First of all the practitioner should pay close attention to the stages of breathing: breathing in, retention of the breath and breathing out.
Breathing in should be natural, never forced; the air should come inside the body as the result of the enlargement of the abdomen. When we are retaining the breath inside, the inferior part of the body has to take the form of a vessel; the yogic term for this is kumbhaka, which means “the one that contains”.
Retaining the breath is the milestone of breathing techniques. From here a great force springs. During this stage, the air is partially absorbed by the lungs and energizes the whole body.
The Tantric adept is advised to imagine that he absorbs the life-giving energies of Brahma. While in retention, the attention of the adept should be directed on extracting the vital energies and making them circulate through the body.
Finally, during the outward breath he/she should imagine that all impurities, diseases or nervous tensions leave the body and go back into the ground in order to be purified.
All these three parts of the process of breathing should be linked together, without interruptions or sudden moves. Furthermore, one should always be aware and focused during the act of breathing.
The most important moment is the retention of the breath after inhaling, when the flow of energy is improved and the subtle channels of the body are being reopened.
There is also an increased amount of gland secretions, especially saliva, which, according to the yoga teachings, strengthen and nourish the human being.
A yogic treaty, Goratsha shatakam, strongly emphasizes that:
“The practitioner should breathe in slowly and breathe out the same way, trying not to retain his breath for too long and yet not letting it out too quickly either. Control of the breath destroys all karmic residues, bringing harmony and equilibrium to the whole body.”
Complete breathing – inhalation, retention and exhalation represent the first steps in using breathing techniques as modalities of reaching the ultimate state of freedom.
Once you get accustomed with a healthy and harmonious pattern of breathing, you will have the possibility to experience other specific rhythms of breathing.
For example, the healing breath is an extremely simple technique and can be practiced anytime, as described below:
The rhythm of this type of breathing is 1:4:2, meaning that the retention lasts four times longer than the inhalation, and the exhalation – two times longer. In the case of Pranayama (breathing exercises), the inhalation is taken as the measure.
Prolong inhalation at first, and then do exactly as said before. Gradually increase the time of inhalation, keeping the proportion of the other two. The result of such practice is that the process of breathing is slowed down, and will relax and refresh both body and mind.
Nevertheless, do not practice this technique too intensely in the beginning. If you feel dizzy or tired, or if your heart is beating too fast stop practicing it as these are signs which indicate that you are using too much force. It is recommended that you gradually increase the retention period.
The proportion between inhalation, retention, and exhalation should be counted in terms of heartbeats (they can be counted on your fingers or by using a clock).
It is not indicated to count mentally, because if the mind is not focused entirely on the technique, its benefits will not be as powerful as they could be, that is if you are completely focused on the technique.
This is recommended because the mind should focus on the process of meditation, and not on the logic, rational process of counting. An effective concentration is to focus upon sounds produced by the air when inhaled and exhaled.
Yogic treaties describe a large number of sounds that appear while breathing in and out.
For instance, Gheranda Samhita says:
“When the air comes in, it makes a “sah” sound and when it goes out it makes the sound “ham”. These two sounds give birth to the words “saham” (or “soham” which means, “I am HIM”) or “hamsa” (which means “the Great Swan”, referring to “The Bird of the Soul”).
Each living being unconsciously produces these sounds. This subtle sound can be heard in three places: in the so-called ‘root’ center (situated between the anus and the genitalia), in the heart center and in the third eye (placed between the eyebrows).
The Yogi should consciously repeat these sounds, gradually increasing the duration of the inhalation, and preserving the proportion between the retention and exhalation.”
Another method for keeping track of the proportion between inhalation, retention and exhalation is to create and repeat a phrase with a powerful, positive meaning, such as: “I am surrounded by a beneficial aura of protection”, using the length of these words as a unit of measure.
During this time, try to visualize this aura as a yellow light around your head. Use a mantra in exactly the same way, repeated at every stage of the breathing process, respecting the already established proportion.
Walking is an ideal moment for practicing and developing the healing breath because you can use the number of your steps in order to improve your technique.
The correct practice of the ‘healing breath’ technique will refresh your entire body. Your mind will take advantage from its practice as well, as it gradually reaches a state of profound calmness.