What is Kumbhak therapy?

 What is Kumbhak therapy?


The practice of yoga and its many advantages has been a part of Indian culture since time immemorial. Pranayam is that branch of yoga about breathing control. “Prana” or breath represents the life force and “Ayam” implies control. According to the yoga sutra, pranayam is considered a means of attaining higher states of awareness. Kumbhaka or Kumbha therapy is the retention of breath within the practice of pranayama.

Types of Kumbhaka:

Kumbha can be classically divided into two types. Retention of breath after inhalation is called inner or “Antar” kumbhak and after exhalation is called outer or “Bahir” Kumbha. In the book Light On Yoga by B.K.S Iyengar, Kumbhaka is the “retention or holding the breath, a state where there is no inhalation or exhalation”. The more one practices this ancient art, the more proficiency can be achieved. 

Sahit or Sehaj Kumbhaka is an intermediate stage wherein at the location of “Pratyahara” or the stage of withdrawal of senses, the retention of breath becomes natural. According to Patanjali, considered the Father of yogic practice, this stage is the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga. The stage where inhalation and exhalation can be suspended at will is the eighth or final stage called the “Samadhi”. Kumbhaka practiced at this stage is called “Kavala” Kumbha. 

There are 8 exercises to be performed under the practice of Kumbha according to Swatmarama Suri:

Surya Bhedana, Ujjayi, Sitkari, Sitali, Bhastrika, Brahmari, Murccha and Plavini.

  1. Surya Bhedna: It is warming pranayama, focused on one nostril i.e. the right nostril. Inhale deeply through the right nostril, hold your breath for as long as possible and exhale from the left nostril.

  2. Ujjayi: Take long deep breaths through the nose, then open your mouth and exhale through the mouth making a “haa” sound. 

  3. Sitkari: This has a cooling effect on the body. Sitkari in Sanskrit means hissing sound. To practice, shikari, roll your tongue,,, and breathe through the curled tongue, as if from a straw.

  4. Sitali: This is similar in practice to shikari but requires more experience and practice.

  5. Bhastrika: This is treated like a kriya or cleansing action along with Kapal Bhati to clear the airway in preparation for other pranayama techniques.

  6. Brahmari: Referred to as the calming bee breath, it plays a role in soothing the nervous system. To perform close ears with the thumb, place the index finger in the center of the forehead from each side and the middle, ring, and pinky finger across the eyes such that these fingers compress the bridge of the nose gently. Inhale deeply, tuck your chin into the chest and exhale while making a hmm sound at the back of the throat. 

  7. March: Inhale deeply, bend your neck forward,, and tuck your chin into your chest. Hold your breath for 5 secs or till comfortable and then exhale.

  8. Platini: Inhale deeply, tuck your chin into your chest and feel the abdomen expanding with inhalation. Hold your breath for as long as comfortable and exhale.

It should be noted that all these pranayama techniques are done in Jalandhar bandh which refers to the position wherein the chin is tucked into the chest. Patients suffering from cervical spondylitis should get physician consent and be cautious while practicing these kriyas.

How to perform Kumbhak:

In the initial stage, Kumbhaka should be performed in a 1-1-2 method which means the period for which you are inhaling your breath, holding your breath for the same period,, and exhaling for double the time length. When one is comfortable with this stage, progress to 1-2-2 followed by 1-3-2 with the final step being 1-4-2 which implies if your inhale is for 10 you hold for 40 and exhale for 20. 

Follow these steps to begin:

  1. Start by sitting in sukhasana or any other meditative pose. If you’re unable to sit in sukhasana, sit on a chair with your back straight. The back should be straight with the spine, neck, and head aligned. Place with hands on your knees, known as jnana mudra. Close your eyes.

  2. One should start with simple breathing, making sure to breathe through both nostrils. This helps to prepare the body for Kumbha practice and gain control of your breathing.

  3. Start by taking a deep breath to the count of five. Counting can be done in the mind or using fingertips. 

  4. Once the air is filled with lungs, assume Jalandhar bandh with refers to tucking your chin into your chest with eyes closed, closing your nose with your thumb and ring finger, and holding your breath for five counts.

  5. Release the hand, lift the head, and usually exhale through the nose. Exhalation should be done normally, through both nostrils. 

  6. It is advised to exhale for double count 10 as in this example of ratio 1-1-2.

  7. This cycle should be repeated for 10-15 minutes, depending on each individual’s stamina.

  8. It is important to maintain relaxed facial muscles and long, unbroken inhalation and exhalation, without jerks during the entire process.

  9. Once done, sit calmly and breathe normally for a few minutes to relax oneself.


  1. Children below 12 years of age

  2. Patients suffering from hypertension and cardiac anomalies.

Kumbha is an ancient practice of breathing control that has been shown to improve the concentration as well as the oxygenation capacity of the practitioner. It is a holistic technique that can prove useful for physical and mental health. It is recommended to practice pranayama daily for at least 5-10 mins not just to soothe the mind but also for its varied physical health benefits.

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