Pranayama: An Overview

Let us take a brief respite to go over some details on the techniques described in the last few blogs.

Ratio and Timing

The ratio of inhalation, internal retention, exhalation and external retention should be 1:4:2:2. Always remember that the duration of the exhalation and external retention are by far the most strenuous and difficult. Therefore, do not be in a hurry to increase the duration of these steps until the exhalation and external retention are comfortable. Increase the number of cycles with the initial ratio before increasing the duration of each phase.


You may have observed that the nostrils alter in dominance, meaning that the breath is easier through one nostril as compared to the other. Indeed, in some of the earlier texts of Yoga and Pranayama it is mentioned that the nostrils alternate in dominance after each round of 40 breaths. When there is congestion in either nostril, reduce the duration the breath through that nostril accordingly. If there is severe congestion in both nostrils, postpone the practice until the congestion is cleared. There are techniques such as Neti and Nasya (which I will describe later) to clear the congestion. Breathing should not be done through the mouth.


Pranayama should never be performed immediately after a meal. Ideally, 3 hours should have elapsed. It is preferably done in the morning, after a yogasana routine and before meditation.

The Breath

Should be silent, even and without any force. As the practice continues, the breath will become quiet and subtle. It is difficult to describe this; suffice it to say that there will be a melody and harmony associated with the breath, which is healing and exhilarating.


This characteristic is lacking in a world used to instant gratification. But the importance of patience cannot be overemphasized. Most of the steps previously enumerated will take 6 months each to master. Going to the next step without mastering the previous one is counter-productive, and may even be harmful.


We are seldom aware of our breath. In fact, we are so engrossed in the outside world, seeking gratification from the sense pleasures, that we fail to be in touch with the body and mind. Even when the beleaguered body sends us signals of things gone awry, we ignore or fail to recognize them.

One of the integral steps on the path to health and spirituality is awareness. When engaging in Pranayama remain focused on the breath. It is the nature of the mind to wander. When you become aware that the mind is no longer focused, gently and kindly guide it back to the breath. Do not get frustrated or angry with the mind, and above all, do not consider this a failure in your technique. A mind which has grown accustomed to unrestrained thinking over the decades is not going to be, all of a sudden, amenable to control. It is only with patience and kindness that we can overcome the nature of the mind to wander. But when we are able to accomplish this, even for a few moments, the feeling we are left with is one of exhilaration. In a world which extols the virtues of multitasking, this is a revelation!

~ Hari Om

Originally published at on March 24, 2016.

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