Among the revered practices in the world of yoga, pranayama stands tall as a transformative system of controlling the mind, body, and breath. And within this realm of breath mastery, bahya pranayama shines as one of the most advanced techniques, cherished by yogis as a powerful way to cultivate and control the flow of prana or life force within us. This technique encourages us to cultivate the discipline and focus necessary to hold our breath, focus our mind, and control our senses. It teaches us to tap into our inner strength and to trust ourselves in the face of challenges.
What is Bahya Pranayama?
Bahya pranayama is an advanced yogic breath control technique that involves exhaling all the air out of your lungs and holding your breath out for a period of time. In Sanskrit, “Bahya” means external or outside, and “Pranayama” means breath control or breath mastery, so we can translate bahya pranayama as “external breath retention mastery.”
Benefits of Bahya Pranayama
By practicing bahya pranayama, you stimulate and invigorate your abdominal organs, enhancing the digestion and elimination process. This promotes a healthier, happier gut and helps to heal abdominal and stomach diseases. Your abdominal muscles receive a rejuvenating workout with this pranayama, leading to increased core strength and stability.
This invigorating and strengthening pranayama enhances concentration and helps calm an agitated mind to reduce anxiety and stress. It boosts your pranic energy and has been known to regulate blood pressure, promoting cardiovascular health and overall well-being.
Bahya is a powerful pranayama that can be challenging for beginners, so it is recommended that you learn from a qualified yoga teacher and never force yourself to hold your breath for longer than is comfortable. This technique is cautioned for hernia patients, women on their menstrual cycle.
While the rewards of bahya pranayama are abundant, it’s important to approach this practice with caution and respect. As a powerful pranayama technique, it is not appropriate for beginners and may be challenging for experienced yogis. We highly recommend seeking guidance from a qualified yoga teacher to ensure you learn the proper techniques and avoid any potential risks.
Furthermore, it is advised to refrain from practicing bahya pranayama if you have a hernia, are recovering from a recent abdominal surgery, are pregnant, or during your menstrual cycle. Bahya pranayama should not be practiced if you have asthma, unmedicated high blood pressure, heart disease, glaucoma, or any other medical conditions that breath retention may aggravate.
If you experience any discomfort or pain during this practice, you should immediately stop and seek medical attention. By following these safety precautions and contraindications, you can practice bahya pranayama safely and with confidence.
Preparing for the practice
Before beginning the practice, it is essential to have a comfortable and quiet space where you can sit and concentrate. If you don’t have a dedicated meditation or yoga room, you can create a peaceful atmosphere in any space by lighting candles, playing relaxing music, or burning incense.
You may wish to begin with some simple asanas or postures to warm up the body and prepare it for the breathing practice. Some good preparatory poses to warm up the spine and open the chest and lungs include Cat–Cow, Seated Spinal Twist, Downward Dog, Cobra, Camel, Upward-Facing Dog, Fish, and Bridge pose. Take a few deep breaths in each pose, focusing on expanding the chest and inhaling deeply.
You may also wish to begin with some gentle breathing exercises such as nadi shodhana, anulom vilom or bhramari pranayama to balance your energy and calm the mind.
Step-by-step instructions for Bahya Pranayama
1. Find a comfortable seated position
Support your body with a meditation cushion or other yoga props if needed. You can choose Sukhasana (Easy Pose) or Hero pose (Virasana), whichever feels best for you to have your spine is erect and your body relaxed. These postures will promote stability and openness, enabling a seamless flow of energy.
2. Engage your yogic breath
Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath, taking slow and deliberate inhales and exhales. Close your eyes and feel the gentle movements of your body as you breathe. Take your time, allowing yourself to settle into a calm and steady rhythm.
3. One round of breath of fire
Practice a round of kapalabhati pranayama, also known as skull shining breathing technique, for about 2-5 minutes. Start with a deep breath in, and then quickly exhale the air out of the nose with a strong, quick pumping of the belly. If you are not familiar with kapalabhati, then practice this pranayama for several weeks before proceeding further with the bahya breathing practice.
4. Bahya kumbhaka with bandhas
As you completing kapalbhati pranayama, exhale fully and hold the breath out as you engage the three primary bandhas. Start with mula bandha, the root lock, by engaging and lifting up the perineum—muscles between the anus and genitals. Next, activating uddiyana bandha by pulling the navel in and up. Finally, bring your chin towards your chest, creating jalandhara bandha or the throat lock. By uniting these three locks, known as maha bandha (the great lock), you awaken and channel the vital energy within.
Hold these three bandhas for about 5-10 seconds, allowing yourself to fully embody the energy that arises within. During this time, it’s important to observe the sensations of holding of breath. Let your focus be unwavering as you stay in this state of Bahya Pranayama for approximately 10 seconds or longer, depending on your comfort level.
Gently release the bandhas, starting with the chin, then the abdominal muscles, and finally, the muscles at the anus. Let your head and spine return to an upright position.
5. Return to deep breathing
After you release the bandhas, do your best to take a slow, controlled, deep inhale, followed by a slow exhale. Repeat these slow deep breaths 3-4 times to prepare to practice additional rounds of kapalabhati pranayama followed by kumbhaka with maha bandha.
Repeat the above process for approximately for 4-5 minutes. Over time, work on gradually increasing the duration of the kumbhaka with bandhas and increase the time to 5-7 minutes or longer.
7. Relax and integrate
Finally, the practice should be concluded with some relaxation techniques, such as Shavasana, to allow the body and mind to fully integrate the benefits of the practice. Find a comfortable position that allows your body to unwind and rejuvenate, allowing your breath to return to its natural rhythm. Embrace the silence within and savor the tranquility that this practice has bestowed upon you.
For those seeking an added challenge, consider incorporating agnisar kriya into your bahya pranayama practice. You can add this kriya between kapalabhati and maha bandha, or add it after maha bandha. This technique boosts the digestive system, stimulates metabolism, and strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles.
To perform agnisar kriya, engage bahya kumbhaka while drawing the navel in and up towards the spine, then releasing the contraction and allowing the belly to relax fully. Quickly repeat this contraction and release of the abdomen several times, before releasing the kumbhaka. Then take a few deep, calming breaths to integrate the fiery cleansing action of this technique.
- Always perform bahya pranayama on an empty stomach. Eating before the practice can cause discomfort and potentially lead to nausea or vomiting.
- Avoid any forceful or strained exhalations during the practice, as this can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Maintain a relaxed and calm state of mind during the practice, avoiding any unnecessary tension or stress.
- Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your practice over time, rather than pushing yourself too hard too quickly.
- Wear comfortable clothing that allows for unrestricted breathing is recommended.
- Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced practitioner, it’s important to listen to your body, adjust the practice accordingly, and seek guidance from a qualified teacher if needed.
For beginners, modifications such as shorter rounds, using a chair or wall for support, and focusing on the exhalation rather than the inhalation can help make the practice more accessible. It’s important to start with a slow and steady pace, taking deep breaths in and out, and gradually building up to longer and more intense rounds.
For advanced practitioners, the focus can shift to increasing the number of rounds, holding the breath for longer periods of time, using bhastrika pranayama instead of kapalabhati, and incorporate kevala kumbhaka into the sequence.
In the world of yoga, the journey towards self-realization is not always easy. It requires dedication, commitment, and a willingness to explore the unknown. But with bahya pranayama as your guide, you will find the strength and courage to face these challenges head-on. With each breath, you will cultivate a deep sense of calm and clarity, allowing you to navigate life’s ups and downs with grace, inner wisdom and resilience.
Allow this ancient practice to deepen your connection with yourself and nurture the flame of your inner strength. Through bahya pranayama, you will find the keys to unlock your true potential and embrace the yogic path with grace and serenity. With regular practice, you can cultivate a deeper connection with your breath, unlock the hidden potential within, and experience a profound sense of well-being and inner peace.