling through the left nostril.

The difference between Surya Kumbhaka and Surya-Bhedana Pranayama is that the latter incorporates locks and the duration of inhalation, suspension, and exhalation are controlled in a certain order.

Khecari Mudra

The most advanced process for prolonging the suspension of the breath is the Khecari Mudra.

Khecari essentially involves closing the rima glottidis with the tongue facing backwards. This completely closes off the air passage and puts pressure on the area with the tip of the tongue pointing back. This process controls the strong impulse to breathe and prolongs the duration of the suspension of the breath. For this purpose the tongue is first softened and elongated by the process of milking, stretching and cutting. Milking is the pulling of the tongue wrapped with a fine wet cloth, this is also stretch in all directions to make it soft. Finally, the frenum linguae is cut slowly with a suitable instrument according to a special method. In this case the tongue should be fit for work.

Khecari consists of the following four stages:

  1. The first stage—Anal Lock
  2. The second stage—Inhalation and breath suspension
  3. The third stage—Chin Lock
  4. The fourth stage—Closing of the rima glottidis by the retroverted tongue

Nadi Suddhi

Nadi Suddhi—the process of harmonizing the body’s active and inhibitory forces as well as the energy-acquisition and energy-consuming principle—is the most important aspect of Hatha yoga, as it deals with the development of breath-suspension power.

One who has a clean and healthy body and a peaceful and contemplative mind, disciplined by Yama and Niyama, with moderation in eating and other habits of living, and who has mastered the asanas, is suitable for the practice of Nadi Suddhi.

When a state of internal purification is established, vitality increases, diet returns to normal, body fat is reduced to a normal extent, muscles are toned, body becomes healthy, light and attractive And the eyes become clear. The need for sleep is reduced and greater control over sex is achieved. And, above all, the power to hold the breath for a long time is gained.

In Nadi Suddhi, an internal contraction process is applied in combination with breath control to prolong the suspension of the breath. The first step of the procedure includes Chin lock, Abdominal retraction and Anal lock. When these three are done correctly and forcefully, an internal state is created within the body in which it becomes possible to hold the breath for a long time. But for their successful use special physical preparation is necessary.

For this purpose the Six-purifications (Sat Karman) are prescribed in Hatha yoga. In fact, Nadi Suddhi is classified into two:

  1. Samanu
  2. Nirmanu

Breath control is done through Samanu and purification through Nirmanu.

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Sat Karman and Mudra (Control Exercise)

Respiratory and abdominal efficiency and a clean and empty alternate canal is absolutely essential for the useful application of the internal contraction process to get control over the breath.

In an advanced stage, the ability to separate the flow of air from the lungs is very helpful in the ability to direct the canal. For this purpose, the alimentary canal should be kept in a completely clean position. It is known as Six-purification (Sat Karman) in Hatha Yoga, which can be divided into two: extensive and abbreviated.

Abbreviated system includes:

  1. Vasa Dhauti (Gastric Cloth-Cleansing): Cleans the alimentary canal
  2. Jala Vasti (Colonic Auto-Lavage): Cleans the alimentary canal
  3. Sutra Neti (Nasal Thread-Cleansing): Clears nasal cavities and upper throat
  4. Nauli or Lauliki (Straight Muscle Exercise): Develops strength and control of the abdominal muscles, so that they can fully play their role in the internal contraction process
  5. Kapalabhati (Abdominal Short-Quick Breathing): Purifies and strengthens the lungs
  6. Trataka (Gazing): Purifies and strengthens the eyes, closely related to concentration

Cleansing the Alimentary Canal

In Gastric cloth-cleaning, a long narrow piece of fine cloth soaked in clean water is slowly swallowed, then slowly withdrawn.

Colonic Auto-Lavage involves drawing water into the colon through the rectum without any instrumental aid.

In addition to these two methods of cleansing the alimentary canal, the comprehensive system of internal cleansing includes some other advanced procedures:

  • Vari Sara (Alimentary Canal Auto-Lavage)
  • Vata Sara (Alimentary Canal Auto-Air Bath)
  • Suska Vasti (Colonic Auto-Air Bath)
  • Vamana Dhauti (Gastric Auto-Lavage)

Vari Sara consists of drinking water and then moving it from the stomach through the small intestine to the colon and finally releasing it along with the intestinal contents from the body without the aid of any equipment. In this way the entire alimentary canal is adequately washed with water from the esophagus to the rectum. No instrumental aid is required in this process.

The Vata Sara involves ingesting air and then passing it from the stomach through the small intestine to the colon and expelling it from the body through the rectum without any mechanical assistance.

Suska Vasti is another specialized method of bringing air into the colon for the purpose of purification. It involves sucking atmospheric air into the colon through the rectum without equipment.

Vamana Dhauti is very helpful in washing away any excess gas and mucus accumulated in the stomach. It is the process of drinking water and then completely vomiting it.

Based on advanced Floating Breath Control (Plavani) Vata Sara and Suska Vasti. First the foul odor should be removed from the rectum and then the purified external air should be filled with Suska Vasti. The stomach and small intestine should then be filled with pure external air through a Vata Sara.

Carana (Contraction Exercise)

The system of contraction exercises called Carana Kriya was developed in Hatha Yoga to voluntarily contract, strengthen and control the muscles of the body. It was specially developed in connection with Nadi Suddhi.

It is based on natural and simple types of movements that human muscles are capable of:

  • Flexion and extension
  • Forward, backward, and lateral bending
  • Twisting
  • Abduction and adduction
  • Rotation

Voluntary contraction and use of control not only contributes to better development of muscles, it also secures greater control over them and develops the power of mind concentration.

Contraction exercises are divided into two groups:

Following is the abbreviated procedure of contraction system:

  1. Movement of the neck, including flexion, extension, lateral bending and rotation of the head, with voluntary contraction, and controlled movements of the platysma and sternocleidomastoid.
  2. Abdominal movements, including:
    • Bending, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation of the trunk, and
    • Hip flexion, with voluntary contraction, and controlled movements of the rectus abdominis and obliques externus abdominis.
  3. Pectoral (upper) limb motion, including:
    • Upward, downward, back and forth motion of the shoulder girdle,
    • Flexion, extension, abduction, addition, rotation and circumference of the arm,
    • Flexion, extension, pronation, and flexion of the forearm,
    • Flexion, extension, abduction, and girth of the arm, and
    • Extension and extension of the fingers with voluntary contraction, and controlled movements of the pectoralis major, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi, shoulder blades, trapezius, deltoid, biceps, triceps and flexors and extensors of the forearm.
  4. Pelvic (lower) limb motion, including:
    • Flexion, extension, abduction, addition, rotation and circumference of the thigh,
    • Flexion and extension of the leg,
    • Flexion and extension of the leg, and
    • Flexion, extension, abduction and addition of the toes with voluntary contraction and controlled movements of the thigh and calf muscles.

Asana (Posture Exercise)

The word Asana was originally given to the concentration posture – the third great limb of the most ancient eightfold yoga.

The posture was developed from the sedentary concentration posture in Hatha Yoga as a practice. In addition, many elements of the asana exercise were derived from ancient Indian dance, which was a mixture of gestures, locomotor, gymnastics and similative types of movements. The dance movements were influenced by the imitation of animal movements and postures.

However, gesture—an attitude or movement expressing a person’s feelings—was the backbone of ancient dance. The locomotor movements of walking, running and jumping in modified forms were part of the gesture dance.

To these movements, simple types of natural movements consisting of various movements of the head, trunk, arms and legs were also added. These non-locomotor simple movements were gradually replaced by more difficult gymnastic movements.

The elimination of most ancient locomotor activities from asana gave it a new character, reflecting its divergence from older types of human muscular exercise.

As we have seen, at a certain stage of development the most ancient habit of continuous exercise had to be modified. Mental concentration and thinking require suspension of activities. The result was the incorporation of a sedentary attitude of the body, favoring rest and relaxation. The immobility of the body has been taken to the maximum extent for deep concentration in yoga.

However, this interruption of continuous activities must be compensated by a more focused type of exercise, which requires more systematic muscular effort and greater control over movements to meet the body’s actual need. This was achieved through the use of fundamental musculature in yoga – the oldest in the most systematic, economical and fruitful way in the history of muscle mass. The limb muscles were made to cooperate fully with the spinal muscles to make the movements vigorous and more effective. This pattern of exercise is called asana.

The development of asana practice took two main courses according to their source:

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