What to know and watch out for
As the word Pranayama indicates, part of the path towards Moksha (enlightenment) is achieved by holding or retaining or stopping the breath. As the word “Prana” means breath (among other meanings) and “ayama” means stopping (among many other meanings).
Misinterpretation leads to malpractice
But here lies the problem already. Only to understand the meaning of words does not rule out our own interpretation. So, Pranayama is read as an order to retain the breath on the path of enlightenment. In fact, many states of mind as well as healing processes can be ignited, many toxins (chemical and subtle energies) cleaned out and many illnesses healed when we apply breath retention in the right manner. Yet, in Yogic Pranayama practice you fill your vessel with Prana (life energy) and clean out the Nadis (energy channels) as well as body tissues and the subconscious mind. When we attain a state of equilibrium the breath just stops naturally without retaining, without any struggle or shortage. This is what Pranayama does. It stops the oxygenating (rotting/aging) processes in our body, which the intake of oxygen (breathing) facilitates. No breath, no time, no death. Kumbhakas (breath retention) happen naturally when you are ready. !Caution! Premature breath retention can cause heavy side effects like strokes and mental illness.
How to practice Breath Retention - Kumbhakas the right way?
Preparation - In order to apply breath retention without danger to hurt oneself mentally, physically or spiritually, we have to prepare for the advanced practices. The Nadis have to be cleaned as much as possible. For that the nutrition has to be adapted and the any chemicals, toxins or drugs (coffee, tea, cigarettes, sugar) has to be removed from the diet for a prolonged time. For deep cleaning, Pranaymas are applied to cleanse the system from physical and subtle poisons (negative thoughts or believes p.e.). Breath meditation and other Yogic practices accompany the development. You become more aware of yourself and your inner workings. The parts of your subconscious mind become more apparent to you and you learn how to handle yourself, control your emotions and thoughts. You learn how to control and accumulate your Prana (ayama also means “control”). This development will show its marvellous effects, not only during breathwork but also in your daily life.
Application - In breath retention or Kumbhakas, we have to watch out for certain aspects. With Kumbhakas we bring a lot of energy into our body. Our Energy channels (Nadis) have to be clean enough to hold that amount of energy, otherwise it will search for another outlet and cause troubles in the body like heart attacks. So, we don´t let the energy run freely, we apply “ayama” and control the flow of energy as we wish during Kumbhakas. Thus, Bandhas (energy locks in the body) are applied to direct the energy to the wanted compartment. These techniques also prevent strokes and other harmful effects of wrong practiced Pranayama. Learning how to apply Bandhas is essential to practice breath retention. For Bandhas we have to develop isolated control over certain muscle groups. With repetition over time, you will master the Bandhas easily. Your brain will enlarge the regions responsible for those muscles.
Antara Kumbhaka is practiced by holding the breath after the inhalation. This Pranayama aims on retaining the breath within the body. This strong and powerful practice ignites various physiological and energetic effects. It's important to note that Antara Kumbhaka should be practiced with caution and under the guidance of an experienced Yoga teacher. Breath retention practices, including Antara Kumbhaka, can have profound effects on the body and mind, and it's crucial to approach them with respect and awareness.
Bahir Kumbhaka is practiced by holding the breath after exhalation. The breath is held out of the body, the lungs remain empty during the Bahir. While we hold the breath out, Bandhas are applied to enhance the effect of that external breath retention. The cleansing effects are intense, so nutrition should be adapted to not cause strong detoxification effects. The health benefits of Bahir Kumbhaka are so various that singled out methods and protocols emphasizing the Bahir have been developed through the last century (Boytelko -method p.e.). You can improve your energy levels and overall resilience with the right application of Bahir Kumbhaka. Caution: The Bahir and Antara also clean out subtle information, like stuck emotions, trauma and unprocessed experiences or supressed memories. The mental challenges on the path of healing and enlightenment are not to be taken lightly. Proceed with caution, understanding and diligence!