Yogic breathing practice or pranayama is an essential part to practicing yoga. We can use our breath to create space in different parts of our body, dissipate sensation, and deepen meditation within each posture. Traditionally, there are at least four parts to each yogic breath; (1) puraka or inhalation, (2) rechaka or exhalation, and (3) kumbaka or pausing of breath. There are two forms of kumbaka, breath retention after inhalation and pausing of breathing after exhalation. The four parts to each breath can be practiced in different ratios. Beginners should start with a 1:1:1 ratio, for example 4 seconds of inhalation, 4 seconds breath retention, and 4 seconds exhalation. One can additionally add a 4 second pause after lungs are emptied. More advanced pranayama practitioners can work there way up to ratios of 1:2:1 and eventually 1:4:2.
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Vishnudevananda. The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. New York: Three Rivers, 1988. Print.