Yoga breathing techniques (pranayama) to calm and still the mind as revealed in the Sanskrit Upanishads
If you know anything about yoga, then you will be aware of the introductory breathing techniques that are recommended for anyone who wishes to steady the mind. The process of yoga, follows an eightfold path. The name Ashtanga yoga comes from the Sanskrit word meaning eight (ashta) limbs (anga). The eightfold path of yoga includes the following:
yama, niyama, pranayama, asana, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi
Those are the eight steps that a yogi needs to climb, in a manner of speaking. The final one is well known. You may have heard of samadhi, which is the goal of yoga. The first two steps are yama and niyama, which means those things we should do and those things we should avoid in our lifestyle to qualify or prepare ourselves physically and mentally for the practice of yoga.
And by this I mean not only the practice of yoga merely for physical health but rather the practice of yoga for that which it is really intended, which is to attain liberation from the material body at death. That is what is meant by samadhi. Not that we have to wait until leaving the body to experience samadhi. One who is expert can attain the state of samadhi while still in the physical body. Nevertheless, the real goal of yoga is a spiritual one and is more about liberation of the eternal spirit soul from the material state within the temporary physical body. Good health is a secondary bi-product and not the goal in itself.
One the correct lifestyle is in place via the first two steps on the ladder of what to do and what to avoid, then one can go on to practice the beathing techniques (pranayama) and the sitting postures (asana), which all facilitate raising of kundalini energy from the base of the spine up to the head. Also yoga is meant to be the process by which the yogi attains spiritual enlightenment, or remembrance of the true eternal nature beyond the body and mind. Yoga, after all, means “union”. It is the way in which we meet our maker, or awaken the relationship with the divine, with the supreme personality of godhead, who is a person as well as an impersonal all-pervading brahman spiritual energy.
So although yoga practice via breathing and postures is interesting and helpful, it is not the goal, in and of itself. It is merely one of the types of practice, one of the types of yoga techniques. Other techniques include bhakti yoga, where one focuses on the divine not only as the Supersoul in the heart, but as a deity who has personality, like that of Krishna, as mentioned in the Vedas in detail, if you choose to read that part of the Veda which teaches bhakti, like the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavat Purana.
Nevertheless, today I want to share with you some pranayama (breathing) techniques as found in the Yoga Kundalini Upanishad. These techniques are scientifically designed to asist in mind control and thus aid the yogi in attaining the goal of samadhi at the end, after all the steps leading to it are achieved. These steps are styles of meditation or levels of deeper and deeper meditation on the goal, which is god, the deity, traditionally the Supersoul Vishnu in the heart of ever living entity.
These pranayama techniques are mentioned in the Yoga Kundalini Upanishad, and accompany the sitting postures (asana) mentioned in my previous post, if you wish to learn the techniques of attaining samadhi and liberation. It’s not for everyone. Many are too busy with the affairs of the body and mind to worry about the soul. But if you are a spiritual seeker and yogi, then this might be familiar knowledge. Still, it’s good to have a legitimate reference from a bona fide Vedic source.
Pranayama (Breathing Exercises):
1. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing):
◦ Sit in a comfortable position with the spine erect.
◦ Close the right nostril with the right thumb and inhale slowly through the left nostril.
◦ Close both nostrils momentarily, retaining the breath.
◦ Release the right nostril and exhale slowly through it.
◦ Inhale through the right nostril, close both nostrils momentarily, and exhale through the left nostril.
◦ This pranayama balances the energy channels, purifies the nadis, and harmonizes the flow of prana.
2. Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath):
◦ Sit in a comfortable posture with the spine erect.
◦ Take a deep breath in through both nostrils, filling the lungs completely.
◦ Exhale forcefully and rapidly through the nose while contracting the abdomen.
◦ Repeat this rapid and forceful inhalation and exhalation for a few rounds.
◦ Then return to normal breathing and observe the effects.
◦ Bhastrika pranayama energizes the body, clears the energy pathways, and prepares for Kundalini awakening.
3. Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath):
◦ Sit in a comfortable position and relax the body.
◦ Inhale slowly and deeply through the nostrils, allowing the breath to be audible, like a gentle snoring sound.
◦ Constrict the throat slightly to create a soft hissing sound during inhalation.
◦ Exhale slowly and deeply while maintaining the constriction in the throat.
◦ Practice this pranayama for several rounds, focusing on the sound and rhythm of the breath.
◦ Ujjayi pranayama calms the mind, enhances concentration, and purifies the subtle energy channels.
4. Sheetali Pranayama (Cooling Breath):
◦ Sit in a comfortable posture, relaxing the body and mind.
◦ Roll the sides of the tongue into a tube-like shape.
◦ Inhale slowly and deeply through the rolled tongue.
◦ After inhalation, close the mouth and exhale through the nostrils.
◦ Repeat this process for several rounds, focusing on the cooling sensation of the breath.
◦ Sheetali pranayama cools the body, calms the nervous system, and purifies the nadis.
Let me know if you are familiar with these techniques and if you have applied them to your practice. I’m always keen to hear of your insights and realizations on the path of yoga and liberation. What else is there in life really, once you have tasted all the flavors and are finished with chewing on the chewed?
(photos my own)