Kumbhaka is a style of yogic breathing where you take a long pause either at the end of your inhale (Antara Kumbhaka) or at the end of your exhale (Bahya Kumbhaka). By practicing these yogic breathing techniques, you can become more aware of your body and help relieve pain.

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I hadn’t ever heard of Antara Kumbhaka and Bahya Kumbhaka before I started researching different yogic breathing techniques that could help relax the body and relieve pain.

However, once I researched how to practice these two breathing styles, I realized I’ve been practicing them for quite some time. Without calling these yogic breathing styles by these names, my yoga teacher had been teaching this breathwork and encouraging us to build our skill and endurance.

You may be surprised to find that you, too, have been practicing a style of Kumbhaka breathing! Here are the reasons why you should practice Kumbhaka (including how it can help relieve pain) and the specifics on how to correctly practice these two breathing techniques.

What Is Kumbhaka Breathing?

Simply put, Kumbhaka is taking a long pause either at the end of your inhale or at the end of your exhale. If you are practicing Antara Kumbhaka, the more basic breathing practice, you pause at the end of your inhale. For Bahya Kumbhaka, you pause at the end of your exhale.

Benefits of Kumbhaka

Much like other types of yogic breathing, there are many benefits of Kumbhaka breathing. These benefits include:

  • increased relaxation,
  • decreased stress,
  • improved respiratory health,
  • elimination of toxins,
  • body purification,
  • increased physical and mental energy,
  • improved concentration, and
  • increased focus and stillness in the mind.

So, How Does Kumbhaka Help with Pain Relief?

When you take the time to focus on your breathing, your body immediately feels several benefits. First of all, you start to relax. This can help reduce or completely relieve any pain you may be feeling.

Second, you start to slow your mind. Without the whirring of your brain, your body can further relax, and you can start to be more mindful of where (and maybe even why) you’re feeling pain.

Try this: Take a breath and pause when you feel like you’ve inhaled to your fullest. How do you feel? If you feel any spots of pain, take note. Exhale fully. On your next inhale, try to send air into an area where you noticed pain before. Feel the painful area fill with air and, as it does, feel the pain leave. Exhale.

Finally, mindfully breathing ensures your body is receiving plenty of oxygen. When this happens, the oxygen is spread to cells throughout your body, leaving you feeling refreshed and lighter.

I know. Lighter? Really

Yes, honestly. When you take the time to practice breathing, your body will feel lighter, your movements will feel more effortless, and you’ll even get a bonus boost of energy.

Win, win, win!

How to Practice Antara Kumbhaka

In Antara Kumbhaka, you hold your breath after your inhale is completed.

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position such as Sukhasana.
  2. Engage Mula Bandha (your root lock in the base of your pelvis) and Jalandhara Bandha (your throat lock). Engaging these locks will help contain your energy work from your breathing within your body. Honestly, though, if you’re just beginning breath work, don’t worry about your bandhas right now. Pay attention to your breath pattern and, as that becomes easier, begin engaging your bandhas.
  3. Start using ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
  4. After several warm-up breaths, exhale fully.
  5. Inhale and think of filling the lower abdomen up to the top of the lungs. Take your largest inhale and, at the top of the inhale, pause for two or three seconds.
  6. Fully exhale. Make sure to take your time so that you exhale completely.

Over several months, work on gradually increasing the length of your pause until you are holding for 16 seconds. Once you reach this point, move on to the slightly more advanced Bahya Kumbhaka.

Antara Kumbhaka For the Visual Learners…

Here’s a video for just in case you’re more of a visual learner.

How to Practice Bahya Kumbhaka

In Bahya Kumbhaka, you hold your breath after your exhale is completed.

  1. Begin in a comfortable seated position such as Sukhasana.
  2. Engage Mula Bandha (your root lock in the base of your pelvis),  Uddiyana Bandha (your abdominal lock), and Jalandhara Bandha (your throat lock). When all three locks are engaged, Maha Bandha (the great lock) is achieved. Engaging these locks will help contain your energy work from your breathing within your body. Honestly, though, if you’re just beginning breath work, don’t worry about your bandhas right now. Pay attention to your breath pattern and, as that becomes easier, begin engaging your bandhas.
  3. Start using ujjayi breathing by inhaling and exhaling through the nose.
  4. After several warm-up breaths, exhale fully.
  5. Take a nice, deep inhale and pause for a moment at the top of the inhale.
  6. Exhale slowly and steadily. Feel the air leave the bottom of your lungs, then the middle, then the top. When you feel like your lungs are empty, try to exhale a little more.
  7. Hold here for two or three seconds.

As you exhale, try to make it last longer than your inhale. Also, work on gradually increasing the length of your pause until you are holding for 16 seconds. It might take several months for you to reach this goal.

Bahya Kumbhaka for the Visual Learners…

Here’s a quick how-to video for all the visual learners out there.

Additional Kumbhaka

According to yogapedia.com, there are other kinds of Kumbhaka.

“There are two additional types of kumbhaka practiced by the most advanced yogis: sahaja (or sahitkumbhaka, which is holding the breath with neither inhalation nor exhalation in mind; and kevalakumbhaka, which does not require inhalation or exhalation and is considered the final stage of union, or samadhi.”

How to Choose the Kumbhaka Best for You

No matter your skill or pain level, there is an appropriate level of Kumbhaka for your practice. If you’re not sure where to start, begin with Antara Kumbhaka. When you can hold your breath for 16 seconds, take that as your cue to begin practicing Bahya Kumbhaka.

If you’re looking for more pointers to help you relieve pain, just click below to receive your free digital copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.