Breathing isn’t just inhaling and exhaling. What about in between?
Unless you’re hyperventilating, there are spaces between breaths, both after the inhale and after the exhale.
Most of the time, you won’t notice or pay attention to these spaces. But each of them has value and spending some time expanding both of the retained segments of a complete breath will be of positive physical and mental benefit.
If your lungs have been compromised through injury or illness, please consult your physician before beginning any focused breath work.
Retaining the “no breath” is advanced, so make sure you’re done your homework.
On the Yoga Breathing Exercises page, I cover over the retention of the inhale. If you haven’t already been practicing that, please do before moving on to retaining the exhale. And of course before you practice retaining of the inhale, you should be well practiced in the Yogi Complete Breath. Always build your foundation well, in physical training or breath training.
The first time we discussed the “no breath” is on the Alternate Nostril Breathing page. The beginning of practicing bahya kubmhak is essentially a simplified version of A.N.B.. We’ll use a timed breathing pattern to establish the no breath, but won’t be focusing on the nostrils.
Can you actually achieve having “no breath” in your lungs? Not without life threatening trauma.
If you read anywhere, on a blog, website, magazine or book, that a yoga instructor claims that advanced practitioners can completely empty their lungs, they don’t have a solid understanding of the physiology of the lungs. In other words, they’re conning you.
There is something called “residual volume”. No matter how much you forcibly exhale, there will always be air remaining in your lunch and brachii. The volume varies depending on the size of the person and therefore their lungs, but the average is around 1 liter. The only time your lungs can ever be completely emptied of air is in the event of a collapsed lung. Even then, that happens one lobe (of the 5) at a time. And of course a collapsed lung is a very bad thing.
In Alternate Nostril Breathing, we work with a breathing pattern of 1/4/2/2; in other words, for each 1 count of inhale, you’ll retain the inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 2 counts and retain the exhale for 2 counts.
For this basic exercise, we’ll do a simple 1/1/1/1 pattern with our base count being 4.
Sit in a comfortable upright position, in a chair or on the floor.
- Inhale for a count of 4.
- Retain the inhale for a count of 4.
- Exhale for a count of 4.
- Do nothing for a count of 4.
As you begin, complete one cycle then take a normal breath. Ease yourself into repeated cycles.
Your next step will be to extend the exhale and the no breath together.
To ease the transition into the longer Bahya Kumbhak, you’ll pair the extension of the no breath with the extension of the exhale to a 1/2/2/2 pattern.
Change your breathing counts to 4/8/8/8.
To really get the feel of the emptiness of your lungs, really squeeze out the last of the exhale, almost as you would when performing the Cleansing Breath. If you take a look at Krishnamacharya above, he’s clearly emptied himself as much as possible. You want to do the same.
You may be asking, what’s with his belly in that picture?
What he is practicing is called Uddiyana bandha. This translates as “upward lock”. By itself it is a yogic exercise. At the end of your exhale, “suck” your abdominal cavity up into your chest cavity and widen your rib cage as much as possible. If performing this is challenging for you, see this primer from Yoga Journal.
As I’ve been practicing longer no breaths, for example, a count of 4/4/8/16, I’ve practiced both with and without the upward lock. I’ve personally found it much easier to extend the no breath when I do perform the Uddiyana bandha.
As you expand your practice, keep the rhythm 1/2/2/x.
Like I said, I’ve been practicing 4/4/8/16. I actually did one round of 4/8/8/20 and it was kind of intense!
Don’t over do it. As you perform extended Bahya Kumbhak, I recommend only 3 rounds per sitting. Then complete your practice session with a few normal, comfortable breaths and end with the Cleansing Breath.
Try this practice yourself and let me know what results you’ve felt in the comments section.