While controlling the breath in pranayama practices there are four important activities. These are:
1. Pooraka (inhalation)
2. Rechaka (exhalation)
3. Antar or antaranga kumbhaka (retention of breath after inhalation; i.e. with lungs full of air)
4. Bahir or bahiranga kumbhaka (retention of breath after exhalation; i.e. with lungs emptied as much as possible).
The different practices of pranayama involve various techniques; but they all basically utilize the four listed above. There is also another mode of pranayama which is called kevala kumbhaka. This is an advanced stage of prana-yama which automatically occurs during high states of meditation. During this state the pressure in the lungs becomes the same as atmospheric pressure. Respiration ceases and the lungs stop their activity. Under these circumstances the veil which prevents us seeing into the deeper aspects of existence is lifted and we obtain an intuitional apprehension of higher truths.
The most important part of higher prana-yama practices is really kumbhaka, or retention of breath. In fact, in the ancient texts pranayama is also known as kumbhaka. However, to be able to perform kumbhaka with some degree of success there must be a gradual development of one's control over the function of respiration. As such, in most of the practices of pranayama, there is a lot of emphasis on inhalation and exhalation, which are also important in revitalizing the physical and pranic bodies. As such we will introduce all aspects of pranayama practice that will be of use to the reader and will include all the four modes we have already mentioned.
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