Practice Antara Kumbhaka and Bayha Kumbhaka Breathing for Better Health

seated breathing
Thanks to Yoga Journal for the image.

I had no idea what Antara Kumbhaka and Bayha Kumbhaka were before doing research for this article. Although I’ve been practicing yoga for several years and am a certified instructor, I don’t remember ever hearing of this breathing technique. However, once I read how to do it, I found out that I’ve been practicing it for years.

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 Bayha Kumbhaka, you pause at the end of your exhale.

You may be surprised to find that you, too, have been practicing a style of Kumbhaka breathing! Here’s the specifics on how to correctly practice these two breathing techniques.

Benefits of Kumbhaka

Much like other types of yogic breathing, the practice of Kumbhaka has several health benefits such as:

  • 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.

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) 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.
  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 Bayha Kumbhaka.

Bayha Kumbhaka

In Bayha 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),  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.
  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.

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.”

No matter your skill 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 Bayha Kumbhaka.

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Do you have any other tips for practicing Kumbhaka? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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