By practicing a special pranayama that involves forceful exhalation or retention of breath, one acquires a pristine state of mind.
Yoga Sutra 1.34 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD
pracchardana = pra + chardana
- pra very special; unique; exceptional
- chardana peeling off the layers; chiseling out; sculpturing; removing the waste matter through forceful exhalation; bringing out that which was hidden; out-going breath
vidhāraṇā = vi + dhāraṇa
- vi unique, special
- dhāraṇa to hold; to retain; to confine; to fill
pracchardanavidhāraṇābhyāṃ combines prachhardana and vidhāraṇa in the fifth case (ablative), dual number. Prachhardana is a unique method of exhalation and vidhāraṇā is a special technique for retaining the breath.
vā and, or
prāṇasya is the sixth case singular (possessive) of prāṇa, life force
Breathe Your Obstacles Away
By energizing the olfactory nerve and surrounding tissues, a yogi can attain clarity of mind—provided he practices systematically.
He observed a direct correlation between a healthy nasal passage and a clear mind—a correlation well documented in the maha mrityunjaya mantra.
According to yoga science and philosophy, pranayama techniques are one of the best ways to purify the mind and make it focused and inward. There are hundreds of pranayamas and, in general, all of them cleanse the body and purify the mind. But according to Patanjali—and hundreds of other masters who came after him—one particular pranayama aims exclusively at making the mind crystal clear, thereby eliminating the obstacles to our inner development. In the tradition of the Himalayan sages, more precisely the tradition belonging to the great master Dattatreya, this particular pranayama is known as pracchardana/ vidharana pranayama. Later, masters like Guru Goraknatha and Atmarama delineated a complete system that enabled students to practice this unique pranayama step-by-step.
Before describing the practice, let me explain a bit about the unique power contained in the olfactory nerve. This is the only nerve in the central nervous system that continually regenerates throughout our adult lives. The olfactory nerve is composed of neurons that originate in the mucus tissue of the nose and run the short distance to the olfactory bulb, one of the most primitive parts of the brain. Thousands of years ago, the sage Kahola came to understand that the region around the olfactory bulb and the surrounding glial cells is the source of the healing force. He measured the health of this region by the subtle changes in odor in the nasal passage itself. He claimed that a foul odor was an indication that pushti-kendra, the center of nurturance and rejuvenation, had become sluggish or blocked. Sage Kahola discovered that removing the conditions that cause foul breath enhanced not only physical health but also mental and physical well-being. He observed a direct correlation between a healthy nasal passage and a clear mind—a correlation well documented in the maha mrityunjaya mantra.
The pranayama described in this sutra is precisely for clearing away the toxins and the waste matter that cover the surface of the glial cells, for energizing the region surrounding the olfactory bulb, and for stimulating the process of healing the body and clearing the mind. This vigorous pranayama involves forceful exhalation and breath retention and is traditionally practiced in five steps. Regarding the fifth step, masters warn, “Do not teach, do not teach; rather impart it privately only to those who have successfully completed the first four steps.” The reason for this warning is that the fifth step of this practice is quite demanding. It subsumes all four steps and the side effects can be injurious if the aspirant is not properly prepared.
This fifth step yields an instant result when the aspirant has fulfilled all the prerequisites. The major prerequisites are: perfection in the sitting posture, a high degree of mental stability, and sensitivity to the movement of the pranic force through the energy channels. This step also involves focusing on a particular mantra, which is imparted through formal initiation. To a student of yoga, conversant with deeper dimensions of physiology and anatomy, this step of the pranayama practice is purely scientific. To others, however, it appears to be esoteric.
In the yoga tradition, the first four steps are known as anuloma pranayama. The simplest version of these four steps are as follows:
Inhale deeply through both nostrils. At the pinnacle of the inhalation, close your right nostril and exhale forcefully through the left nostril. Empty your lungs as vigorously as you can. When the exhalation is complete, inhale deeply through the left nostril as gently and smoothly as possible. There should be no noise or jerks during the inhalation. Once you have completed your inhalation, again exhale vigorously through the left nostril.
In this way, exhale and inhale three times through the left nostril, while keeping the right nostril closed. Then bring your attention to the center between the eyebrows and take a few normal breaths through both nostrils.
Now reverse nostrils. Again, take a normal breath through both nostrils, but this time exhale vigorously through the right nostril while keeping the left nostril closed. Then exhale gently and smoothly through the right nostril. Do this three times. When you have completed three exhalations and three inhalations through the right nostril, bring your attention to the eyebrow center and take three normal breaths.
This constitutes one complete cycle. Practice this step for a week or so before moving on to the second step.
A complete cycle of step one constitutes the first part of this step. When you have completed that, take a few normal breaths. Then close your right nostril, just as you did in step one. This time both the exhalation and the inhalation are vigorous. So close your right nostril, and exhale and inhale vigorously through the left. Make both the exhalation and the inhalation as deep and prolonged as possible—your exhalation will be almost as noisy and vigorous as the inhalation. Exhale and inhale three times. When you have finished, bring your attention to your eyebrow center and take three normal breaths through both nostrils. Then close your left nostril, and take three forceful exhalations and inhalations through the right nostril. Follow this with a few normal breaths. This completes step two. Practice this for a week or two before moving on to the third step.
Just as the second step included step one, step three includes the first two steps. Step three is exactly like step two, except both the exhalations and inhalations are rapid. Close the right nostril, exhale and inhale rapidly through the left; take a few normal breaths and switch sides.
It is totally up to you how fast you breathe. You may be breathing 40 to 70 breaths per minute. If you are a seasoned practitioner and have full control over your diaphragmatic and abdominal muscles, if your heart and lungs are in perfect health, if your posture is really steady and stable, and if your nasal passages are neither dry nor too wet, then you can accelerate your breathing. During the first two steps you were exhaling only three times through a nostril. This time your breathing is not measured by number but by time. Do not exceed one minute. Make sure you stay within your capacity. If, after completing this step, you find your nasal passages completely dry and if you had to swallow your saliva several times to moisten your throat, you have exceeded your capacity.
Continue practicing this step for at least a month before moving on to the fourth step.
If there is the slightest trace of abnormal blood pressure—either low or high—this step is strictly forbidden. A person with any form of coronary disease is not fit to undertake this practice. This step violates the normal laws of breathing physiology. It is not creating a harmonious balance in body and mind but rather is a step toward conquest and self-mastery. Practice this step at your own risk.
Unlike the other steps, this one begins with step three. Exhale and inhale vigorously and rapidly through your left nostril. Then suddenly (but mindfully) make your last exhalation deep and prolonged. Push out every molecule of air. Then inhale through the same nostril, vigorously and deeply. During this inhalation, fill your entire body—from perineum to your head—as if it were a cylinder. Mentally observe how your spine has stretched almost an inch. At the pinnacle of your inhalation, close both of your nostrils and retain your breath. At the peak of your retention, release your left nostril and exhale forcefully. Then take several normal breaths through both nostrils. Reverse the pattern and repeat only when you feel fully rested. This time, exhale and inhale forcefully through the right nostril. Then retain your breath and exhale through the right nostril. Then breathe normally through both nostrils.
- Before undertaking any of these steps, learn to sit in a steady and comfortable posture.
- Make sure your alimentary canal is empty, but you are neither hungry or thirsty.
- Brush your teeth, scrape your tongue, and clean your nostrils. Doing the nasal wash with a neti pot is absolutely recommended, for this kriya removes the dead cells and cleans the mucus membranes. Remove all the water from your nasal passages before beginning this practice.
- Make sure that both your nostrils are open. If one nostril is blocked to the point that your breathing becomes uncomfortable, then use the techniques of hatha yoga—bandhas and mudras—to open the blocked nostril. If the nostril remains blocked, then do not do this pranayama or do it very gently.
- Never exceed your capacity. Expand your capacity slowly. Never bully yourself and do not compete with others practicing this pranayama. Self-assessment and guidance from a competent teacher will help you achieve the most result with least risk.