Bahya Pranayama (Kumbhaka): Steps, Benefits & Precautions

bahya pranayama
Holding breath out while applying 3 bandhas, Bahya pranayama. Image Source: Shutterstock

Bahya Pranayama is a traditional breathing technique of yoga. As its name interprets, Bahya (in Sanskrit) is called to ‘external’, and Pranayama (we already discussed here) is all about the play of our Breathe.

In Bahya Pranayama, by various means of practice, we emphasize the exhalation (external) part of the respiration process and after complete exhalation, finally retains the breath out for an extended period. Holding breath out is part of Kumbhaka also called the Bahir Pranayama.

In addition to holding breathing out, different Bandhas are incorporated in Bahya Pranayama to increase the efficiency of the lungs and stimulate the respective organs system functioning.

Mainly incorporating bandhas in this pranayama enhance the elimination process, digestion, and cures imbalanced thyroid-related problems.

Bahya Pranayama and Kumbhaka

Kumbhaka (means breath retention) is a term used in the Hatha Yoga practice of Pranayama.

Bahya Pranayama is the part of one of three Kumbhakas;

  • Antara Kumbhaka
  • Bahya Kumbhaka
  • Kevala Kumbhaka

Anatara Kumbhaka means retention of breath inside. In this breathing, we take a long and deep breath in while expanding the chest, and then hold this breath inside by locking at the throat (Jalandhar bandha).
An example of this breathing is Murcha Pranayama.

Bahya Kumbhaka is the opposite of the above. It’s similar to Bahya Pranayama in the process i.e. exhaling completely out, hold the breath, then applying 3 bandhas further to create a sense of emptiness in the body.

Kevala Kumbhaka is subtle breathing practice used in meditation. In simple words, it’s the transitional stage between inhalation and exhalation i.e. when we neither breathe in and out. To maintain this stage of breathing firstly one needs to master above two.

Kevala kumbhaka is very effective in stilling the mind’s chatter before meditation and so it’s called natural pranayama.

Precautions & Contraindications

  • Make sure your bowels are empty before performing bahya Pranayama and it should only be practiced after 3 hours of a meal.
  • Before performing bahya pranayama, firstly prepare your lungs for it by performing some rapid external breathing like Kapalbhati Pranayama or Bhastrika Pranayama.
  • Don’t practice bahya pranayama when you have high blood pressure or a patient of heart disease and cervical colitis should refrain from Bandhas in this pranayama.
  • Women during pregnancy and menstrual cycle should also refrain from doing this pranayama as it creates pressure around the uterus and abdominal region.

Steps

  1. Come in a sitting cross-legged position (preferred Sukhasana or Padmasana), erect spine, roll shoulders back, palms resting on the knees, and relax your complete body.
  2. Start breath awareness practice for 3 to 4 rounds; inhale and exhale slowly and observe your body movements in and out with subtle breathing.
  3. Begin Bahya Pranayama by inhaling shortly then exhaling breath completely out with double pressure as compared to inhalation.
  4. At the end of complete exhalation, hold your breath out and bring your attention to perform 3 Bandhas;
    • While breath held outside, contract your anus muscles and pull it upwards – It’s Mula Bandha (Root Lock)
    • Next, as you pull anus muscles up, it will create a space in your abdominal region. Abdominal muscles contracted inwards called Uddiyana Bandha.
    • Lastly, bring your chin down to the chest hence to avoid any possible leakage of Prana (in the form breath) – it’s called Jalandhar bandha (throat lock).
  5. Keep maintaining these 3 body locks (altogether called Maha Bandha) along with breath retention for a minimum of 5 seconds. It’s the first round of bahya Pranayama.
  6. On completion of the first round, release throat lock, then abdominal lock, and finally root lock one by one. Breath normally a few seconds and then repeat the procedure.

In one sitting, perform 6 to 8 rounds of Bahya pranayama. With gradual practice, increase the breath retention period with body locks.

agnisar kriya in bahya pranayama
Churning abdominal muscles in Agnisar Kirya. Image Source: Shutterstock

Advanced practitioners can incorporate the practice of Agnisar kriya along with Bahya Pranayama. For this, at the end of the 4th step, loosen up your abdominal muscles and churn it around the central abs. It’s considered very effective in stimulating the digestive fire.

Time to Perform & Breathing Ratio

The ideal ratio of breathing in Bahya pranayama is 1:2:3 i.e. if inhale is of 1 second, then exhalation should be for 2 seconds and finally, the breath should be held out for 3 seconds. Similarly, if inhale is doubled or tripled, then exhalation and breathe retention will be doubled or tripled also.

As Bahya Pranayama is considered best to practice with an empty stomach, it’s advised to do in the early morning. Secondly, if you consider practicing it in the evening, don’t take anything heavy at least before 3 hours of its practice.

Initially begin practice with just 5 rounds in the morning session and 3 in the evening.

Anatomical Effects

Bahya Pranayama is most effective for the abdominal muscles. One part of this Pranayama is to squeeze the area from the belly upward after exhaling the breath. Hence it creates a vacuum in the stomach as there is no more air remains inside. It makes blood inside the body to fulfill the space that has been empty because of exhalation and retention of breath. So the blood used to gather near the intestinal area and in this manner, it is an effective Pranayama for many abdominal diseases.

It works on reproductive parts as well. Bahya Pranayama cures problems related to urine and sperms. Also, after exhalation, holding breath out is the process of detoxification.

Bahya Pranayama Benefits

  1. Bahya pranayama is helpful in Kundalini awakening. On kundalini awakening, it gives rise to many spiritual and physical powers. Your mind becomes calm and it prepares the mind for meditation.
  2. When we intend to empty the lungs in bahya pranayama by complete exhalation, it actually clears lungs and saves a lot of energy from dissipating outside.
  3. Kundalini awakening gives sensations to the brain and that helps the brain to focus on the current moment. Focusing on the current moment increases the level of concentration and it also sharpens the memory.
  4. Practicing this Pranayama can be beneficial for diabetic patients. Bahya Pranayama reduces blood sugar levels and helps in insulin secretion, so effective in diabetes treatment.
  5. This Pranayama consists of holding the breath out, squeezing the abdomen to the Navel level, and lock it upward as much you can. So this Pranayama helps to improve the digestive system. As it increases the flexibility of intestines so this will lead to better digestion.
  6. Breathing techniques are connected with the respiratory system. Hence this breathing technique helps to improve the respiratory system. Pranayama contains deep breathing, that acts as cleansing agents for the respiratory glands, and with every inhale and exhale it cleans the blockages.
  7. Bahya Pranayama works on abdominal parts. When we lock our abdomen then it cures many organs and in this way, the stomach absorbs all the nutrition of the food. Hence this Pranayama helps to absorb all the essential nutritional values.
  8. When we hold our breath and come in the bandha position there is no source of oxygen in the body for that time. Hence all the body parts that are working separately from the brain are now working together. In simple words sometimes the brain and body start working differently. This Pranayama helps the brain and body to work in a synchronized manner.

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