Learning kumbhaka (retention)

Getting ready for kumbhaka practice

Once you are familiar with sama vritti and visama vritti pranayama and can comfortably extend the exhalation to make it twice as long as your natural inhalation (which is our unit of measurement for our breath), start extending the breath further in Visama Vritti pranayama by slowing down both inhalation and exhalation. Note that you are slowing the breath down, NOT deepening it. Make sure that the the breath remains smooth and relaxed. A good rule of thumb is that the rhythm of the breath should be comfortable enough to be kept going almost indefinitely. Recovery breaths are a warning sign that the practice is not sustainable.
Once you can extend your inhalation in Visama Vritti practice to twice the length of your natural inhalation, and can comfortably practice, without taking any recovery breath, for 10 minutes or so, you are ready to start the practice of Kumbhaka. Note that when you reach this point, your breath is 6 times the length of your natural inhalation (2+4).
Do not start practicing Kumbhaka before you reach this point.

Before starting kumbhaka practice, one must also be familiar with all three bandhas and their use in pranayama practice. Jalandhara bandha in particular must be mastered as it is essential to apply it when doing Antar kumbhaka (retention on full).

Praticing Kumbhaka

To start Kunbhaka practice, take a normal inhalation then pause for twice the length of this inhalation, applying jalandhara bandha. This is Antar kumbhaka (retetention on full). Then exhale for twice the length of the normal inhalation (as in the early stage of visama vritti pranayama), then pause again on empty for the same length as the natural inhalation. This is Bahia kumbhaka (retention on empty). Note that the overall length of this initial Kumbhaka breath is 6 units (1 for the inhale + 2 for Antar kumbhaka + 2 for the exhale + 1 for Bahia kumbhaka), which is the same length as the extended breath in visama vritti pranamaya without retention, in which the inhalation was 2 units, and the exhalation 4 units.
Practice with this rhythm until it is fully comfortable and you can keep it going almost indefinitely. You can then lengthen the breath further using the following sequence: 1+2+2+2, 1+3+2+2 and finally 1+4+2+2, which is the final ratio. Once this 1+4+2+2 ratio is reached and can be sustained for long periods (which may take months or even years of dedicated practice), you can start lengthening the inhalation again.

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