Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
  AHYMSIN Newsletter, Issue - Oct/Nov 2012  

Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…

Sometimes students write to or ask Swami Veda and other senior teachers in our tradition questions about practice.  When this happens, Swami Veda may answer the question himself or ask a senior teacher to do so, or if the question is asked directly to a senior teacher, the senior teacher will respond.  This is one such “Question and Answer,” or Q&A.

A student who calls himself an "advancing student" writes:

Swami Rama in the lecture on mandukyopanishath (in youtube) teaches the pratice of 2-to-1 breathing. He describes the method and says that one should go up to 60:30; of course, slowly which takes 6 months or even one year. I have started this practice some months ago, and now doing 12:24.  I am doing this after my morning meditation, asanas, nadi-shodhana and then the 2:1 breathing. I want your guidance on this practice and to know whether this sequence is alright?  What care I should take as the length of ratio increases?. I will be very slow and have a lot of patience.

Kindly guide me on this.

Dear Advancing Student,

In regards to your question on breathing practice, specifically, the progressive 2-to-1 kriya of extending the exhalation (rechaka) of the breath rhythm twice the duration of the inhalation (puraka), please see the following comments.

First, your professional background is impressive, and equally, your accomplishment in pranayama practice. Swami Veda has extended an invitation, if you could some time come to the ashram, in spite of your most advanced theoretical knowledge and practices, to take a few days of our basic set of preparatory practices.
And it is wonderful to know of your long term commitment and dedication to your mantra meditation and other practices of the yoga tradition.

As you know, Swami Rama, as one of the masters of yoga of the last century, taught many students and taught many levels of the yoga disciplines. Having attended the lectures you referred to, allow me to give some background to this and to what Swami Veda continues to teach.

Swami Rama in his book Science of Breath gives a detailed explanation on the anatomy and physiology of breath as well as on the subtle science of prana or chi. You are no doubt familiar with this through your profession and through your pranayama practices.

Generally, with 2-to-1 breathing, by extending the exhalation you are directly affecting the right vagus nerve of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. In doing so, this will accomplish the following:

  1. The heart rate will slow.
  2. There will be a decrease of the amount of air remaining in the lungs
  3. The 2-to-1 breathing reduces fear and anxiety, thus helpful in managing stress. (Refer to Anatomy of Hatha Yogaby David Coulter.) A note of caution - if one goes beyond their capacity the opposite affects will occur.

When such 2-to-1 breathing is taken on as a pranayama practice, it is for preparing the mind, prana, breath, and body, for kumbhaka, which Swamiji says is for the person who reaches the 60-to-30, exhaling to inhaling, breath rhythm, the ratio to which you referred.

The practices of Kumbhaka are more commonly taught by the Hatha Yogis. 

The meditation masters of all traditions teach smrty-upasthana, concentration on slow subtle breath in the nostrils including, of course, the practice of one to two breathing to which you addressed your question. The more your breath goes dirgha-sukshma [long and deep] the closer you come to effortless sahaja-kumbhaka [natural retention of the breath] leading to a very high serene state.

Swami Veda has written in his Yoga Sutras book, referring to Patañjali, that the goal of pranayama is:

  1. long, steady,(II:50) breath rhythm, without a break(3rd stage),
  2. where the cessation in natural (sahaja) the 4th stage (II:51);
  3. where the dross of the gunas and the kleshas is thinned to allow for the illumination (dhi) to appear (II:52);
  4. giving a natural state of mind-ekaagra, or concentration (II:53).

Please refer to Swami Veda’s book Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, Volume 2 on the Sadhana Pada for more detailed explanations on Pranayama in the Appendix 2.
You have accomplished much with your perseverance and dedication to your pranayama practice. Yet, for a person who meditates, like yourself, the goal of pranayama is concentration (smrty-upasthana). For this purpose, Swami Veda continues to emphasize the mantra word, breath, and mind flowing as a single unbroken stream of awareness. With such a concentration, you will experience many subtler states of mind through mantra than through the continuity of only the pranayama.

You said you meditate first and then do these other practices. Generally, these practices are done as preparations for meditation with the final pranayama practice being nadi shodhanam to establish sushumna. (Refer to the Path of Fire and Light - Volume 2 by Swami Rama).

Please continue with your dedicated practice, though you may want to slowly shift your emphasis to deepening your mantra meditation, spending more time with this than on continuing the purification practices of breath control.

Practice, Practice, Practice; have patience, perseverance and determination. And as an additional note, you may also be interested in our 600 hour Teacher Training Program (hyt.ttp@gmail.com ).

Yours in service of the Himalayan Lineage,

Swami Ritavan Bharati

Editor’s Note:

Swami Rama lecturing on the Mandukya Upanishad can be watched at this link: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEF1719C37C7BA62E&feature=plcp
For more about the Himalayan Yoga Tradition – Teacher Training Program, please see: http://www.himalayanyogatradition.com/   Contact: hyt.ttp@gmail.com