" In Shirshasana, normally no kumbakam (breath retention) need be done, though two seconds UNTHER (after inhalation) and BAHYA (after exhalation) kumbakam automatically result when we change from deep inhalation to deep exhalation and vice versa. During the automatic pause kumbhakam takes place. When after practice has advanced and kumbhakam is deliberately practiced, Unther kumbakam can be done up to 5 seconds during each round and Bhya kumbakam up to 10 seconds"
Krishnamacharya. Salutations to the Teacher and the Eternal one p17. (My explanations in brackets)
These days in Ashtanga the breath is pretty ...regimented, same length of inhalation and exhalation and while Pattabhi Jois talked in interviews in the past about inhalations and exhalations of 10-15 seconds each, now it seems to be more around 5-8 and without any kumbhaka, breath retention, (apart from the natural mini kumbhaka as we change from inhalation to exhalation and back again from exhalation to inhalation).
In Krishnamacharya approach to practice however, there seems to have been greater flexibility, greater experimentation. While equal inhalation and exhalation were seemingly the norm along with only a second or two of natural kumbhaka at the end of each inhalation and exhalation, Krishnamacharya would, in certain postures it appears, explore lengthening the kumbhaka on either the inhalation or exhalation dependent on the posture. The exhalation too might be longer then the inhale or the inhale longer than the exhale, again dependent on the posture, the student and no doubt the particular goal of practice that day. Stays in posture could be stretched from a handful of breaths to ten, fifteen, minutes even as long as three hours perhaps.
A sophisticated approach to the breath indeed, and why not, this is a breathing practice after all.
And of course this was the forerunner of Ashtanga as we know it now ( or at least in 1974) , the sequences we practice in modern Ashtanga closely resemble the table of postures laid out by Krishnamacharya in his Yogasangalu of 1942.
It's interesting to read again the supposed letter from Pattabhi Jois to Yoga journal that was posted HERE a few days ago. Pattabhi Jois is writing it appears about elements of traditional practice that get left out of *'Power yoga'. In the letter he's not clear which elements he is referring to, an exploration of the breath perhaps, pranayama, pratyahara, meditative practices, yama's niyama's, all seem missing from the current approach .
*See this interview with David Swenson where he also discusses power yoga
So a particularly fascinating post for me, from from Paul Harvey on FB (http://www.yogastudies.org) yesterday, presenting TKV Desikachar speaking about exploring the breath in Asana and Pranayama
TKV Desikachar June 1978 from a retreat on Prāṇāyāma in Switzerland. (This post)
- TKV Desikachar 26th June 1978
“1. What interests you most in Āsana?
2. What distinguishes Āsana from Prāṇāyāma?
3. What is hard to teach? Āsana and/or Prāṇāyāma, or something else?”
“Before studying Prāṇāyāma one must understand something about the breath.”
“If we relate to part of the breath we are related to all of the breath.”
“If we direct the mind onto one part of the breath, then the mind affects the other parts of the breath.”
- TKV Desikachar 27th June 1978
“Of the Four Aspects of the Breath which is more important, (such as) holding after inhalation by will and so on?“
“If I (Desikachar) had a student I would give more respect to the exhalation. The course would be based on the observation of the exhalation in Prāṇāyāma and Āsana. This would give the type of Prāṇāyāma and for which Āsana.
One should see what is the response of the exhalation in the posture or when sitting. When fixing Prāṇāyāma, even if you are reducing the length of the exhalation, if any problem then the cycle should be completely changed.
One must give respect to the exhalation. One can get an idea by the position of the stomach. One should keep 2/3″ in hand on inhalation and exhalation.”
- TKV Desikachar 29th June 1978
“By observing how the breath responds in Āsana i.e.
1. Forward Bends.
2. Backward Bends.
3. Lying Postures.
4. Inverted Postures.
5. Twist Poses.
As to whether there is a better quality in either inhalation or exhalation one can decide how to proceed in Prāṇāyāma.”
“1. Know the Breath from the feelings in the Āsana.
2. Choose a ratio close to that used in Āsana.
3. Choose a technique to suit the day.
4. Choose a proper posture for the spine.”
- TKV Desikachar 30th June 1978
”We are welcome to use Kumbhaka (breath suspension) but if it in any way affects the quality of the Inhale or Exhale and our own relation with this flow, then there is no meaning.
“The tragedy of Kumbhaka is that we can use force, as in Āsana, to achieve our aim. But why and at what price?”
“Investigate the use of Kumbhaka and only use it when it helps you be with the breath.”
“Do not make a style or fashion out of Kumbhaka. Only use it if it helps you feel the breath and what is happening inside the body.”
This post is available as a Downloadable PDF
See also this months newsletter from Ramaswami, Use of voluntary breath control, were he about his teacher, Krishnamacharya's, use of the breath.
Below is my favourite section from that newsletter
"The very first instruction I received from my Guru in Asana practice
was “Inhale”. Sri Krishnamacharya had started coming to our house in
the mornings to teach my brother. A few days into it, I came to the
room to join my brother and father. All were standing in Tadasana
Samasthiti, and Sri Krishnamacharya with his default head down
position had given the first instruction. “Inhale slowly with a
hissing sound and a rubbing sensation in the throat and raise your
arms.“ he said (in Tamil and a bit of English) and raised his arms
slowly breathing in. The inhalation started when he started the
movement of the arms and the inhalation went all along the movement
continuously until he completed the upward movement, interlocked his
fingers, turned them outward and gave a good stretch to the body. We
followed suit. After a moment stay he instructed “Exhale”. He said
“Exhale and slowly lower the arms.”. He started the exhalation with a
hissing sound and synchronized the slow downward movement of the arms
with the breath. Follow the breath closely he added after a couple of
movements and thus completed the basic instructions regarding
breathing in asana vinyasas. He taught like that for the nearly 3
decades I studied with him and, as far as I know, he did not teach in
any other way to others.
I was overawed by the smoothness,flow and fullness of his breathing.
His chest would expand like a balloon, an expansion I had never seen.
His face tucked against the breast bone would look like getting
smaller against the background of his expansive chest movement
Likewise his exhalation would be complete, the stomach muscles going
deep into the abdominal cavity and the diaphragm into the thoracic
cavity. That was the first time I had ever seen a yogi doing movements
completely synchronizing with the breath and with such unimpeded
fullness of the breath. I was reminded of an episode I used to read
when I was young. My mother had given me a tiny volume in Tamil of
Balaramayana (Ramayana for kids). In it there was reference to the
episode in which Anjaneya would prepare himself to leap over the
Indian Ocean to reach the shores of Lanka in search of Sita, Rama's
wife. To make that giant leap for the sake of Lord Rama, he would go
up a hill and breathe in deeply, expand his chest like an ocean and
control the breath in his chest. I used to imagine Anjaneya standing
on top of a hill with a huge hairy chest ballooning and that image
came to my mind looking at this extraordinary Yogi".
Use of Voluntary Breath Control in Asanas - October 2012 Newsletter from Srivatsa Ramaswami