WikiJournal Preprints/A review on the general features, types, techniques and outcomes of Pranayama mentioned in Yoga Upanishads

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  2. Professor, Andhra University


Pranayama is an integral component of Hatha Yoga. It involves the control and expansion of vital force. The Yoga Upanishads elaborates various Yogic concepts such as Brahma-vidya, Prana, Yoga-angas, and Samadhi. Among these Yogic Concepts, the general features, procedure, nadis, vayus, types and techniques, and outcomes of Pranayama were broadly explained by only thirteen of the twenty Yoga Upanishads. The aim of the study is to systematically review the general aspects, types and techniques, and consequences of Pranayama in Yoga Upanishads. The original Sanskrit verses of the Yoga Upanishads were translated into English for literal and unambiguous interpretation of the concepts of Pranayama. In Most of the Yoga Upanishad, after mastery over the Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas and after the purification of Nadis, should start the Pranayama. In this study, the concepts of Pranayama were systematically arranged and presented in sequence. The Yoga Upanishads, Trishiki-Brahmana, Darsana, Yoga-Chudamani, Yoga-Tattva and Sandilya extensively elaborates the place, requirement of qualities to practice, purification of nadis, indications during the practice, frequency, types of kumbhakas, benefits of Pranayama, whereas the remaining eight of the thirteen Upanishads precisely elaborate the concept of pranayama.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

The word Pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit root words ‘Prana’ means Vital force and the word ‘Ayama’ means to gain control. Maharshi Patanjali defines Pranayama as ‘The regulation of the movements of inhalation and exhalation’. He also states that by the practice of Pranayama, the darkness that hides the light of wisdom is destroyed and is regulated by place, time and number meaning that at various times in our Yoga Sadhana[1] (Nagendra H R, 1998). The Yoga Upanishads defines Pranayama is expiration (Rechaka) of impure from the body, then inspiration (Puraka) of pure air, then purifying the air by holding (kumbhaka), similarly holding after complete exhalation and these four processes are said to be pranayama[2] (Laxmikanth R & Gopinath V, 2021).

According to Maharshi Patanjali, Pranayama is the intermediate step to achieve the state of Samadhi and it is the fourth limb of the Astanga Yoga[3] (Siddappa N & Vadiraja S H, 2022). In the Hatha Yoga texts, the concept of Pranayama was elaborated very widely as it plays a major role in the purification of nadis, awakening of kundalini and ultimate path to reach Samadhi state. Most of the Hatha Yoga texts disclosed the pranayama preparatory rules like yogic diet, place, and climate and also types of Pranayama[4] (Chetry et al., 2022). Swatmarama clearly defined that, Pranayama should be done to remove the impurities in the nadis, so that, the vital air can pass through the sushumna and the sadhaka can attain the state of unmani avastha. It should be done with the satvika buddhi, which leads to the purification of the nadis, and chakras and the yogi can retain Prana[5] (Swami Mukthibodananda, 1998).

Upanishads are roots to transcendental knowledge to attain the state of samadhi or liberation or moksha[6] (Dasgupta S N, 1975). In order to gain the transcendental knowledge, the Upanishads reveals various yogic practices and various types of yoga such as, mantra yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, hatha yoga, taraka yoga, raja yoga and laya yoga[7] (ChandraKanth P, 2021). Among the one hundred and eight Upanishads, the Upanishads which specifically deals with yoga along the theory of vedanta are named as Yoga Upanishads and they are twenty in number[8] (Paul Deussen, 1906). Among these twenty, only thirteen Upanishads discuss the pranayama technique. In these thirteen Upanishads, Pranayama is discussed as one of the limbs of the Sadanga or Astanga and Panchadasanga Yoga[9] (Saibaba Ch & Ramesh Babu k, 2022). The thirteen Upanishads are, Amrita-Nada, Kshurika, Tejobindu, Trishiki-Brahmana, Darsana, Dhyana-Bindu, Mandala-Brahmana, Yoga-Kundalini, Yoga-Chudamani, Yoga-Tattva, Yogashika, Sandilya and Varaha. All these Upanishads explains Pranayama as the intermediate stage to purify the nadis, so that the Prana flow through it and awaken the kundalini to reach the next stage in path of liberation[10][11] (Manmath M et al., 2009; Paul Deussen, 1980).

The purpose of the study is to systematically review the general aspects such as preparatory steps, eligible qualities to do pranayama, place, time and frequency, indications and diet, types and techniques, kumbhakas, benefits and safety measures of Pranayama practices in the Yoga Upanishads.

Methods[edit | edit source]

The concept of Pranayama techniques from Yoga Upanishads was sourced to obtain the general features, procedure, types, and outcomes of Pranayama. The Yoga Upanishads which describe or mention the Pranayama were considered in this study and from those Upanishads only the Sanskrit slokas were translated into English and interpreted correctly. Though there are lot of books on the Yoga Upanishad but the translated slokas were consider to be final in order to remove the misinterpretation.

In this study, the concepts of Pranayama in the Yoga Upanishads were presented according to the concepts such as, General features such as place and posture, diet, rules to purify nadis, nadis and vayus with their termination and function, types of Pranayama, techniques and Procedures of Pranayama, Outcomes such as, Benefits, destruction of diseases, through the practice of Pranayama.

General features of Pranayama[edit | edit source]

Place and Posture[edit | edit source]

The Yoga Upanishads recommends suitable place and posture for the practice of Pranayama. According to Trishiki Brahmana Upanishad, the practitioner should select the place full of things, which helpful to several stages of yoga, he should choose Swastika posture on wooden seat covered kusa grass and skin of antelope[12]. The Darshana Upanishad recommends summit of mountain or the bank of river, under a Bael tree or in a pleasant and clean forest and then comfortable posture with his neck, head and body should erect and observe the tip of nose with closed mouth[12]. Yoga-Chudamani and Yoga- Tattva recommends Padmasana. The Yoga-Tattva and the Sandilya prefers Matha, which was well cleansed by cowdung or lime washed, free from mosquitoes, bugs and lice, every day swept by broom, the room should emit with sweet smell, the seat, neither too high nor too low and it should be covered by deer skin or kusa grass. The Sandilya only recommends the place abundance in fruits, roots, flowers and water.[13]

Qualities required for pranayama[edit | edit source]

The sandilya Upanishad only reveals the qualities to be require for the Pranayama. One should possess of self-control and restraint in his observances, brahmacharya, skilled in theory and practice of yoga, truth and morality conduct, balance in emotions, obedient to the parents and guru and he should be righteousness in his conduct of duty at all the times in his life.[14]

Rules to purify nadis[edit | edit source]

According to Trishiki-Brahmana and Sandilya Upanishads, the practitioner should mastery over Yamas, Niyamas and Asanas, and also aware on the nadis and vayus with their postion and functioning, by knowing all this knowledge, should attempt for purification of nadis[15]. According to Darsana, one should devoid of desires, perfection in yamas and the like, practise satya all the time and well confirmed in one’s own self.[16] The Yoga-Tattva and Sandilya mentioned that the purification of nadis should gradually practice four times (early morning, noon, evening and midnight) in a day with eighty kumbhas at a time. The Sandilya also mentioned that a lion or an elephant can be brought under control little by little similarly, the vital air can be controlled. It also warned the practitioner to perform in due care otherwise it will kill the practitioner.

Nadis and its termination

The Yoga Upanishads, which mention the nadis are Trishiki-Brahmana, Dhyana-Bindu, Yoga-Chudamani, Darsana, Varaha and Sandilya Upanishads[16][17]. The first three Upanishads mention only ten important nadis and the later three mention fourteen nadis with their origin and termination. But, some of the nadis and their termination are different as per the Upanishad and in those only a few termination points are not mentioned. The nadis and their termination are given in the table-1 and the Upanishad, which doesn’t mention their termination are left empty.

Table1: The nadis and their termination

Sl no Trishiki-Brahmana Upanishad Dhyana-Bindu Upanishad Yoga-Chudamani Upanishad Darsana Upanishad Varaha Upanishad Sandilya Upanishad
Nadis Termin-ation Nadis Nadis Termin-ation Nadis Termination Nadis Nadis Termination
1 Sushumna Brahmarandhra Ida Ida Left nostril Sushumna brahmarandhra Sushumna Ida Left nostril
2 Ida Left nostril Pingala Pingala Right nostril Pingala Right nostril Alambusa Pingala Right nostril
3 Pingala Right nostril Sushumna Sushumna Brahmarandhra Ida Left nostril Kuhu Sushumna Brahmarandhra
4 Gandhari Left eye Gandhari Gandhari Left eye Sarasvati Tongue Varuni Sarasvati Tongue
5 Hastijihva Right eye Hastijihva Hastijihva Right eye Pusa Left eye Yasasvini Varuni All direction
6 Pusa Left ear Pusa Pusa Right ear Varuni - Pingala Pusa Right eye
7 Yasasvini Right ear Yasasvini Yasasvini Left ear Hastijihva Right big toe Pusa Hastijihva -
8 Alambusa Anus Alambusa Alambusa Mouth Yasasvini Right ear Payasvini Yasasvini Right ear
9 Subhanadi Genital Kuhu Kuhu Genitals Alambusa Anus Sarasvati Visvodara -
10 Kausiki Big toe Sankhini Sankhini Anus Kuhu - Sankhini Kuhu Genitals
11 - - - - - Visvodara Navel Gamdhari Sankhini Left ear
12 - - - - - Payasvini Left big toe Ida Payasvini big toe
13 - - - - - Sankhini left ear Hastijihva Alambusa Anus
14 - - - - - Gamdhari Right eye Visvodara Gamdhari Left eye

Vayus and its functioning

The five Yoga Upanishads: The Trishiki-Brahmana, Dhyana-Bindu, Yoga-Chudamani, Darsana, and Sandilya Upanishads only describes the importance, circulation and functioning of the Vayus in body. These Upanishads describes the ten important vayus with their circulation and functioning, except the Varaha, which only mentions the names of ten vayus. The table-2 shows the various vayus with their circulation and functioning in the body as per the description in the particular Upanishad. The four Upanishads, which have mentioned the circulation of the vayus are similar but, their functions are slight differ in the description, which is presented in the table-2.

Table-2: The Vayus with their circulation and functioning

Sl no. Name of the vayu Circulation of vayus in the body Functioning of vayus according to the respective Upanishads
Trishiki-Brahmana Upanishad Darsana Upanishad Yoga-Chudamani Upanishad Sandilya Upanishad
1 Prana Neck, Nose, middle of Navel and Heart Separation of food and water Inspiration, Expiration and Coughing Not mentioned Inspiration, Expiration and Coughing
2 Apana Anus, Genitals, Hips, Thighs and Knees Evacuation Evacuation of faeces and urine Evacuation of faeces and urine
3 Samana Entire body Nourishing Nourishing Nourishing
4 Udana Joints of the legs and hands Raising upward Raising upward Raising upward
5 Vyana Ears, Eyes, Wrist and Throat Action of Prana and Apana Seizing Seizing
6 Naga Skin and Bones and the like Belching Belching Belching Belching
7 Kurma Closing and opening of eyes Closing and opening of eyes Closing and opening of eyes Closing and opening of eyes
8 Krakra Twinkling of eyes Hungry Sneezing Hiccups
9 Devadutta Sleeping Sleeping Yawning Yawning
10 Dhanunjaya Swelling and dead body Swelling Pervade entire body after death Produce Phlegm

Process of purifying nadis (nadisodhana)

In the five Yoga Upanishads: The Trishiki-Brahmana, Darsana, Yoga-Chudamani, Yoga, and Sandilya Upanishads have described the process of nadi purification. Among these five, except the Trishik-Brahmana, the remaining four Upanishads have described same procedure. According to this four, after knowing the nadis and vayus, one should take a deep inhalation (Puraka) through the Ida nadi and perform kumbhaka and then exhale (Rechaka) through Pingala and again inhale through the Pingala and then kumbhaka and exhale through the ida and then continue the procedure as long as one can hold atleast twenty kumbhakas in each session, morning, afternoon, evening and midnight. Whereas in the Trishiki-Brahmana the purification starts with the exhalation through the Pingala nadi and then inhalation through the Ida nadi as the above procedure with the ratio of 16(Puraka):64(Kumbhaka):32(Rechaka) and it is initial matras for the beginners.

Diet for pranayama

According to the Yoga-Tattva, the sadhaka should restrain from food which is harmful, salt, mustard, hot, acid, astringent, and pungent and should consume the diet which having rich in milk and ghee, cooked wheat, green gram and rice. In the Sandilya also mentioned the diet rich in milk and ghee and most conducive should be consumed by the sadhaka and after the mastery of Pranayama, there is no need of such observances.

Description of Pranayama

According to Amrita-Nada, elongate the breath by reciting the Gayathri thrice with vyahrtis and with pranava with the inclusion of Puraka, Rechaka and kumbhaka[18]. According to Kshurika, one should restrain the mind in his heart like a tortoise and fill his entire body through the nostrils and then block navarandhras by holding the vital air and slowly release the air raising up[19]. In the Tejo-Bindu, Pranayama is the control of the vital functions and modifications of the mind as of the Brahman. Detachment with the external world is Rechaka. Reciting internally as “I am Brahman” is Puraka. The steadiness of this conception without agitation is Kumbhaka[20]. According to Trishiki-Brahmana, expiration, inspiration, cessation and then expiration of air, by repeating the above four is Pranayama[15]. According to Darsana, Pranayama is the combination of Rechaka, Puraka and Kumbhaka. One should do Puraka with left nostril by remembering the letter ‘A’ for sixteen matras and Kumbhaka by letter ‘U’ for sixty matras and then Rechaka by letter ‘M’ for thirty-two matras through the Pingala nadi and the process continue with pingala by letter ‘A’[21]. According to Dhyana-Bindu, Pranayama is the combination of Puraka, which is Brahman, Kumbhaka, which is Vishnu and Rechaka, which is Rudra[22]. By assuming the right posture and then Puraka, Kumbhaka and Rechaka in sequential with the ratio of 1:4:2 is said to be Pranayama as per the Mandala Brahmana, Yoga-Chudamani and Yoga-Tattva Upanishads[23][24][25]. The Varaha also described the same procedure for Pranayama but, without any ratio. According to the Sandilya Upanishad, Pranayama is uniting of Prana and Apana and it can be done with Rechaka, Puraka and Kumbhaka with the Pranava ‘A’, ‘U’, ‘M’ letters.  

Types of Pranayamas (Kumbhakas)

Yoga Kundalini, Yoga Shika and Sandilya Upanishads describes two types of Kumbhaka, Sahitha and Kevala kumbhaka. Sahitha includes Rechaka, Puraka, and Kumbhaka and Kevala is devoid of the three. One should practice Sahita till he attains Kevala. Again, these kumbhakas are of four types, Suryabheda, Ujjayi, Sitali and Bhastrika. Whereas Sandilya excludes Bhastrika and includes Sitkara Pranayama. The table-3 explains the procedure and benefits of various kumbhakas according to the respective Upanishads.

Table-3: Types of Pranayamas with the procedures and benefits

Kumbhaka Yoga-Kundalini Yoga-Shika Sandilya
Suryabedha Assuming the Baddha Padmasana, slowly drawing air through Pingala nadi and perform kumbhaka (holding the vital air as possible) and then expel through the Ida nadi.

Benefits: Destroys four kinds of Vata disorders and intestinal worms.

Assuming seculed spot, temperament in food and after controlling the mind, should inhale through the right nostril, perform kumbhaka as possible and exhale through left nostril.

Benefits: destroys the diseases of belly and eradicates the worms.

Assuming comfortable posture, inhale through the Pingala nadi, perform the kumbhaka as the air reaches tip of nails and roots of the hair and expel it through the Ida nadi.

Benefits: It cleanses the cranium and destroys the diseases causes by nadis.

Ujjayi By closing the mouth, slowly drawing air through both, Ida and Pingala nadis until it occupies the space from throat to heart by making baby snoring sound and hold the breath as possible and then exhale through the Ida nadi. It can be done by walking and standing

Benefits: Removes heat in the head, and excessive phlegm in the throat, removes all diseases, raises warmth and destroys hydrops of nadis.   

One should draw the air through both nostrils, direct towards the kundalini by holding in the belly and expel through the left nostril. It can be done by walking and standing

Benefits: It destroys the diseases caused by phlegm in the throat, raises the temperature of the body, removes rheum of the nadis and heals the malfunctions of humours in the body.

Inhale through the nostris by making noise, perform kumbhaka and exhale through the Ida nadi. It can be done by walking and standing.

Benefits: It increases digestive fire and removes phlegm.

Sitali Before performing Kumbhaka, drawing air through the tongue and exhale through the nostrils.

Benefits: Removes Dyspepsia, enlargement of spleen, constipation, biliousness, fever, thirst and poisons.

The practitioner should draw the air through the tongue, perform kumbhaka and then expel through the both nostrils.

Benefits: It destroys pitta doshas, hunger and thirst.

Inhale through the tongue, perform kumbhaka as long as and exhale through the nostrils.

Benefits: It removes indigestion, Hepatomegaly, excessive bile, fever and hunger.

Bhastrika Assuming Padmasana, keeping neck and belly straight line, after closing, one should expel through nose and inhale from throat to the lotus of heart with forceful and continue the process again and again as bellows of blacksmith. When fatigue is experienced by body, then inhale through the right nostril, perform kumbhaka and expel through Ida.  

Benefits: Removes heat in the throat, raises warmth, awakens kundalini, kills sin, destroys phlegm at the entrance of Brahmanadi and balances three gunas.

The practitioner should forcefully expel the air from the two breasts and similarly inhale till he feels fatigue, as the bellows of blacksmith. After overcoming with fatigue, inhale with Pingala nadi, perform kumbhaka and then exhale with through the Ida nadi.

Benefits: It removes excessive bile and phlegm, raises warmth, awakens kundalini, it destroys impedements and it clears the Brahmanadi to flow the Prana.

Not mentioned
Sitkara Not mentioned Not mentioned Drawing air through the mouth with hissing sound, perform kumbhaka and exhale through the nostrils.

Benefits: It removes hunger, thirst and sleep due to laziness.

Role of Bandhas

The Dhyana-Bindu[22], Yoga-Kundalini[26], Yoga-Chudamani, Yoga-Tattva[11], Yoga-Shika[27], Varaha[28] and Sandilya Upanishads only explains the three kinds of Bandhas, Mula-Bandha, Jalandhara-Bandha and Uddiyana-Bandha. According to these Upanishads, after mastery over kumbhakas, should practice bandhas to devoid the impurities. The Mula-Bandha is performed by pressing the anus with heel, inhale as the Apana moves upward and generates a flame, which helpful to awaken kundalini and prana will reaches Brahma-nadi. The Uddiyana-Bandha should be performed after kumbhaka and before rechaka. It raises the prana up into the sushumna nadi. The Jalandhara-Bandha should be performed at the end of Puraka and it constrict the throat without allowing the vital air out, by this the prana will enter the Brahma-nadi. The Varaha Upanishad describes the Chatuspada- Bandha to raise and flow the prana   through Sushumna.  

Indications during the practice of Pranayama

During the practice of Nadisodhana and Pranayama, the sadhaka experiences various outcomes (on the basis of effective practice) with the physical and mental signs. According to the Trishiki-Brahmana Upanishad, the yogi, who combat his vital air will overcome the senses, temperate in food, little sleep, attains longevity and having unnatural death. According to the Darsana, Yoga-Tattva and Shandilya Upanishads, the body becomes lightness, raises the jatharagni, slimness of body and manifestation of Nada. According to the Trishiki-Brahmana, Darsana, Yoga-Chudamani, Yoga-Tattva and Sandilya Upanishads, at the first stage of Pranayama, the sadhaka experiences perspiration, at the second stage, trembling of the body and at the third, the body raises up. These are the indications, which aware in the perfection of Nadisodhana and Pranayama.

Destruction of diseases

According to the Trishiki-Brahmana, the yogin, who conquest the vital air will free from all diseases and rid of fatigue. By hold the vital at the various limbs, there will be destruction of the disease of that particular limb. As per the Darsana, by conquest of vital air can be free from piles and anal fistula, the malfunction of chitta can be cleared. According to the Yoga-Chudamani, all the diseases can be cured by mastery over Pranayama. It also warned that, if there is ill- regulation of the vital leads to the generation of diseases such as, hiccups, asthma, hard breathing and diseases of head, ears, and eyes.

Benefits of Pranayama

The Amrit-Nada says, the impurities of mountain ore and misdeeds caused by the organs of the senses can be burnt by holding the breath. According to the Trishiki-Brahmana, at the inferior stage of Pranayama, ailments and sin will destroy, at the middle stage, ailments, sin and incurable diseases will destroy and at the superior, evacuates small faeces and urine, body becomes light, ever alert on the senses, quick intellect and clear vision. According the Darsana, will rid of sins, and attain the highest knowledge, becomes adept and derive happiness. All the sins can be destroyed through the practice of Pranayama, as per the Yoga-Chudamani. The Sandilya says, the eyes become free from dirt, all kinds of diseases and bindu becomes control.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Thus, among the twenty Yoga Upanishads, only thirteen Upanishads mentioned the Pranayama and again from these thirteen Upanishads, only six Upanishad: the Trishiki-Brahmana, the Darsana, the Yoga-Chudamani, the Yoga -Tattva, the Varaha and the Sandilya Upanishads broadly elaborates the general features such as place and posture, qualities required for Pranayama and rules to purify nadis, nadis and its termination, vayus and its function, types of Pranayama, Bandhas and outcomes of Pranayama. The rest of the seven among the thirteen Upanishads, describes only the definition of Pranayama. The Yoga-Shika and the Yoga-Kundalini describes the Pranayama, though these Upanishads didn’t mention any limbs or angas. But the remaining eleven Upanishads, among the thirteen Upanishads describes the Pranayama as one of the limbs Sadanga, Astanga and Panchadasanga yoga.

Additional information[edit | edit source]

Acknowledgements[edit | edit source]

We sincerely acknowledge Prof. K. Ramesh Babu, Dept. of Yoga & Consciousness, Andhra University for the valuable suggestions and encouragement for this work.

Competing interests[edit | edit source]

There are no competing interests

Ethics statement[edit | edit source]

No, this is Exploratory research

References[edit | edit source]

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