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‘Kapala’ is a Sanskrit word; it means skull. ‘Bhati’ means to shine. The term ‘Kapalabhati’ means an exercise that makes the skull shine. This Kriya cleanses the skull. So this is taken as one of the Shat-Karmas (six cleansing processes in Hatha Yoga).
Sit on Padmasana. Keep the hands on knees. Close the eyes. Perform Puraka and Rechaka rapidly. This should be practised vigorously. One will get perspiration profusely. This is a good form of exercise. Those who are well-versed in Kapalabhati, can do Bhastrika very easily. There is no Kumbhaka in this Pranayama. Rechaka plays a prominent part. Puraka is mild, slow and long (Dirgha). But the Rechaka should be done quickly and forcibly by contracting the abdominal muscles with a backward push. When you do Puraka, release the abdominal muscles. Some people naturally make a curve of the spine and bend their heads also. This is not desirable. The head and the trunk should be erect. Sudden expulsions of breath follow one another as in Bhastrika. To start with, you can have one expulsion per second. Gradually you can have two expulsions per second. To begin with do one round in the morning consisting of 10 expulsions only. In the second week, do one round in the evening. In the third week, do two rounds in the morning and two rounds in the evening. Thus every week, gradually and cautiously increase 10 expulsions to each round till you get 120 expulsions for each round.
It cleanses the respiratory system and the nasal passages. It removes the spasm in bronchial tubes. Consequently, Asthma is relieved and also cured in course of time. The apices of the lungs get proper oxygenation. Thereby they cannot afford favourable nidus (breeding grounds) for tubercle bacilli. Consumption is cured by this practice. Lungs are considerably developed. Carbon dioxide is eliminated in a large scale. Impurities of the blood are thrown out. Tissues and cells absorb a large quantity of oxygen. The practitioner keeps up good health. Heart functions properly. The circulatory and respiratory systems are toned to a considerable degree.
The External Kumbhaka (Bahya)
Draw the air through the left nostril till you count 3 OMs; throw it out through the right nostril immediately without retaining it counting 6 OMs. Stop it outside till you count 12 OMs. Then draw the breath through the right; exhale it through the left and stop it outside as before, using the same units of OM for inhalation, exhalation and retention. Do six times in the morning and six times in the evening. Gradually increase the number of rounds and the time of Kumbhaka. Do not strain or fatigue yourself.
Easy Comfortable Pranayama (Sukha Purvaka)
Sit on Padmasana or Siddhasana in your meditation room, before the picture of your Ishta Devata (guiding deity). Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Draw in the air very, very slowly through the left nostril. Then close the left nostril also with little and ring fingers of the right hand. Retain the air as long as you can comfortably do. Then exhale very, very slowly through the nostril after removing the thumb. Now half the process is over. Then draw air through the right nostril. Retain the air as before and exhale it very, very slowly through the left nostril. All these six processes constitute one Pranayama. Do 20 in the morning and 20 in the evening. Gradually increase the number. Have a Bhava (mental attitude) that all the Daivi Sampat (divine qualities), e.g., mercy, love, forgiveness, Santi, joy, etc., are entering into your system along with the inspired air and all Asuri Sampat (devilish qualities) such as lust, anger, greed, etc., are being thrown out along with the expired air. Repeat OM or Gayatri* mentally during Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka. Hard-working Sadhakas can do 320 Kumbhakas daily in four sittings at the rate of 80 in each sitting.
This Pranayama removes all diseases, purifies the Nadis, steadies the mind in concentration, improves digestion, increases the digestive fire and appetite, helps to maintain Brahmacharya and awakens the Kundalini that is sleeping at the muladhara Chakra. Purification of Nadis will set in rapidly. You will have levitation (rising above the ground) also.
Pranayama for Awakening Kundalini
When you practise the following, concentrate on the Muladhara Chakra at the base of the spinal column, which is triangular in form and which is the seat of the Kundalini Sakti. Close the right nostril with your fight thumb. Inhale through the left nostril till you count 3 OMs slowly. Imagine that you are drawing the Prana with the atmospheric air. Then close the left nostril with your little and ring fingers of the right hand. Then retain the breath for 12 OMs. Send the current down the spinal column straight into the triangular lotus, the Muladhara Chakra. Imagine that the nerve-current is striking against the lotus and awakening the Kundalini. Then slowly exhale through the right nostril counting 6 OMs. Repeat the process from the right nostril as stated above, using the same units, and having the same imagination and feeling. This Pranayama will awaken the Kundalini quickly. Do it 3 times in the morning and 3 times in the evening. Increase the number * Various Mantras and their benefits are described in my book “japa Yoga” and time gradually and cautiously according to your strength and capacity. In this Pranayama, concentration on the Muladhara Chakra is the important thing. Kundalini will be awakened quickly if the degree of concentration is intense and if the Pranayama is practised regularly.
Pranayama During Meditation
If you do concentration and meditation, Pranayama, comes by itself. The breath becomes slower and slower. We will practise this Pranayama daily unconsciously. When you are reading a sensational storybook or when you are solving a mathematical problem, your mind is really very much absorbed in the subject-matter. If you closely watch your breath on these occasions, you will find that the breath has become very very slow. When you see a tragical story being enacted in the theater or a film-show, when you hear a very sad striking news or some glad tidings, when you shed tears either of joy or sorrow, or burst into laughter, the breath is slackened—Pranayama comes by itself. In those Yogic students who practise Sirshasana, Pranayama comes by itself. It is obvious from these examples that when the mind is deeply concentrated on any subject, the respiration slows down or stops. Pranayama is being done automatically. Mind and Prana are intimately connected. If you turn your attention to watch the breath on those occasions, it will regain its normal state. Pranayama comes by itself to those who are deeply absorbed in doing Japa, Dhyana or Brahma-Vichara (enquiry of Atman).
Prana, mind and Virya (seminal energy) are under one Sambandha (connection). If you can control the mind, Prana and Virya are controlled by themselves. If you can control Prana, mind and Virya are controlled by themselves. If you control the Virya by remaining as an Akhanda Brahmachari without emission of even a single drop of semen for 12 years, mind and Prana are controlled by themselves. Just as there is connection between wind and fire (light), so also there is connection between Prana and mind. Wind fans the fire. Prana also fans the mind. If there is no wind, fire or light gets steady. Hatha Yogins approach Brahman by controlling Prana. Raja Yogins approach Brahman by controlling mind.
In this Pranayama you need not close the nostrils. Simply close the eyes if you practise it in a sitting posture. Forget the body and concentrate. If you practise this during walking, just feel minutely the movement of the air that is inhaled and exhaled.
Pranayama While Walking
Walk with head up, shoulders back and with chest expanded. Inhale slowly through both nostrils countingOMmentally 3 times, one count for each step. Then retain the breath till you count 12 OMs. Then exhale slowly through both nostrils till you count 6 OMs. Take the respiratory pause or rest after one Pranayama counting 12 OMs. If you find it difficult to count OM with each step, count OM without having any concern with the steps.
Kapalabhati can also be done during walking. Those who are very busy can practise the above Pranayama during their morning and evening walks. It is like killing two birds with one stone. You will find it very pleasant to practise Pranayama while walking in an open place, when delightful gentle breeze is blowing. You will be invigorated and innervated quickly to a considerable degree. Practise, feel and realise the marked, beneficial influence of this kind of Pranayama. Those who walk briskly, repeating OM mentally or verbally do practise natural Pranayama without any effort.
Pranayama in Savasana
Lie down on the back, quiet at ease, over a blanket. Keep the hands on the ground by the side and legs straight. The heels should be kept together, but the toes can remain a little apart. Relax all the muscles and the nerves. Those who are very weak, can practise Pranayama in this pose while lying on the ground or on a bedstead. Draw the breath slowly without making any noise, through both nostrils. Retain the breath as long as you can do it with comfort. Then exhale slowly through both nostrils. Repeat the process 12 times in the morning and 12 times in the evening. Chant OM mentally during the practice. If you like you can practise the ‘easy comfortable posture’ also. This is a combined exercise of Asana, Pranayama, meditation and rest. It gives rest not only to the body but also for the mind. It gives relief, comfort and ease. This is very suitable for aged people.
The breathing in men and women is very irregular. In exhalation the Prana goes out 16 digits and in inhalation only 12 digits, thus losing 4 digits. But if you inhale for 16 digits as in exhalation then you will have rhythmical breathing. Then the power Kundalini will be roused. By the practice of rhythmical breathing you will enjoy real good rest. You can control the respiratory centre that is situated in medulla oblongata and other nerves also, because the centre of respiration has a sort of controlling effect on other nerves. He who has calm nerves, has a calm mind also.
If the units of exhalation and inhalation are the same, you will have rhythmical breathing. If you inhale till you count 6 OMs, exhale also till you count 6 OMs. This is breathing in and out in a measured manner. This will harmonise the whole system. This will harmonise the physical body, mind, Indriyas and will soothe the tired nerves. You will experience full repose and calmness. All the bubbling emotions will subside and the surging impulses will calm down.
There is another variety of modification of rhythmic breathing. Inhale slowly through both nostrils for 4 OMs; retain the breath for 8 OMs (internal Kumbhaka); exhale slowly through both nostrils for 4 OMs; and retain the breath outside (external Kumbhaka) for 8 OMs.
Repeat the above process a number of times according to your strength and capacity. You can gradually increase the duration of inhalation and exhalation after some practice of 8 OMs and the period between breaths to 16 OMs. But never try to increase the duration until you are sure that you have power and strength to do so. You must experience joy and pleasure in doing the same. You should not feel any undue strain. Pay considerable attention to keep up the rhythm. Remember that the rhythm is more important than the length of breath. You must feel the rhythm throughout your whole body. Practice will make you perfect. Patience and perseverance are needed.
Surya Bheda Pranayama
Sit on Padmasana or Siddhasana. Close the eyes. Keep the left nostril closed with your right ring and little fingers. Slowly inhale without making any sound as long as you can do it comfortably through the right nostril. Then close the right nostril with your right thumb and retain the breath firmly pressing the chin against the chest (Jalandhara Bandha). Hold on the breath till perspiration oozes from the tips of the nails and roots of the hairs (hair follicles). This point cannot be reached at the very outside. You will have to increase the period of Kumbhaka gradually. This is the limit of the sphere of practice of Surya Bheda Kumbhaka. Then exhale very slowly without making any sound through the left nostril by closing the right nostril with the thumb. Repeat OM mentally with Bhava and meaning during inhalation, retention and exhalation. Exhale after purifying the skull by forcing the breath up.
This Pranayama should again and again be performed, as it purifies the brain and destroys the intestinal worms and diseases arising from excess of wind (Vayu). This removes the four kinds of evils caused by Vayu and cures Vata or rheumatism. It cures rhinitis, cephalalgia and various sorts of neuralgia. The worms that are found in the frontal sinuses are removed. It destroys decay and death, awakens Kundalini Sakti and increases the bodily fire.
Sit in Padmasana or Siddhasana. Close the mouth. Inhale slowly through both the nostrils in a smooth, uniform manner till the breath fills the space from the throat to the heart. Retain the breath as long as you can do it comfortably and then exhale slowly through the left nostril by closing the right nostril with your right thumb. Expand the chest when you inhale. During inhalation a peculiar sound is produced owing to the partial closing of glottis. The sound produced during inhalation should be of a mild and uniform pitch. It should be continuous also. This Kumbhaka may be practised even when walking or standing. Instead of exhaling through the left nostril, you can exhale slowly through both nostrils.
This removes the heat in the head. The practitioner becomes very beautiful. The gastric fire is increased. It removes all the evils arising in the body and the Dhatus and cures Jalodara (dropsy of the belly or ascites). It removes phlegm in the throat, Asthma, consumption and all sorts of pulmonary diseases are cured. All diseases that arise from deficient inhalation of oxygen, and diseases of the heart are cured. All works are accomplished by Ujjayi Pranayama. The practitioner is never attacked by diseases of phlegm, nerves, dyspepsia, dysentery, enlarged spleen, consumption, cough or fever. Perform Ujjayi to destroy decay and death.
Fold the tongue so that the tip of the tongue might touch the upper palate and draw the air through the mouth with a hissing sound C C C C (or Si, Si, Si, Si). Then retain the breath as long as you can without the feeling of suffocation and then exhale slowly through both nostrils. You can keep the two rows of teeth in contact and then inhale the air through the mouth as before. The practice enhances the beauty of the practitioner and vigour of his body. It removes hunger, thirst, indolence and sleep. His strength will be just like that of Indra. He becomes the Lord of Yogins. He is able to do and undo things. He becomes an independent monarch. He becomes invincible. No injury will affect him. When you are thirsty, practise this. You will be relieved of thirst immediately.
Protrude the tongue a little away from the lips. Fold the tongue like a tube. Draw in the air through the mouth with the hissing sound Si. Retain the breath as long as you can hold on with comfort. Then exhale slowly through both nostrils. Practise this daily again and again in the morning from 15 to 30 times. You can do this either on Padmasana, Siddhasana, Vajrasana or even when you stand or walk.
This Pranayama purifies the blood. It quenches thirst and appeases hunger. It cools the system. It destroys Gulma (chronic dyspepsia), Pleeha, inflammation of various chronic diseases, fever, consumption, indigestion, bilious disorders, phlegm, the bad effects of poison, snake-bite, etc. When you are caught up in a jungle or any place where you cannot get water, if you feel thirsty, practise this Pranayama. You will be at once relieved of thirst. He who practises this Pranayama regularly, will not be affected by the bite of serpents and scorpions. Sitali Kumbhaka is an imitation of the respiration of a serpent. The practitioner gets the power of casting his skin and enduring the privation of air, water and food. He becomes a proof against all sorts of inflammations and fever.
In Sanskrit Bhastrika means ‘bellows’. Rapid succession of forcible expulsion is a characteristic feature of Bhastrika. Just as a blacksmith blows his bellows rapidly, so also you should move your breath rapidly.
Sit on Padmasana. Keep the body, neck and head erect. Close the mouth. Next, inhale and exhale quickly ten times like the bellows of the blacksmith. Constantly dilate and contract. When you practise this Pranayama a hissing sound is produced. The practitioner should start with rapid expulsions of breath following one another in rapid succession. When the required number of expulsions, say ten for a round, is finished, the final expulsion is followed by a deepest possible inhalation. The breath is suspended as long as it could be done with comfort. Then deepest possible exhalation is done very slowly. The end of this deep exhalation completes one round of Bhastrika. Rest a while after one round is over by taking a few normal breaths. This will give you relief and make you fit for starting the second round. Do three rounds daily in the morning. You can do another three rounds in the evening also. Busy people who find it difficult to do three rounds of Bhastrika can do one round at least. This also will keep them quite fit.
Bhastrika is a powerful exercise. A combination of Kapalabhati and Ujjayi makes up Bhastrika. Practise Kapalabhati and Ujjayi to start with. Then you will find it very easy to do Bhastrika.
Some prolong the practice till they get tired. You will get perspiration profusely. If you experience any giddiness stop the practice and take a few normal breaths. Continue the practice after the giddiness has vanished. Bhastrika can be done both in the morning and evening in winter. In summer do it in the morning only during cool hours.
Bhastrika relieves inflammation of the throat, increases gastric fire, destroys phlegm, removes diseases of the nose and chest and eradicates asthma, consumption, etc. It gives good appetite. It breaks the three Granthis or knots viz., Brahma Granthi, Vishnu Granthi and Rudra Granthi. It destroys phlegm which is the bolt or obstacle to the door at the mouth of Brahma Nadi (Sushumna). It enables one to know the Kundalini. It removes all diseases which arise from excess of wind, bile and phlegm. It gives warmth to the body. When you have no sufficient warm clothing in a cool region to protect yourself from cold, practise this Pranayama and you will get sufficient warmth in the body quickly. It purifies the Nadis considerably. It is the most beneficial of all Kumbhakas. Bhastrika Kumbhaka should be specially practised as it enables the Prana to break through the three Granthis or knots that are firmly located in the Sushumna. It awakens the Kundalini quickly. The practitioner will never suffer from any disease. He will always be healthy. The number of exhalations or rounds is determined by the strength and capacity of the practitioner. You must not go to extremes. Some students do six rounds. Some do twelve also. You can practise Bhastrika in the following manner. There is some slight change in the end. Having inhaled and exhaled quickly twenty times, inhale through the right nostril, retain the breath as long as you can do it comfortably and then exhale through the left nostril. Then inhale through the left nostril, retain the breath as before and then exhale through the right nostril. Repeat OM mentally with Bhava and meaning throughout the practice.
There are some varieties of Bhastrika wherein one nostril only is used for breathing purposes and in another variety the alternate nostrils are used for inhalation and exhalation. Those who wish to do Bhastrika for a long time in an intense manner should live on Khichdi, and take an enema or do Bhasti in the morning before starting the practice.
Sit on Padmasana or Siddhasana. Inhale rapidly through both nostrils making sound of Bhramara, the bee, and exhale rapidly through both nostrils, making the humming sound. You can carry the process till the body is bathed in perspiration. In the end inhale through both nostrils, retain the breath as long as you can do it comfortably and then exhale slowly through both nostrils. The joy which the practitioner gets in making the Kumbhaka is unlimited and indescribable. In the beginning, heat of the body is increased as the circulation of blood is quickened. In the end the body-heat is decreased by perspiration. By success in this Bhramari Kumbhaka the Yogic student gets success in Samadhi.
Sit in your Asana and inhale. Retain the breath. Do Jalandhara Bandha by pressing the chin against the chest. Retain the breath till you expect fainting and then exhale slowly. This is Murchha Kumbhaka as it makes the mind senseless and gives happiness. But this is not suitable for many.
Practice of this Pranayama demands skill on the part of the student. He who practises this Plavini can do Jalastambha (solidification of water) and float on water for any length of time. Mr. ‘S’ a Yogic student can float on water for twelve hours at a stretch. He who practises this Plavini Kumbhaka can live on air and dispense with food for some days. The student actually drinks air like water slowly and sends it to the stomach. The stomach gets bloated a bit. If you tap the stomach when it is filled with air, you will get a peculiar tympanic (air) sound. Gradual practice is necessary. The help of one who is well versed in this Pranayama is also necessary. The student can expel all the air from the stomach by gradual belching.
Kevala Kumbhaka Pranayama
Kumbhaka is of two kinds, viz., Sahita and Kevala. That which is coupled with inhalation and exhalation is termed Sahita. That which is devoid of these, is called Kevala (alone). When you get mastery in Sahita, then you can attempt this Kevala. When in due course of practice, the Kumbhaka subsists in many places without exhalation and inhalation and unconditioned by place, time and number—then that Kumbhaka is called absolute and pure (Kevala Kumbhaka), the fourth form of ‘Regulation of breath’. Such powers as that of roaming about in space unseen, follow this last form of Pranayama. In Vasishtha Samhita it is said: “When after giving up inhalation and exhalation, one holds his breath with ease, it is absolute Kumbhaka (Kevala).” In this Pranayama the breath is suddenly stopped without Puraka and Rechaka. The student can retain his breath as long as he likes through this Kumbhaka. He attains the state of Raja Yoga. Through Kevala Kumbhaka, the knowledge of Kundalini arises. Kundalini is aroused and the Sushumna is free from all sorts of obstacles. He attains perfection in Hatha Yoga. You can practise this Kumbhaka three times a day. He who knows Pranayama and Kevala is the real Yogi. What can he not accomplish in the three worlds, who has acquired success in this Kevala Kumbhaka? Glory, glory to such exalted souls. This Kumbhaka cures all diseases and promotes longevity.
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