What is Kumbhak good for?

 What is Kumbhak good for?


The term kumbhak is derived from the Sanskrit word “Kumbh” meaning pot, comparing the torso to a vessel full of air. Kumbhaka refers to the retention of air during the practice of pranayama. It is divided into two types, based on whether it is accompanied by inhalation or exhalation. The two types are thus, rightly called “Antar” kumbhak and “Bahir” Kumbha. The yoga institute recommends sitting in a meditative posture such as sukhasana or vajrasana for kumbhaka practice. Each cycle includes inhaling for 5 secs, holding your breath for 10 secs, and exhaling out smoothly, in basic kumbhak practice.  Swami Yogananda writes, "The real meaning of Pranayama, according to Patanjali, the founder of Yoga philosophy, is the gradual cessation of breathing, the discontinuance of inhalation and exhalation".

With the advent of modern medicine, our ancient yogic cultures took a backseat. However, as the various side effects of these medicines came to the fore, the world awoke to the wonders of yoga that have been part of our civilization for centuries.

Many advantages of kumbhaka practice have been identified over the years and will be enumerated below.

Kumbhak practice in covid 19 and after

The covid 19 pandemic has wreaked havoc the world over. More than 3.5 million were affected by the virus and a little less than a million lost their lives. The coronavirus is primarily airborne and further spreads by direct contact with the infected patient. The clinical symptoms are mainly in the upper respiratory tract further progressing to viral pneumonia and multiple organ failure involving kidney, liver, heart, and associated coagulopathies. 

Several studies were conducted during the SARS pandemic in 2004, which stated that Nitric oxide reversed pulmonary hypertension, reversed severe hypoxia, and reduced stay in ICU and on ventilator support. Since SARS and Coronavirus are from the same family, this information proved quite useful during the 2019 pandemic. Nitric oxide was observed to inhibit viral protein and RNA, thereby reducing the rate of covid virus replication by almost 82% as stated by Cinati et al. 

Bhramari is an exercise within kumbhak practice also known as serendipity humming. It has been concluded by several studies that practicing bhramari for 5-10 mins daily has shown improvement for covid patients with breathing difficulties. This has been attributed to the oscillating sound waves that aid in gaseous air exchange in the lungs and upper respiratory tract during bhramari.

Kumbha Practice for Diabetes

Antar Kumbhak refers to breath retention after inhalation. This type of Kumbha has been shown to reduce blood sugar and aid in improving health in patients with Diabetes mellitus. Antar kumbhak better produces a state of intermittent hypoxia, which means a state of lack of oxygen, albeit for a short period. Once created, this situation of intermittent hypoxia kickstarts enzymatic activity in the body, leading to greater utilization of and breakdown of blood sugar in a more efficient manner.

Diabetes mellitus creates a state of insulin resistance in the body. This essentially means that, even though insulin, which is the primary hormone to control blood sugar, is present in the body in adequate amounts, the body resists its action thereby leading to increased blood sugar. Insulin resistance markers in the body were observed to be at a better and more refined state during the stage of intermittent hypoxia created by bhramari.

Kumbha Therapy for Hyperthyroidism

In a study conducted with a large sample size of 120 patients with hypothyroidism were asked to do yoga, specifically ujjayi pranayam daily for 15 mins for 90 days. At the end of 90 days, a significant increase in the levels of T3 and a significant decrease in TSH levels were observed in the study group. An overall reduction in body weight and BMI also played a role in this observation.

It is stated that controlled breathing and the sound produced during Ujjayi by the yoga practitioner aided in reducing inflammation in the thyroid gland. This has a direct effect on the production of T3 and T4 hormones that play a role in thyroid hormone production. Thus, practicing yoga and kumbhaka regularly aids in controlling thyroid levels and keeping them in balance, at least in the early stages of the disease, and preventing progression to further severity.

Kumbha therapy for Bronchial Asthma

The practice of Ujjayi pranayam takes long uninterrupted breaths through the nostrils. While breathing through the nose, the indrawn air is humidified and purified. Also, the murmuring sound emitted during Ujjayi vibrates the bronchia and activates the underlying ciliate epithelial tissues. This inhibits any minute particles that may be in the air from entering the lungs and causing infection or mucus production. Ujjayi Pranayama aims to maintain steady pressure within the bronchi during exhalation as well. This counteracts the collapsing of the smaller bronchi,  thereby reducing the quantity of residual air within the lung. 

The respiratory technique in ujjayi plays a big role in improving the quality of life in patients with chronic respiratory diseases and bronchial asthma.

Kumbhaka and Pregnancy 

Garbhasanskara refers to the practice of yoga to increase strength within the womb to help in a safe and uncomplicated pregnancy and eventual birth. Breath control and the course of Kumbha aim to do just that.  

Regular kumbhak practice for pregnant women under the supervision of an expert is considered to go a long way toward a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth.

This article enumerates several health benefits of practicing yoga and Kumbha daily. However, probably the most important advantage in our daily lives would most certainly be the capability of Kumbha to bring a sense of peace and sanity into our fast-paced lives. Controlled, synchronized breathing is the basis of Kumbha. When we concentrate on breath retention, it grounds us into that moment. This is the primary reason for any kind of yoga or exercise, to ground oneself, and to calm down the body and the mind.  Practicing kumbhak daily for 10-15 mins, preferably in the morning would go a long way in improving mental as well as physical health.

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