questions about pranayama techniquesBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Once again, many of you have submitted questions about pranayama that are thought provoking. Therefore, let’s share this question and answer session with our readers. Please feel free to add your opinions in the comments section.

Q: Would it be possible to tell me what is the difference between the following breathing techniques (Agni Sara, Kapalabhati, and Uddiyana Bandha)? They are performed in a similar way (forced abdominal contraction) and bringing the thoracic cage into neutral position while holding the breath.

A: All of these techniques are somewhat similar, but there are subtle differences in technique and purpose.

Agni Sara – On the physical level, this looks like a combination of Kapalabhati and Uddiyana Bandha. The combination of pranayama and asana looks to be more similar to Uddiyana Bandha. The deeper emphasis is on the use of all muscles in the lower abdomen and, specifically, use of the pelvic floor. When we consider agni sara for the subtle body, it is said that this technique activates kundalini shakti, at our navel center. Agni Sara is a primary step toward harnessing prana, which should result in spiritual growth.

Kapalabhati is a shatkarma (Kriya – primary cleansing duty) and an important pranayama technique, which focuses on cleansing the nasal passages and lungs. When practicing Kapalbhati, force is used only during the exhalation (rechaka) stage of breathing. Many Yoga teachers explain Kapalabhati as an active exhale, and passive inhale, pranayama technique.

The preferred position is a seated and comfortable asana. Relax the abdomen and forcefully exhale through your nose. The force is all at the stomach level – not at the pelvic floor. Ten rounds is a good start. This is a gradual practice which can expand to minutes, but never more than a total of ten minutes in one day.

It should be noted that any pranayama technique, that deprives your brain of oxygen, can cause brain cell damage, to some degree. Sometimes, too much of a good thing can become potentially dangerous.

Uddiyana Bandha is the abdominal lock itself. Uddiyana Bandha is not actually a form of pranayama, but a pure abdominal retraction locking technique. It is recommended that most students begin the practice of Uddiyana Bandha in a standing position. Later, it will be possible to practice in a sitting, all fours, or supine position.

Q: If I wanted to practice Yoga breathing, what breathing is the easiest and hardest?

A: This is a matter of opinion, but most of the teachers I talk to, mention that their students have more difficulty with Kapalabhati than any other technique. As for the easiest, the answer is wide open. Each student will have a different answer, but their favorite pranayama technique is often the easiest and the one technique they identified with right away.

Q: What is the goal in these exercises?

A: To open the mind and body connection is the most common goal of Kapalabhati and any pranayama technique. Agni Sara and Kapalabhati can also be classified as cleansing techniques for the physical body. All of the above mentioned techniques, massage the internal organs.

Q: How many repetitions should one reach to master these exercises?

A: Mastery of any Yogic technique depends on how much time we spend practicing and how much guidance we receive along the way. If a student practiced one million repetitions with poor technique, mastery may never happen. Therefore, there is no clear cut number of repetitions. However, it would be wise to receive guidance from a hands-on training session with a competent Yoga guru.

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