Equal Breathing

Pranayama in Yoga Meditation is quite different from that of modern yoga studios. The Equal breath or Even Breath is described here for those participating in Yoga Mentoring with Radhikaji.

In his Lectures on Saundaryalahiri, Swami Rama says, "Breathing exercises are different. They are superficial. They are important, but they are superficial. They are not called pranayama. They prepare you to do pranayama.  Pranayama are the deeper exercises.  They can be done mentally."

This may come as a surprise to many, who are convinced that pranayama is only about breathing exercises. Generally the manner in which these breathing exercises are practiced cannot lead to any higher understanding of pranayama. Mastering Pranayama, the science of Energy, means understanding the 7 Step Program. 

 

Mastering Pranayama: The 7 Step Programme

The seven step programme includes:

  1. establishing natural and effortless diaphragmatic breathing
  2. establishing even or equal breath, that is inhalation is equal to exhalation
  3. establishing silent breathing, without noise
  4. establishing smooth breathing, without jerkiness 
  5. eliminating extended pauses between inhalation and exhalation
  6. establishing the elongated breath, that is, increasing the length of inhalation as well as exhalation
  7. beginning to understand, experience and eventually attain mastery over prana itself

Before you start Equal breathing or Even breath you must have already established point 1, and should have natural and effortless diaphragmatic breathing at all times of the day.

 

 

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The very first and most basic step: Check your breathing counts

The average person has a short and uneven breath. Such a person may breath in 4 seconds and may breath out 3 seconds.  In fact the breath may be even as short as 3 seconds in and 2 seconds out.  

If we take the average breath of an average person to be something like 2 seconds in and 2 seconds out, then such a person breathes at the rate of 15 breaths per minute.  

In order to start breathing practices, "you have to see the capacity of your inhalation and exhalation first, and always go with it," says Swami Rama in Lectures on Saundaryalahiri. 

Place your finger in front of your nostrils and feel your breath. Count the length of both, the inhalation as well as the exhalation. The counting method is recommended because it does not encourage a dependency on any external objects such a watch. Count silently in the mind. Count so that one count is equal to one second. 

Check your breath at different times of the day. You may notice differences in the counts, depending on the time of the day, degree of tiredness and your emotional state.  Accept the most common count as the base to start from. 

Equal Breathing with counting

The practice of even or equal breathing helps establish point 2.

Let us assume your natural breath count is: 5 seconds in, 4 seconds out

Take the lower count, that is, in this case 4 seconds.

Sit in your chosen meditative posture and do this practice silently. You may sit in:

  • Maitri Asana - the Friendship pose
  • Sukhasana - the Easy Pose
  • Svastikasana - the Auspicious Pose or
  • Siddhasana - the Accomplished Pose

Breathe in 4 seconds and breath out 4 seconds. This is one breath. 

Do this 10 times. This is  one round. 

After a round breathe normally for a couple of moments. Take the time between rounds to come back to your normal breathing. This may not seem to make a difference initially, but as you increase the counts, you will find these short breaks of normal breathing useful.

Do another 2 rounds, remembering to take a break of normal breathing between the rounds.

Equal Breathing without counting

You may notice that counting silently somehow disturbs the flow of the breath and makes it jerky. You may notice that the breath is noisy and that there are unconscious extended pauses between inhalation and exhalation as well as between exhalation and inhalation. 

In the method without counting you are able to devote your attention to the finer aspects of the breath. You can use the equal breathing without counting to:

3.establish silent breathing, without noise

4.establish smooth breathing, without jerkiness 

5.eliminate extended pauses between inhalation and exhalation

In sitting position:

Sit in a meditative posture. Breathe out from crown of the head to the base of the spine and breathe in from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. This way the time you inhale and exhale is equal, that is, the breath is even. 

This helps the mind to establish and maintain the even breath without counting. And the mind can focus on allowing the breath to become smooth, silent and without extended pauses. 

In Shavasana: 

Lie in Shavasana and  breathe out from crown of the head to the tip of the toes and breathe in from the tip of the toes to the crown of the head. 

Shavasana is a very comfortable position to practice equal breath. You may use this position, when you are sure that you will not fall asleep while practicing. Repeated falling asleep during practices, means that the mind will learn to use the practice to sleep. It is important to train the mind not to fall asleep during practice. Therefore, do not practice equal breathing in Shavasana when tired or sleepy. The best times to practice equal breathing in Shavasana is when you are well rested and alert. 

Elongating the Even breath

Gradually increasing the counts will help establish point 6 leading to an even and elongated breath.

If you started out with the base count of 4 seconds out and 4 seconds in, then after 2 weeks increase the counts to 6 seconds out and 6 seconds in. Do 3 rounds of 10 breaths each. 

After another 2 weeks, increase the counts to 8 seconds out and 8 seconds in. Once again do 3 rounds of 10 breaths each. 

Keep increasing the counts by 2 seconds every 2 weeks, until you reach 30 seconds out and 30 seconds in. That means 1 breath per minute. You will have achieved this gradually and gently over 7-8 months. This gradual increase in counts is important so as not to damage the finer tissues of the lungs. 

 

 

 

Swami Rama explains this gradual process of elongating the breath in his Lectures on Saundaryalahiri: "Start counting by watching your capacity, slowly expanding that.  No haste is allowed in it.  If you want to tread this path in two days time, ten days time, one month's time, it's not possible.  It should not be done.  Don't hurt the finer tissues of your lungs.  If you exert them, you will be hurting the finer tissues of your lungs. Start it from three, then four, then six, then eight, then ten, then twelve, then fourteen, then sixteen, then eighteen.  Like this. Go up to thirty.  Not difficult.  But it should at least take six months time.  At least." 

Now you are on the threshold of point 7. beginning to understand, experience and eventually attain mastery over prana itself. 

Dangers of Pranayama

There are serious dangers involved in doing pranayama practices without a trained teacher from an unbroken lineage and ancient tradition. 

Swami Rama says in Lectures on Saundaryalahiri, "Many teachers do not practice and then teach others just to do experiments. That's a very dangerous thing to do.  In books there are many things written. Some of the writers wrote them without knowing.  They took from here and there and wrote a book. Bad yoga practice can lead you to very dangerous situations for which there is no medicine. Suppose your pranic vehicles are disturbed because of your foolish practices that you have read through books. Where is the medicine for that? Therefore, a teacher is needed, and the teacher should be skilled enough not to mislead their students, not to make experiments on them. Let teachers make experiments on themselves. So, we have always in the scriptures, warnings, yellow mark on the scriptures, 'Don't do it!' It's a tradition."

Disturbance of pranic vehicle due to wrong Pranayama practice can lead to many imbalances causing, among other things:

  • Headache
  • Erratic mood change
  • Depression
  • Tendency to colds and congestion
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness

Prolonged practice of incorrect pranayama techniques can lead to serious and permanent disturbance or imbalance of the nervous system. The only practice you can do safely without guidance is Diaphragmatic Breathing.

Precautionary Measures

  • Pranayama practice should not be done out of books, websites or videos.
  • Pranayama practice should be undertaken only with highly experienced and qualified teachers of an unbroken lineage and ancient tradition. 
  • Avoid teachers that mix practices from different traditions.
  • If you do not find an experienced and qualified teacher, then it is better not to do any pranayama practice. 
  • Retention (Kumbhaka) is not recommended, unless you are guided by a highly experienced teacher. 

Comments:

PPGHosh from Madras:
What do you mean by active nostril and passive nostril at Nadi sadhana? please tell me

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