Kumbhaka

Samadhi and Kumbhaka seem to be intricately related. Samadhi is the bliss one experiences during Savasana, or after a long meditation or yoga practice and Kumbhaka is the space between breaths, or between inhales and exhales. The more that I practice, the more I find bliss existing in each moment and not simply at the end of a day’s practice, or when the view is good. Finding peace in the present moment seems to lead to being peaceful all the time.

Patanjali taught that the mind fluctuates, between highs and lows, depression and elation. Yoga teaches that breath allows one to control and truly harness the breath; it is the doorway to the unconscious mind. By deepening Kumbhaka, or the time between breaths, a yogi can deepen their state of bliss, leading deeper into the mystical realm of nirvana. The space between the breaths is where the space between thoughts are found; the most blissful of all states. When one is able to simply feel and appreciate the world with gratitude, then all suffering leaves the individual.

The link between the mind and the breath is truly extraordinary. Consciousness, it seems, is the result of having a body; the mind is not only the brain, but by the entire nervous, muscular and skeletal system. We can then assume that the body influences the states of the mind and that breathing is a way to control the body. Breathing is actually one of the most powerful influencers of conscious states; it is functioning minutes after a child leaves the womb and doesn’t cease until death. Breathing even continues when you are unconscious and I believe it is the most powerful link to the unconscious mind, the deepest layers of thought that create consciousness.

Lately I have been playing with lengthening my breaths, to see how long my body can go without breathing while relaxed. Time seems to be constantly increasing between the need for breaths and my ability to slow my breath has improved enormously. At the end of a practice, once my nervous system has calmed, it seems like I can go into extended periods of time without breathing. Buddhist monks are said to be able to stop breathing completely; in fact, some meditate into death by slowing and stopping the organs through breath. Doctors agree that the lifespan of a being is not measured in the amount of time (minutes, seconds, etc) but by the amount of breaths. Breathing is your life force, known as prana in yoga; the lungs encompass the heart, feed and cleanse it and give the body ability to normalize itself to the environment. The breath, it seems, is also the doorway to long life.

Kumbhaka seems to be a pathway to enlightenment and the inner workings of the mind, having deep implications for the unconscious mind, the heart, and entire circulatory system. Poorak is the name for an inhale and Rechak is the name of an exhale in Sanskrit. The different types of Kumbhaka are also important to understand:

  • antar kumbhaka – after the inhale, when the lungs are full
  • bahya kumbhaka – after the exhale, when the lungs are empty
  • Sahit Kumbhaka – performed during the middle of an exhale or inhale
  • Kevali Kumbhaka – complete cessation of breathing, an advanced stage of Kumbhaka after intensive Pranayama and Kumbhaka exercises

Practicing these exercises will calm the nervous system and slow the breath rate, leading to increased vitality and focus of the mind. Humans are one of the few species that can voluntarily stop the breath, whales are a second species, and it gives tremendous insight into the inner workings of consciousness. Over time Kumbhaka exercises may very well lead to ultimate Samadhi, enlightenment, and the realization of god. But in any case, it will certainly bring your mind to a more peaceful state and allow you to be less reactive to the outside world, so that you can enjoy it more. Practice your Kumbhaka and look for the little nooks and crannies that you’ve never felt before; these will turn into new worlds for exploration.

 

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