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Friday, 18 August 2017

Breathing in Ashtanga: Langhana Kriya - the reduction, exhalation, principle

from Srivatsa Ramaswami's Complete Book of vinyasa yoga 
Based on the teaching of T. Krishnamacharya
(Ramaswami was a student of Krishnamacharya's for 30+ years).

"In some of these back bends, it may be easier and more desirable to use a smooth exhalation rather than an inhalation. People who are obese, old and therefore less supple, anxious and tense, or have some medical conditions, such as hypertension, would do well to adopt exhalation, or langhana kriya, during these back bends".

LANGHANA KRIYA: literally, activity ofreduction; exhalation

"Please note that all the vinyasas in this (backbending) sequence can also be done with langhana breathing if, and only if, you are tense, old, obese, or have somewhat elevated blood pressure."
Ramaswami - from The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga p143

"Though the default breathing in all the back-bending move­ments in this sequence is inhalation, because of the pressure this places on the abdomen, some find it easier to use the langhana mode of breathing (exhalation). Each method of breathing confers different benefits".
Ramaswami - from The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga p146

We get so used to the idea in Ashtanga Vinyasa that breathing can and should be only be one way,  inhale going up exhale going down, that anything else is.... unnatural.

Also that the inhalation and exhalation should be equal..

That there should be no kumbhaka (retaining the breath after the inhalation or out after the exhalation).

"In addition, for the even-numbered vinyasas, rechaka (exhalation) should be performed and, for the odd, one should do puraka (inhalation). On the whole, the method for doing rechaka and puraka is the same for all the vinyasas and asanas ahead". Pattabhi Jois Yoga Mala (Mysore 1950s)

"In each section for each particular asana, we have included a description and an enumeration of its vinyasas. 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". 
Krishnamacharya Yoga Makaranda (Mysore 1934)

A close reading of Pattabhi Jois' teacher Krishnamacharya's early texts however shows there is a lot more subtly, more variation ,dependent on several parameters.

My own recent exploration of of moving in and out of a posture through an inhalation or through an exhalation as been curious, an education, revelation. Simon Borg-Olivier, talks about breathing naturally in the beginning, not even thinking about the breath but leaving it to it's own devices, later he talks about long slow inhalations of thirty seconds or more while vinyasa may or may not be taking case, likewise with exhalation.

Or perhaps breathing into the abdomen during 'exertion' (lifting to handstand)...

"Simply breathing into my abdomen (firmed by posture), or rather breathing with my diaphragm into the abdomen causes an increase in the intra-abdominal and intra-thoracic pressure which straight away puts strength into my arms. Here I simply breathe into the abdomen as my legs are lifting and the instant strength comes to the body. It doesn’t feel like a strain to lift the body. Whereas you can lift up to a handstand with just brute force." Simon Borg-Olivier How to lift to Handstand

See also this post from Simon

But Krishnamacharya too wrote concerning 'reverse' breathing, of, for the old, the obese, the tense. perhaps switching the standard breathing around such that we might exhale where we generally tend to inhale, and inhale where we generally tend to exhale, particularly if/when challenged by 'back bends'.

Here then, Krishnamacharya's, and his long term student Ramaswami's, treatment of Langhana kriya, 'the exhalation principle'.

from Yoga Makaranda

Langhana kriya

"In yogabhyasa, there are two types of kriyas — langhana kriya and brahmana kriya. One who is obese should practise langhana kriya. One who is thin should practise brahmana kriya and one who is neither fat nor thin should practise yogabhyasa in both.
Brahmana kriya means to take in the outside air through the nose, pull it inside, and hold it in firmly. This is called puraka kumbhaka.
Langhana kriya means to exhale the air that is inside the body out through the nose and to hold the breath firmly without allowing any air from outside into the body. This is called recaka kumbhaka.
In vaidya sastra, they describe brahmana kriya as meaning a prescribed diet and langhana kriya as meaning to fast. But in yoga sastra it does not have this meaning. Without understanding these intricacies and secrets of yoga, some people look at the books and try to do yogabhyasa (like looking for Ganesa and ending up with a monkey). They get disastrous results and bring a bad name for yoga sastra. We need not pay any attention to their words". P28-29

from Yogasanagalu

"Normally during yogasana practice, inhalation and exhalation is performed via the trachea deeply, subtly and with sound. This is common practice with everyone. “anuloma ujjayi”

from"Special Direction - 2. ASANAS

"When practicing the above listed yogasanas people with heavy bodies must do more rechaka while people with lean bodies must be doing more puraka. These are called langhana kriya and brahmanakriya, respectively".

This is an important characteristic of the eight step yoga practice. In our land of Bharata, there are three types of people: sthoola, krusha and vakra. Sthoola is obese type, krusha is lean and emaciated and vakra is crooked and curved. Crooked body is an abnormality and a disease. Obese body type have a tendency to breathe short and shallow. Although the lean can breath deeply, they get tired quickly. The crooked body type have a difficult time in stretching the limbs. Without bending and stretching, such body type do not get proper blood and oxygen circulation. This also applies to obese and lean type.
Practicing yoga with deep breathing variations known as langhanakriya and brahmanakriya can eliminate these body variations and impart strength and beauty.
Recently, we are seeing people who are extremely obese and suffering from heart diseases. We are also seeing people who are lean due to lack of proper nutrition. Some have experienced a hard life of growing up on the streets from childhood and have become crooked. Primary reason for these are overeating, eating only dry food or other unhealthy practices.
Yoganga practice with appropriate vinyasa will eliminate and normalise all three types of body variations".

"While practicing yoganga, according to samakaya or vishamakaya state correspondingly Brahmanakriyala-langhanakriya or samakriya vinyasa must be performed.
Samakriya means, equal inhalation and exhalation.

Yoga Beneath the Surface - Srivatsa Ramaswami and David Hurwitz

DAVID: In general, should we make our inhale and exhale of equal ( in length) when moving into and out of forward bends and twists, but when we stay in a forward bend or twist, make inhale short and exhale long? Can we say the reverse about backbends?

RAMASWAMI: Mostly in forward bends, it is easy to extend your exhalation, and so the abhyasi (one who practices) can take advantage of the forward-bend position to lengthen and smooth the exhalation. And in forward bend, deep or full inhalation is more difficult, again because of the position: the stomach cannot  freely expand to accommodate fuller breathing and hence we would do a shorter inhalation.
Can we say the similar things about inhalation, will the con­verse be true? Bending back is a different cup of tea. While it is natural and beneficial to do  fuller inhalation while bending back, for some backbends done while in a prone position, such as the cobra or locust pose, the inhalation could restrict the backbend due to the pressure on the expanding abdomen. So, many people, primarily the obese and/or tense, are advised to do backbends on exhalation (langhana kriya). We may therefore say that, although inhalation is the breathing of choice in backbends, there are compelling reasons for some practitioners to use exhalation for these movements.
If we really want to work on our inhalation it may be best to do it while practicing pranayama in a cozy seated pose such as vajrasana or padmasana. p64-65


DAVID: In the version of the Yoga Makaranda that I have,  Krishnamacharya, in writing about asanas, states,

  "Those who are over­ weight should follow langhana kriya (activity of reduction) and those who are underweight should follow brahmana kriya (activ­ity of expansion)...In brahmana kriya, the breath is held in  after inhalation, for some time, before exhalation. This is known as antah kumbhaka. In langhana kriya, the breath is held after exha­lation,  for some time, before allowing air in. This is known as bahya  kumbhaka."

Is this different  from the way you were taught?

RAMASWAMI: The Sanskrit word brahmana means "to grow, to expand;' whereas langhana means "to reduce, to diminish back to its cause:' So exhalation is considered langhana and inhalation is considered brahmana kriya. Actually, inhaltion is expansion of the chest, and holding the breath keeps the chest expanded, so both will be brahmana kriya, whereas langhana kriya is the oppo­site of it. p70

from The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga - Srivatsa Ramaswami

The smooth inhalation accompanying expansive movement is known as brah­ mana kriya, or expansive (breathing) action; the exhalation during contraction of the body is langhana kriya, or reducing or contracting (breathing) action. When you inhale while making an expansive movement and correspondingly exhale during contraction, this is known as anulo­ma, or "with the grain" movement/breath­ing. Anuloma exercise creates harmony between the tissues of the breathing organs and the body.
Though anuloma is the general rule, there are situations in which one might or should exhale during an expansive move­ ment. (The converse, however, is never the case because contractive movements can­ not be performed while inhaling.) This might be recommended when the practi­ tioner is tense, obese, old, or sti . Take the example of the cobra pose. From the lying­ down position, moving into cobra pose is an expansive movement should be done on inhalation. But some especially tense peo­ ple find this extremely uncomfortable because they tend to stiffen their muscles and  rtually prevent their back  om bend­ ing. A similar situation may arise with obese people because the belly tends to add pres­ sure while inhaling. So, people with these conditions may breathe out while doing expansive movements. It is for the student and/or teacher to determine what type of breathing is appropriate for a particular vinyasa. One general rule is, "When in c doubt, do the movement while exhaling:'

Desk pose Dwipadapitam

"...Please note: Moving into this pose and other variations of the desk pose should be done on inhalation. However, there arc some exceptions. In the introductory chap­ter I explained that in langhana kriya some expansive movements are done during exhalation, rather than on inhalation. Persons who are obese, older, or stiff may use langhana kriya because the exhalation will relax their muscles and create less pressure in their abdomen. It is a trade-off between expanding your chest and working on your inte al thoracic muscles and doing the exercises without much pressure. 109

Crocodile pose - Makarasana

"...In this group there are several poses involving back bending. These back-bend­ ing movements are generally to be done while inhaling, as you could see in the makarasana vinyasas just explained. In the introduction I discussed viloma breathing (viloma means "against the grain"), which should be used for back bends in certain circumstances. In some of these back bends, it may be easier and more desirable to use a smooth exhalation rather than an inhalation. People who are obese, old and therefore less supple, anxious and tense, or have some medical conditions, such as hypertension, would do well to adopt exhalation, or langhana kriya, during these
back bends. Because these are belly-down positions, persons belonging to this group will be more comfortable and will achieve better results in langhana kriya.
The procedure in langhana kriya is as
While in the lying-face-down (prone) position, take a short breath. As you exhale, slowly raise your head, neck, and torso to the greatest extent possible, without raising your elbows off the floor. This is makarasana performed in langhana kriya. Take a short inhalation i n the position, and while ex­
haling lower your trunk". 138

Frog pose - Mandukasana

"...Raising your trunk can be clone in langhana kriya also."

Cobra - Bhujangasana

"You may, if required, use langhana breathing."

Salabhasana - Locust pose sequence

"Langhana kriya may be used."

Bow -Dhanurasana

"Please note that all the vinyasas in this sequence can also be done with langhana breathing if, and only if, you are tense, old, obese, or have somewhat elevated blood pressure."

Backbending postures

"Though the default breathing in all the back-bending move­ments in this sequence is inhalation, because of the pressure this places on the abdomen, some find it easier to use the langhana mode of breathing. Each method of breathing confers different benefits.


"LANGHANA KRIYA: literally, activity of reduction; exhalation"

See also this post perhaps

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta


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