CASE STUDY: "The Benefits of employing Kumbhaka (retaining the breath in or out) during Asana." Guest post by Mick lawton
"I have a rare genetic auto inflammatory disease. As a result I am in the fortunate position that I get extensive blood and medical checks performed on an almost weekly basis. Without going into huge medical details, the tests include full blood test, inflammatory markers, kidney and liver fiction, blood pressure, blood sugars............, the list is endless.
I decided that I was in the very fortunate position to run my own experiment. I decided that I would spend 2 months practising with Kumbhaka and then 2 months practising without Kumbhaka. This process was repeated three times across the course of the year. I was then able to compare my medical results while practising Kumbhaka to my medical results while not practising Kumbhaka".
In general, when inhaling the head goes up, exhaling it goes down, if up then there may well be the option of puraka kumbhaka, retaining the breath for 2-5 seconds at the end of the inhalation. When folded over rechka kumbhaka may be an option to consider.
"The vinyasas in which the head is raised are to be done with puraka kumbhaka and the ones in which the head is lowered must be done with recaka kumbhaka. Uthpluthi (raising the body from the floor with only the support of both hands on the floor is called uthpluthi) should be done on recaka kumbhaka for a fat person and on puraka kumbhaka for a thin person". p28
Yoga Makaranda T Krishnamacharya
"Parsvottanasana (Figure 4.8, 4.9)
Standing in tadasana krama, draw in clean air through the nose and practise kumbhaka. Spread the legs such that the feet are at a distance of two and a half mozhams apart and clasp the hands together behind the back. Slowly exhale the breath, turn and bend towards the side of the left leg and place your face on top of the left kneecap. At this time, both legs should be held straight and should not bend in any direction. After remaining in this position for a period of time, slowly inhale the breath in through the nose while raising the head slightly. Straighten the body, stand erect and after returning to the initial position, turn to the right side. After turning, first stand for one minute and then bend down to the right side. While lowering the upper body to the right side, exhale through the nose as you did before and firmly place the lowered head on top of the right kneecap. As mentioned above, both legs must be held straight and should not be even slightly bent. As you keep practising on both sides, it will eventually become possible to place the head 4 angulas below the knee. Afterwards, as mentioned above, slowly raise the head while you inhale the breath in through the nostril and straighten up. After standing upright, jump and come to tadasana sthiti. This parsva uttanasana can be done by both men and women. (It has 5 vinyasas)". p60-61
Notice the use of puraka kumbhaka in the 7th and 14th vinyasa and of rechecka kumbhaka in the 8th and 14th vinyasas.
We can perhaps think of many asana where we might introduce short kumbhaka's at the preparatory stage, the state of asana and following the asana on returning to the preparatory stage before transitioning back to standing or to the next posture.
Krishnamacharya stresses ( In Yoga Makaranda part II) that the kumbhaka in asana should be short, 2-5 seconds. Begin by noticing the 'natural kumbhaka' between the stages of the breath. If we breathe long, slow and full as is recommended by Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois we should notice the faint hint of a pause between the inhalation and exhalation, we notice this more clearly the slower the breath. Begin by extending that pause, that 'natural kumbhaka' to a full second and then to two seconds. As this becomes comfortable we might increase it to three building up to perhaps five seconds but no more, in asana ( mudras are a different case as is pranayama proper).
In the beginning we might introduce kumbhaka into only a handful of selected asana in our practice, paschimottanasana perhaps, janu sirsasana, badha konasana, later we might introduce it to others while avoiding including kumbhaka in the twists, binds and back bending.
Below are the full instructions for Marichiyasa as found in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (1934) from which the instruction sheet above is taken
25 Marichasana (Figure 4.66, 4.67, 4.68, 4.69)
This has 22 vinyasas. This needs to be done on both the left and the right sides. Study the sannaha sthiti (the preparatory state) of marichasana in the picture. This sthiti is the 7th vinyasa.
The right-side marichasana paristhiti is shown in the second picture. Maricha Maharishi was known for bringing this asana to public knowledge and hence it is named for him.
Stay in the 7th vinyasa for some time doing puraka kumbhaka. After this, do recaka and come to the 8th vinyasa. Stay in this position for as long as possible. In case your head starts reeling (you get dizzy), come back to the 7th vinyasa, do puraka kumbhaka, close the eyes and remain here for some time. The dizziness will stop.
The 9th vinyasa is like the 7th vinyasa. The 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th vinyasas are like the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th vinyasas of janusirsasana.
The 14th vinyasa is marichasana sannaha sthiti on the left side. This is demonstrated in the 3rd picture. The 15th vinyasa is the left-side marichasana paristhiti. This is demonstrated in the 4th picture. In the 14th vinyasa do puraka kumbhaka and in the 15th vinyasa do only recaka. The 16th vinyasa is like the 14th. The 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd vinyasas are like the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd vinyasas of janusirsasana.
Benefit: It will not give room for paralysis or any such diseases. Bloating of the stomach will quickly disappear. The stomach will not increase in size. It brings the hips to a correct measurement and broadens the chest. Any weakness of the heart will be removed and the heart will develop strength. The practitioner will never get jaundice or any other liver disease. Only pregnant women should not do this posture.