Concepts of Pranayama in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali - 2


In previous blog we discussed what is pranayama and what it means. The term or word pranayama used for certain respiratory practices where respiration done in controlled or prolonged manner.

In this blog we will get the understanding of pranayama as per Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

Before describing pranayama as part of eight limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga in second chapter, Patanjali mentioned Pranayama like practice in first chapter of yoga sutra (Pracchardanvidharanabhyam va pranasya 1:34) while describing the methods of Chitta Prasadana or how to cleanse Chitta (mind). So the first purpose is very clear of doing pranayama or pranayama like practice in yoga is to get the mind purified.

Patanjali puts Pranayama as fourth step of Ashtanga Yoga. He defines, explains all about it and benefits in 5 Sutras from 2:49 to 2:53:

 “Tasmin Sati swasa-praswasa-yor-gati-vichhedah pranayamah”

“Bahya-abhyantara-stambha-vrittir-desha-kala-sankhya-bhih paridrishto dirgha- sukshmah”

“Bahyabhyanyara-vishayakshepi chaturthah”

“Tatah kshiyate prakashavaranam”

“Dharanasu cha yogyata manasah”

At the very beginning Patanjali starts the explanation of pranayama that, it should be done in sitting in Asana only (Yoga Sutra 2:49). He also makes clear by word “tasmin sati” that the Asana is the prerequisite for pranayama. Contrary to that Hathayogic pranayamas do not have that kind of necessary relationship between Asana and pranayama and Hatha Pradipika (2:53) said that Ujjayi can be done while standing and walking.

Let’s understand sutra and definition word by word.

The word or term “Tasmin Sati” before explaining pranayama in yoga sutra stands for 3 meanings:

1. Dvandvanbhighata - means pranayama should be practiced only after one becomes unaffected from conflicts (Dvandva), which is achieved by getting mastery over Asanas.

2. Asana - means pranayama to be done always in sitting in Asana and mastery over it not required.

In both meaning one thing is common that, pranayama should be done often adopting an Asana. And pranayama practice will be much effective when mastery over Asana has been achieved.

3. Third meaning of word is that - while being still in asana and when all conflicts are resolved (dvandvanabhighata), respiration itself automatically and spontaneously leads “gativiccheda” the break in regular rhythm of inhalation and exhalation and pranayama happens. As result of effortlessness in asana (prayatna-shaithilya) and merging the awareness in infinity (anant-samapatti) pranayama happens spontaneously.

Swas means Inhalation and Praswas means Exhalation.

Gativiccheda has two meanings. First - any disruption or break in regularly or rhythmic patterns of breathing. Second - total pause or cessation in movement of breathing.

Both meanings are applied in pranayama as retaining breathing (kumbhaka in Hathayoga) and modifications of inhalation and exhalation.

As Hathayogic pranayamas Patanjali doesn’t use the terms like Puraka (inhaling), Rechaka (exhaling) and Kumbhaka (retaining). If word ‘Gati’ means regular rhythmic mode of movement of respiration then word ‘Vicchheda’ means any alterations or bringing change in the regular breathing. So Viccheda doesn’t mean only retention or Kumbhaka alone, but controlled inhalation and exhalation also.

Another difference - Patanjali does not name pranayama as Hathayogic type of pranayamas which are 8 types.

As described by Patanjali, Gativiccheda in swas & praswas is pranayama and that possible modification or Gativiccheda of normal respiration can be of 4 types. The term vritti in Sutra can be applied to 3 of them so full name will be:

1. Bahya Vritti

2. Abhyantara Vritti

3. Stambha Vritti

4. Chaurthah (Sutra 2:51)

The meaning of the word Vritti is take as ‘mode of behaviour’ of breathing. So (1) Bahya means breathing out or exhalation (2) Abhyantara means breathing in or inhalation (3) Stambha means suspension.

Here the main thing to be understood is ‘Gativichheda’. As it its mentioned earlier Gativiccheda has two meanings. First - any disruption or break in regularly or rhythmic patterns of breathing can be taken as prolonged breathing. Second - total suspension in movement of breathing.

In these cases here we take first meaning only and three varieties of pranayama would be:

1. Bahya Vritti - where exhalation alone is made prolonged and finer and inhalation remains normal. Hatha Yoga takes it as Recheka.

2. Abhyantara Vritti - where inhalation alone is made prolonged and finer and exhalation remains normal. Haha Yoga takes it as Puraka.

3. Stambha Vritti - where breathing is suspended, whether after inhalation or exhalation it depends on practitioner. Hatha Yoga tased it as Kumbhaka.

Since Hathayogic Pranayamas are popular, so above described techniques to practice all alone can be objected and many say that Patanjali talks about three phases of one cycle of Pranayama. By same logic they say that Kumbhaka or suspension of breathing is essential in Pranayama practice.

These three varieties of Pranayamas are regulated in three ways which Patanjali mentions as Desha, Kala and Samkya.

1. Desha means region which stands area up to which movement of air or Prana is felt while breathing in or out. In inhalation it can be taken as felling of coolness of breathing, depth of breathing up to different part of the torso or movement of Prana which can be felt in ant part of body. More the force of the breathing the Desha will be greater.

2. Kala means time required in each and every phase of breathing. The Kala becomes prolonged with slower breathing. Desha and Kala are interrelated and go opposite to each other. If one prolonged other becomes reduced.

3. Samkya means number which indicates number of repetitions or Pranayama. The more numbers of Pranayama done the more effective will be the practice, which has been found by research and practitioners.

Other terms described in sutra which are already mentioned earlier are Dirgh (prolonged) and Sukshma ( subtle or fine) are not independent qualities but whenever any of three pranayamas are done these two applied to achieve Desha, kala and Smakhya.

The Chaturtha or fourth type of pranayama described by patanjali as “Bahyabhyanyara-vishayakshepi chaturthah” means absence of external (exhalation) and internal (inspiration) mode of behaviour is Chaturtha.

The term Vritti is absent in this Sutra. Here Vishaya stands for Vritti and Akshepi means excluded which means absence of Vrittis. It seems in this type of pranayama suspension of exhalation and inhalation is happening spontaneously. This can not be done wilfully and can be achieved by long and years of practice of pranayamas.

The benefits or result of pranayama are described by patanjali are two:

1. The practice of pranayama removes obstacles on the inner illumination potentiality which is covered by number of layers of unwanted thoughts, past memories and social or individual conditionings. These all conditionings are known as Samskaras in Yoga. The potentiality of getting ultimate knowledge or self realisation is the purpose of Yoga and practice of pranayama facilitate it.

2. The Practice of pranayamas facilitate ‘Dharana’ the ability to focus the mind on a region or on an object. In other words we can say that the pranayama practices are essential for the preparation of concentration or meditation.

Yogic Concepts of Breathing or Pranayama - 1


Physiology of Breathing:

Breathing is a normal and natural phenomenon of human physiology, which is controlled by autonomous nervous system. Breathing or ventilation consists of two parts, inspiration and expiration. During inspiration the diaphragm and the external intercostal muscles contract. When diaphragm moves downward, it increases the volume of the thoracic (chest) cavity, and the external intercostal muscles pull the ribs up and outward, expanding the rib cage, further which increases the chest volume. This increase of volume lowers the air pressure in the lungs as compared to atmospheric air pressure. Because air always flows from a region of high pressure to lower pressure, it travels in body through nostrils, throat, larynx and trachea into the alveoli of the lungs. When diaphragm and external intercostal muscles relax, it restores the thoracic cavity to its original (smaller) volume, which forces air out of the lungs into the atmosphere. Whereas breathing is involved with the movement of air into and out of the thoracic cavity, respiration involves the exchange of gases in the lungs.

The respiratory center in the brainstem is responsible for controlling a person’s breathing rate. It sends a message to the respiratory muscles telling them when to breathe. The medulla, located nearest the spinal cord, directs the spinal cord to maintain breathing, and the pons, a part of the brain very near the medulla, provides further smoothing of the respiration pattern. This control is automatic, involuntary and continuous entire life. We do not have to consciously think about it.

The respiratory center in brain knows how to regulate the breathing rate and depth by measuring the amount or percentage of carbon dioxide, oxygen and acidosis (blood acid) in the arterial blood. There are receptors, called chemoreceptors, in the arch of the aorta and throughout the arteries that send signals and feedback to the respiratory center to increase or decrease the breathing rate depending on the condition of these metabolic variables. For example, when we exercise, carbon dioxide levels increase significantly which alert the chemoreceptors, and notifies the brain’s respiratory center to increase the speed and depth of breathing.

Breathing is most unique as compared to other functions of the body, which can also be regulated voluntarily. Speaking, singing and playing some instruments (flute, saxophone, trumpet, etc.) are good examples of the voluntary control over breathing. Anatomically equilibrium (balance in breathing pressures) of breathing can be easily disrupted by fatigue or prolonged sympathetic (excitatory) nervous system arousal as seen with stress.

Yogic Concept:

In Yoga breathing is more than a normal physiology. Scientific research on Yogic Breathing techniques shows that – regular practice of yogic breathing enhances relaxation by reducing stress, and improves organ function. It may reduce or alleviate some of the chronic negative effects of stress. This stress relief is one of the reasons of practicing pranayama in modern days.

In this blog I will try to explain Yogic Concepts of breathing, and will explain that it is just simple respiration or more than that as Yoga describes.

In Yoga all practices related to breathing called ‘Pranayama’. The practice involves voluntary or behavioral control over breathing. Yogis knew the relation between respiration and changing emotional states of mind long before the birth of modern science. In India these practices and the theories behind them have been extensively developed in the traditional Hatha Yoga. The Yoga texts describe the practice of different pranayamas for various reasons, but the ultimate goal is to bring control over modifications of the mind (vrittis) through an eight- fold path of yoga.

Pranayama – meaning:

The word pranayama is composed of two different words – Prana & Ayama or Yama. Prana, which means ‘breath’ as well as the vital/subtle energies in the human body, and Ayama, means ‘to regulate by conscious control’ or Yama means ‘to restrain’ it. Together the words refer to the method of conscious breath control.

It is well-known fact in yogic system, that Prana has larger meanings – it is not just breathing or air.


Prana is a universal concept and a vital force which sustains entire universe including all living and non-living beings. Word Prana is made of two syllables, ‘Pra’ means force and ‘Na’ means in continuous motion. Prana works in all levels of existence and is behind every motion, action, thoughts, and in every level of mind and body in an individual. As per scientific researches it is a multidimensional energy: a combination of electric, magnetic, electromagnetic, photonic, ocular, thermal and mental energies.

Prana is the one behind fundamental law of creation, growth and decay or destruction. As per Taittiriya Upanishad human body or existence is made of five sheaths (Panch-Koshas) and prana resides in Pranamaya Kosha. Pranic field (Aura) in in human body has been proved and measured by modern Krilian photography too.

In Pranamaya Kosha or Pranic body there are pranic channels through which prana flows in entire body which are called Nadis and prana is stored in Chakras. In Hatha yogic and tantrik system there is so much emphasis to keep nadis clean for the sake of proper flow of prana in entire body. Hatha Yoga recommends several cleansing processes and Nadi Shodhana (practiced as type of Pranayama) techniques to keep nadis clean. Pranayama practices fulfill this purpose too.

Prana is an essential part in all being, everyone is born with certain level of prana and we sustain it entire life. We can increase/decrease it by healthy/unhealthy life style. Level of prana depends on the air we breathe, the food we eat, the thoughts we think and the action and lifestyle we lead. Whenever Prana leaves the body, we are declared dead.

Yoga describes 10 different types of pranas in which 5 are major and 5 are minor. Each prana controls and performs different types of physical and psychic activities.

As per Patanjali’s eight-fold path or Ashtanga Yoga (not so called Ashtanga-Vinyasa system), Pranayama comes in forth and in Hatha Yoga (especially Hathapradipika) it comes second steps of the classical science of yoga.


Highly accomplished yogis developed Pranayama techniques in ancient time by experiencing and experimenting pranas and its influence on physical and mental level. Breathing is the closest physical form of prana and they noticed that whenever any short of change happened or experienced on physical and mental level – breathing gets disturbed immediately. Same time they experienced that whenever they bring restrain or control (yama) on breathing, especially mind gets calmer and it helps in providing relaxation on physical level. After finding this relation yogis realized that breath and mind are interdependent. To control the fluctuation of mind directly has always been a difficult task yogis found breathing is a tool to achieve it.

As explained in Patanjali Yogasutra: Patanjali describes pranayama as:

“Afrer mastering or accomplishing asana when pause or regulation in inhalation and exhalation happens, it is called pranayama”.

‘Tasmin sati’ word in yogasutra indicates that previous steps of yoga practice – yama, niyamas, asanas should not be skipped. So the order should be maintained to attain the regulation or pause in breathing. As per patanjali’s system - if order of practices yamas, niyamas, and asanas followed, fluctuations on mental and physical levels get minimized and one becomes perfectly ready to practice pranayama. Or we can say pranayama happens.

Patanjali describes four different types or phases of pranayamas. I will be talking about them in next blogs to come with types of pranayama.

As we all know pranayama is practices are mostly deep breathing practices, in next blog I will mention difference between normal breathing or simple deep breathing and Pranayama.

To be continued….