Prāṇāyāma is one of the eight steps of Yoga. Though it has very deeper concept of realizing cosmic energy and probably controlling it, for beginners, the method of harmonizing the breathing is introduced as an initiative. This technique constitute Pūraka, Kuṃbhaka and Recaka: Pūraka means inhaling, Recaka means exhaling and Kuṃbhaka means holding or stopping between Pūraka and Recaka.

Now, these Pūraka, Kuṃbhaka and Recaka are successively practiced for certain period of time with counting in seconds or preferably with sound oṃ. Recently while reading the lecture on Pranayama from notes and lessons by Swami Vivekananda, I found an inconsistency in counting with that of written in Rajayoga:

  • Complete-Works / Volume 8 / Notes of Class Talks and Lectures / PRANAYAMA:

    Breathe in four seconds, then hold the breath for eight seconds, then again throw it out slowly in four seconds. (This process is more difficult when the ratio is two, eight, and four: for further remarks see later.) Then begin again, and do this four times in the morning and four times in the evening.

Pūraka - 4; Kuṃbhaka - 8; Recaka - 4

Pūraka - 4; Kuṃbhaka - 16; Recaka - 8

Pūraka - 4; Kuṃbhaka - 8; Recaka - 4

As you can see, here, the counting suggested in Rajayoga differs from that of given in notes and lessons. So, what is the correct counting? I noticed that it is said that you can increase this duration after practicing more and more but it should be in proportional order but here (in the different one) proportion is not maintained. So, I want to know the correct counting.

  • The ration of 1:4:2 of breathing pattern is correct and one should reach a stage of 16 matras inhale, 64 matras retention and 32 matras exhale. The sandhyavanda procedure of Pranayama also has this counts and even Thirumoolar thirumandhiram has this count. If this ration is missed, then it can also lead to side effects! Opening Sushumna should be done carefully! – Parabrahman Jyoti Aug 9 '19 at 17:35
  • How is it possible "16 matras inhale, 64 matras retention and 32 matras exhale" ? I mean for every inhale there should be one exhale, right ? That way shouldn't the ratio be 1:1:1 ? Or did I understand incorrectly ? @ParabrahmanJyoti – TheLittleNaruto Aug 9 '19 at 17:40
  • @TheLittleNaruto Read chapter 1 and chapter 3 in thiss...dlshq.org/download/pranayama.pdf I ll rather say it as count. Until 16 counts inhale, 64 counts retain, 32 counts exhale. Initially 1:4:2 is the raitio. Then expand to 8:32:16 and then to 16 finally. When you do Pranayama in sandhyavandana, this is count prescribed. When u chant om bhuv and so on, it would fit this counting. – Parabrahman Jyoti Aug 9 '19 at 17:46
  • @TheLittleNaruto Yogatattva upanishad also says same: A sequential gradual inhalation over sixteen Matras (digits), holding the air deep within for sixty-four Matras and gradually exhaling the air over thirty-two Matras is suggested as the goal of the breathing exercise.[59][60] – Parabrahman Jyoti Aug 9 '19 at 17:47
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    @TheLittleNaruto I want to clarify whether he want answer from Raja yoga perspective source alone or can be from upanishads too! – Parabrahman Jyoti Aug 9 '19 at 17:48

Most scriptures prescribe the method where the ratio is 1:4:2.

For example Devi Bhagavatam states:

Vajrâsan (diamond seat) consists in placing the feet on the two thighs respectively and placing the fingers below the thighs with the hands also there, and then sitting at ease. Vîrasan consists in sitting cross on the hams in placing the right foot under the right thigh and the left foot under the left thigh and sitting at ease with body straight. Taking in the breath by the Idâ (the left nostril) so long as we count "Om" sixteen, retaining it in the Susumnâ so long as we count "Om" sixty-four times and then exhaling it slowly by the Pingalâ nâdi (the right nostril) as long as we count "Om" thirty-two times. (The first process is called Pûraka, the second is called Kumbhaka, and the third is called Rechaka). This is called one Prânâyâma by those versed in the Yogas. Thus one should go on again and again with his Prânâyâma. At the very beginning, try with the number twelve, i. e., as we count "Om" twelve times and then increase the number gradually to sixteen and so on. Prânâyâma is of two kinds :-- Sagarbha and Vigarbha. It is called Sagarbha when Prânâyâma is performed with repeating the Ista Mantra and Japam and meditation.

Book 7, Chapter 35

Arthur Avalon, in the introductory passages of the book "Mahanirvana Tantram", gives the same ratio:

All beings say the ajapa Gayatri, which is the expulsion of the breath by Hangkara, and its inspiration by Sahkara, 21,600 times a day. Ordinarily, the breath goes forth a distance of 12 fingerÕs breadth, but in singing, eating, walking, sleeping, coition, the distances are 16, 20, 24, 30, and 36 breadths respectively. In violent exercise these distances are exceeded, the greatest distance being 96 breadths. Where the breathing is under the normal distance, life is prolonged. Where it is above that, it is shortened. Puraka is inspiration, and rechaka expira-tion. Kumbhaka is the retention of breath between these two movements. Kumbhaka is, according to the Gheranda Sanghita of eight kinds: sahita, suryyabheda, ujjayi, shitali, bhastrika, bhramari, murchchha, and kevali. Pranayama similarly varies. Pranayama is the control of the breath and other vital airs. It awakens shakti , frees from disease, produces detachment from the world, and bliss. It is of varying values, being the best (uttama) where the measure is 20; middling (madhyama) when at 16 it produces spinal tremor; and inferior (adhama) when at 12 it induces perspiration. It is necessary that the nadi should be cleansed, for air does not enter those which are impure. The cleansing of the nadi (nadi-shuddhi) is either samauÇ or nirmanu that is, with or without, the use of vija. According to the first form, the yogi in padmasana does gurunyasa according to the directions of the guru. Meditating on "yang," he does japa through Ida of the vija 16 times, kumbhaka with japa of vija 64 times, and then exhalation through the solar nadi and japa of vija 32 times. Fire is raised from manipura and united with prithivi. Then follows inhalation by the solar nadu with the vahni vija 16 times, kumbhaka with 64 japa of the vija, followed by exhalation through the lunar nadi and japa of the vija 32 times.

Lord Shiva himself gives the ratio to be 1:4:2 in the aforesaid Tantra's 3rd Chapter:

The worshipper disciple should in the like manner, with his mind well under control, perform Anga-nyasa in accordance with the rules thereof, commencing with the heart and ending with the hands (43). After this, whilst reciting the Mantra Om or the Mula-mantra, Pranayama should be performed thus: He should close the left nostril with the middle of the fourth finger, and then inhale through the right nostril, meanwhile making japa of the Pranava or the Mula-mantra eight times. Then, closing the right nostril with the thumb and shutting also the mouth, make japa of the Mantra thirty-two times. After that gently exhale the breath through the right nostril, doing japa of the Mantra the while sixteen times. In the same way perform these three acts with the left nostril, and then repeat the same process with the right nostril. O adored of the Devas! I have now told Thee of the method of Pranayama to be observed in the use of the Brahma-Mantra (44-48). The Sadhaka should then make meditation which accomplishes his desire (49)

The only place where this ratio is mentioned differently (as far as my knowledge goes) is the KulArnava Tantram. Here, the whole process itself is also mentioned somewhat differently.

Here the Pranayama being done is actually part of the three purifying processes - Deha-Shoshana (drying up the body), Deha-Dahana (burning the body for purifying purpose) and Deha-PlAvana (bathing the body with the nectar flowing from Sahsrara). Here the ratio given is 3:4:3.

DvAdashAvartayan budhyA pranavntu trimAtrakam |
Munchet pingalayA vAyumantah-stham rechako bhavet ||
ShodashAvartayan tAram purayedvAhyamArutam |
ShanakairirayA vadhA purakam parikirtam ||
DvAdashAvartayan tAram vAyum madhye cha kumbhayet |
Shoshayed-vAyu-bijena deha-shoshana-miritam ||

Upon reciting Om twelve times mentally one should exhale the air through the PingalA channel (i.e. through the right nostril). This is known as Rechaka (exhalation). Next, Upon reciting Om mentally sixteen times one should inhale air through the IdA channel (the left nostril). This is known as Puraka (inhalation). Thereafter, one should retain the inhaled air inside and chant mentally Om tewlve times. Next, one should dry up the body by chanting VAyu Bija (or Yam). This is known as drying up the body (Deha-Shoshana).

Chapter 15, Verses 36,37,38

Therefore, any of the above will be correct to practice, the most commonly practiced by the aspirants being the process where the ratio is 1:4:2.

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