Religious Knowledge, Spiritual Vision

The Yoga-Sutra, A New Commentary


Commentary on the Chidakasha Gita of Nityananda

Julian C. Lee Mickunas

The Yoga-Sutra
On Pranayama, Kumbhaka
The Breathless State

Verses 1:33-34
With commentary by Julian C. Lee Mickunas



Om Guru!

All Yoga-Sutra verses that refer directly to kumbhaka will be discussed for the benefit of the people, and incidentally to show that Nityananda's astounding statements about an inner breath, the basis of kumbhaka, are well supported in The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali. These verses bearing on the breathless state in that ancient and authoritative text on raja-yoga have been universally misunderstood by western commentators, and generally overlooked or misunderstood by Indian commentators up to and including Sankaracharya.

It would be fair to say, and I have it in me to say, that the human breath contains some of the great religious mysteries.

The first religious mystery is how God can be all-good and all-auspicious and yet non-dual, and do anything. (And all this is true.)

The second mystery is why the attitude of bhakti finds God, and why bhakti-yoga (such as the great bhakti-yoga of the White Europeans, Christianity) brings all blessings and individual bhaktas can become God's friends.

The third is the mystery of the guru and his grace-nature.

Another mystery is how we project endless delusive worlds through God's power of Maya.

A fifth mystery is why brahmacharya (celibacy) opens up the doors to divine knowledge within the man and calms his samsara storm. (Although this mystery is easily explained by the brahmacharis.)

But the sixth body of mysteries are the divine mysteries in the human breath. Breath is central to mind, the mystery of creation, and our engaged entrapment. In the Bible it says that God breathed His own breath into man to create him (to give him mind, and one of his own). Thus God lives right in our breath along with the divine mysteries.

It is time in this dark age, when people are at their most ignorant and corrupt state, that some of the mysteries of yoga and the Yoga-Sutra be laid before the worthy. It is time for the reset button and the great reformatting, here at the nadir of the Dark Age, and these will come as understanding of the power of chastity and the sacredness of sex, the aliveness of the guru principle, the reality of blissful Saguna Brahman (the knowable God), and the glimpses at the truth of the breath and the way to samadhi and world-upgrade. It is time to shake that tree a little and cause a few of the fruits to fall out for the deserving. To do the shaking, we have looked at the utterances of Nityananda and Yogananda. Now we shall shake the Yoga-Sutra tree.


For this discussion I will display and comment on all Yoga-Sutras dealing with pranayama. It happens that they also bear on the mystery of the subtle inner breath as related by Nityananda. For the confidence of the student I will list the translations of several known authors, with my own rendering last.

The first pranayama reference in the Sutra comes midway in the first chapter in the text, when Patanjali is enumerating the ways that the mind can be made still or still, quiescent, or "clear."


"The mind is made clear by friendliness towards the happy...(etc., lists the four attitudes to take toward four types of people) . . . Or by expulsion and retention of prana."

Verse 1:33-34, Trevor Leggett, "Sankara On the Yoga-Sutras"

"The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of . . . Or by expiration and retention of breath."

1:33-34, I.K. Taimni, "The Science of Yoga"

"The mind can also be pacified by the exhalation and retention of the breath."

1:34,Frank M. Bazl in "The Conquest of Mind"

The mind is brought to stillness by pranayama.

1:34 Julian C. Lee Mickunas, "A New Commentary On The Yoga-Sutra"

Prana here certainly means the breath, both the gross breath and the esoteric essence of the breath called prana, apana and its other modifications. Both these meanings are well-known. The basic principle in pranayama is that mind and breath are inextricably linked. Stillness of mind brings stillness of breath; stillness of breath brings stillness of mind. Since the goal of yoga is the cessation of thought so that the glorious sat-chit-ananda of the Lord may then be consciously known, yogis are very interested in pranayama.

The beautiful thing is that any man or woman can immediately get a grip on the technique and begin to benefit from it. That is, anybody can hold their breath for a bit. Of course, in religious development (yoga) one should do more than simply hold the breath and undertake mechanical tricks. As in every aspect of religious development, attitude is everything. One should approach pranayama with the devotional attitude, with expectation, and with hopeful and loving application to the Lord. With all yogic activities of meditation, one is trying to beat a path and cut a trail back to the Lord, and the longing for God and cessation of sorrows should be part of our motivation for undertaking pranayama. In other words, we should approach pranayama with piety and faith, not like technique collectors and burglars.

However, it remains a beautiful thing that any muddling person such as myself or you can immediately get a grip on our mind and begin to play with cosmic forces with the simplest pranayama techniques plus attitude.

The sutra verse above lays bare the basics, that in pranayama one expels the breath or holds it in, and both. Moreover, the yogi and yogess will hold the breath out, and hold the breath in for various periods of time. This is pranayama in basic terms. Even children sometimes hold their breath! 

It is good to have a little instruction about it, such as doing the jalandhara bhanda (head down, chin lock) and the mula bhanda (tightened below) should you wish to hold the breath in for periods. There is also too much fear and alarmism out there about the "dangers" of pranayama. (I guess if they want to be afraid of it, let them.) To breathe in for a count of 10 or 20 seconds, hold it for a count of 10 or 20, then breath out for an equal time is not going to make you lose your mind, become queer, or cause you health problems. 

However, it needs to be said that you should never hold your breath to the point of pain. When that instinct tells you to stop, that instinct we all have from birth, take another breath. Pranayama is not about forcing one's self to stop breathing. It is about finding then cultivating an inner breath that is breathed naturally, and a kumbhaka that is easy and natural. So if it hurts, it's wrong. If you're forcing yourself painfully, stop! That's not right. Pranayama and kumbhaka are natural, and usually gradual, developments and they mostly feel good.

But if you do such simple things with the proper devotional attitude and thought of the guru or God, it will very likely start cosmic forces in motion that will help you. After all, why are you doing it? To find God. Yoga is God-search, nothing else. Now, do you think that He doesn't notice this? When doing any sort of pranayama, even the simplest things, do it with chastity, faith, the devotional attitude, and expectancy. All will be well. Now back to the Sutra.

   Yoga-Sutra Verses 2:49-51 ─ The Fourth Pranayama

In the second chapter the Yoga-Sutra finally focuses on pranayama in two characteristically terse verses. In the structure of the Sutra this pranayama mastery comes near the end of the chapter or practice, and just before the chapter on siddhis. Though the Sutra has been described as not logically organized, yet this placement in the text gives pranayama mastery the appearance of a culminating, critical development. The text ends saying that with pranayama comes "the destruction of the covering over the light". Then the astounding chapter on miraculous powers commences, a chapter that makes the whole notion that yoga is about socializing and doing physical exercises to have a smaller butt, etc. -- quite obviously absurd. (Yoga is not an exercise program for the body. It is the path to God-knowledge.)

For clarity and confidence of the reader I am going to list translations by three different authors: Leggett, Taimni, and a rare one named Frank Bazl:


"Pranayama is to sit in the posture and cut off the flow of the in-breath and the out-breath.

"The external, internal, and fixating operations, practised in terms of place, time and number, become long and fine.

"The fourth pranayama comes when both external and internal fields have been felt into."

Yoga-Sutra Verses 2:49-51, Trevor Leggett, "Sankara On the Yoga-Sutras"

This Leggett translation contains the piece about the 'feeling into' the two breaths. This wordage came from sage Vyasa, who appeared to be a samadhi-yogi and understood the subtle breath. Leggett wisely placed the phrase into his translation. But notice how first it's just about the in- and outbreaths. Next Leggett (and possibly Vyasa) are calling them "operations." Then suddenly by the 3rd line he's speaking of them as "external and internal fields." He is following an idea that Sankara invented for this verse, which leads to confusion. Now for Taimni, who gave us reasonably faithful translations:

"[Posture] having been accomplished Pranayama which is cessation of inspiration and expiration follows.

"It is in external, internal or suppressed modification; is regulated by place, time and number, and becomes progressively prolonged and subtle.

"That Pranayama which goes beyond the sphere of internal and external is the fourth variety."

2:49-51, I.K. Taimni, "The Science of Yoga"

His "progressively prolonged and subtle" is misleading and contains his ideas. But the rendering is pretty clean.  "Now Frank Bazl, a California occultist circa 1940's:

Pranayama can be external (exhalation) internal (inhalation) or steady (retention)...
the fourth Pranayam, (outside of the three which are external, internal or steady) is restraining the Prana by reflecting on external or internal positions."

2:50-51, Frank M. Bazl, "The Conquest of Mind"

Bazl's is very clean and the best of these three. The Leggett and Bazl versions are the only English translations that use the phrases "felt into" and "reflecting on." Whatever the original Sanskrit words, these are fortunate and key ideas for comprehending the verse and also developing kumbhaka. It would be reasonable to say, however, that only those who practice Yogananda's first technique (also used by Nityananda and prescribed in the Vijnana-Bhairava) will easily understand "felt into" and "reflecting on" with regard to the normal three phases of breath. As the commentator Vyasa said, "yoga goeth forth by yoga." And many things can only be understood by practice. (Note: Get the technique from a celibate practitioner of it who has devotion for the siddha lineage, then it will be alive in you.)

Let me emphasize that almost all translations -- including those from Indian yogins -- speak of the fourth breathing state as  transcending   the first three well-known phases of breath puraka, kumbhaka, and rechaka.


"That fourth pranayama transcends external and internal operations."

Swami Hariharananda Aranya, "Yoga Philosophy Of Patanjali"

"The fourth is that which follows when the spheres of the external and internal have been passed."

Rama Prasada, "Patanjali's Yoga Sutras"

"The fourth is that which lies beyond the internal and external positions."

M.N. Dvivedi, "The Yoga-Sutra Of Patanjali"

The fourth kind of pranayama is beyond the sphere of internal and external, and comes when the essential acts of puraka and rechaka have been comprehended.

Julian C. Lee Mickunas, "A New Commentary on The Yoga-Sutra"

Translators use "pranayama" sometimes to mean breathing, restraint of breath, the state of kumbhaka, or "movement of prana" or energy. But this "fourth pranayama" is something transcendent. It is not the worldly breath. The fourth pranayama is none other than the sought-after divine state of kevali kumbhaka

Leggett bought into Sankara's error of taking the two natural breaths, first innocently depicted by Vyasa as two "fields" of activity, and cooking them up into larger concepts than just the two breaths; then speaking of other, different "internal and external fields" without explanation, (probably he meant the interior and exterior worlds) then linking up the two breaths to "internal and external objects," quite uselessly. All commentators must puzzle over it since. This is an error that has piled confusion around this Yoga-Sutra verse. Let's see how this error came about and how Sankara created this mess.

Sage Vyasa, a more ancient commentator, appeared to understand this verse and kumbhaka. He simply says this about developing the  Fourth Pranayama. I will parse out his statement with my own comments to help you follow along:

"The field of external operation, as measured in terms of place, time, and number, has been practiced and felt into. (The second pranayama) was practice in feeling into the field of the internal operation, as measured similarly."

Sage Vyasa, commenting on Verse 2:51, from "Sankara on the Yoga-Sutras," Trevor Leggett

"Field of external operation" here simply means the gross external outbreath;, nothing more. "Field of internal operation" means the normal inbreath, nothing more. Vyasa continues on:

"Whereas the third pranayama was stopping the breath without having previously brought to awareness the field (of external and internal objects)..."


Whereas at first the aspirant simply stops his breath (does kumbhaka) without thinking of the puraka and rechaka, forgetting them, thinking they are gone....

Again, "field" still refers to one of the two breaths, that is all. But notice how "objects" has been inserted by Leggett, because he has been confused by Sankara.

"...the breath becoming long and fine simply by this practice according to to place, time, and number;


The yogi becoming able to hold his breath in, and out, for longer periods of time, by simple pranayama at this point. Almost everybody easily experiences this doing simple pranayama exercises.

"...but the cessation in the fourth one comes only after having already brought to awareness those fields, feeling into them by gradually mastering the stages."


The fourth pranayama, or kumbhaka, comes after the aspirant comprehends the essential nature of the two breaths and starts enacting them within. By "gradually mastering the stages" Vyasa is likely referring to the gradual cognizing of the two breaths in the form of a subtle inner breath. 

Now watch Sankara, in his commentary on Patanjali's "4th Pranayama" verse, spin his wheels in a hole. Though well provisioned by the sublimely helpful Vyasa, he adds little understanding of the verse and makes a mess of it. In particular, he adds useless ideas that only create smoke and confusion. Try to follow along if you can. (I can't!) The bolded parts are where he's simply repeating Vyasa, basically the useful part:

"The fourth pranayama comes when both external and internal fields have been felt into. The field of external operation is the toes, etc., for the external air being drawn in, is felt pervading the inner regions. The field of the internal operations is earth and the other elements. The expiration outwards is felt pervading the earth and other elements, as practiced in terms of place, time and number. This fourth pranayama comes when both external and internal fields have been felt into. The (first) practice was feeling into the pervasion of the field which is the object of the external operation, as measured by place, time, and number; the second was feeling into the pervasion of the field which is the object of the internal operation, similarly. In both practices, the breath became long and fine. By feeling into the fields of the external and internal objects, length and  fineness of the breath come about, in both of them. What follows? After the stages (mild, medium, and intense) have been gradually mastered, corresponding to the feeling into both operations of the breath, there is cessation of the flow of breath in both the external and internal operations, the flow of prana (the upward and outward current) and apana (the downward current)."

Did Sankaracharya make things any clearer for you folks? Or is everything a mess now? Sankara seemed to think that if he talked a lot, and also parsed every 2-3 words (often imply repeating them), and writing a long paragraph, the world would believe that he knew all about the verse. Or, this is a typical example of Sankara's inability to explain verses with simplicity or clarity and pile up distracting piles of chaff on top of verses. When he doesn't know what a verse is about, he is good at looking like he does by simply writing a lot of words. He's especially good at recapitulating what was already said, but taking 3 sentences to say what could be said in one. From "feeling into" the breaths alone, Sankara now has us "feeling into" the toes and "internal objects," thinking of "pervasion of" an outer field. A new kind of "field" different from the breath itself has suddenly cropped up. Either Sankara didn't know that Vyasa's "fields" simply referred to the breath, or he wanted to invent this metaphysics, or perhaps hint at some occult techniques he has invented with his breath. But note the confusion.

Maybe it's Leggett's translation but this sentence is a doozy: "The (first) practice was feeling into the pervasion of the field which is the object of the external operation..." 

Sankara's "mild, medium, and intense" insertion is funny. The entire comment gives the appearance of a fellow with little to say, vamping. "Feeling into the pervasion of the field which is the object of..."? His added ideas about "outer fields" and "inner fields" different than the breaths themselves, as well as "outer and inner objects," have no use and I note that he did not explain his own ideas. Vyasa simply spoke of feeling into the nature of the in-breath. (His phrase, as rendered by Legget, was  "feeling into the field of the internal operation...") That phrase by Vyasa was the core phrase, about which some elucidation would provide the most help. I see that Sankara regurgitated Vyasa's "feeling into" a full  five times yet never added one iota of insight into what the phrase might mean. Instead he has us "feeling into" our toes and "inner and outer objects." Very hard to ever get the secret of kumbhaka if you listen to Sankara speak about it!

Now, the breath can be connected to inner and outer objects. That is the bit of truth in his comments. However, it is not necessary to do this to develop the 4th Pranayama, kumbhaka. It appears that Sankara thought that the two breaths needed to be connected somehow to outer and inner objects for development of the practice. This is not the case. The only way such an idea would have meaning would be for pursuing siddhis (occult powers) using the breath. For a fellow who was ostensibly devoted to the non-existence and non-creation of external phenomena, and a hardcore renunciant of phenomena, I have no idea why Sankara would want to be firm up the outer unreality, or involve himself deeply in the outer samsaric externalities, by connecting his breath to either external or internal fields, or external/internal objects. Development of the 4th pranayama does not require this. 

In short, none of these added ideas by Sankara are necessary to the technique of mastering the Fourth Pranayama, or to understanding this Yoga-Sutra verse. They only hurt and his comments piled confusion around the verse. There is some possibility that Sankara knew that the breath, as related to outer and inner objects, can be involved in siddhis and that this is the reason for his odd stand-alone insertions. However, based on the general silence Sankara's commentaries often display on esoteric verses, his tendency to provide more chaff than grain in his commentaries, and his lukewarm or ambivalent responses to verses on the topic of brahmacharya -- I doubt this is the case. Sankara was a master of his Non-Dualistic philosophy. But I think he simply didn't know what this verse was saying and perhaps was not a master of the 4th Pranayama.  In any case, the baggage he added to this verse, carried forward by many others who have tried to take it into consideration, has no doubt made the verse inaccessible and confusing for centuries.

Back to the good stuff, and understanding the verse:

The phrase "feeling into" given to us by Vyasa and carried forward by Leggett, if we strip away Sankara's confusion pile, is very useful and gives occult insight into the development of kumbhaka. In the following verse Leggett's rendering of two "fields," again, simply refer to the two breaths. I have inserted my own bracketed words into his verse to make it clear:

The fourth pranayama [kumbhaka] comes when [the inbreath and outbreath] have been felt into."

Now we're getting somewhere. Similar phrasing exists in Bazl's rendering in which the fourth (transcendent) form of breathing comes about by "reflecting on external or internal positions."

Very nice!

"...Reflecting On, Feeling Into, and 
Following Internally...the breath"

Three of the Best Commentators Touch Upon It

These Leggett and Bazl translation snippets (2:51) that mention "reflecting on" and "feeling into" are auspicious for the religious person who wishes to develop the subtle breath for God-knowledge. Most translators somehow do not bring these words out in 2:51 or anything similar. These phrases give insight into how the pranic inner breath is uncovered and how the state of kumbhaka comes about.

The yogi "feels into" the two breaths and ascertains their real nature: Two inner postures and inner acts. "Feeling into" evokes the fact that the yogi gets intuition regarding the breath through continual focus on it plus the divine insight that the very technique provides by concentrating the mind to one point. Yogananda referred to the process as learning to "cognize [recognize, perceive, understand] the breath as a mental concept, an act of mind: a dream breath." This is indeed the inner breath that Nityananda refers to and Leggett gave us a rendering that resonates with Yogananda's statement above, which has nothing to do with "inner and outer fields." The Leggett translation conveys that the aspirant "feels into" the natural breath to come to know what it really is, at kernel.

In the Bazl translation, the transcendent breathing comes about by "reflecting" on the outbreath and inbreath. Because the yogi doing Yogananda/Nityananda's mantra technique concentrates on the breath so much he penetrates it, ascertaining what it is in essence. Moreover, the inner pranic breaths do reflect the normal gross breaths; they are really just the same, only they are exposed as acts of mind and prana only, with no need for air to move in or out of the body.

We have a third signpost in the wonderful Yoga-Sutra commentary by M.N. Dvivedi. This precious work, first published in 1890 before either of the two tragic Great Wars, is the most respectable Yoga-Sutra commentary I have seen. Though somewhat Theosophically influenced in the fourth chapter, Dvivedi was highly conversant with the ancient yogic lore and traditions surrounding the sutra. Nobody comes close to Dvivedi's commentary that I have seen, though he appears more a respectful and well-versed student than an adept. His commentary on the "fourth pranayama" and 2:51 contains this:

"...the fourth pranayama follows internally the position of the breath in the various Padmas..."

M.N. Dvivedi, "The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali"

The key item is "follows the position of the breath."  This is what the yogi does to master kumbhaka: He continues to follow the movement of the breath as an inner movement. Padmas are the chakras or subtle plexuses. The padmas idea mentioned by Dvivedi is unnecessary to the concept or to the development of the inner breath. (Notice that Nityananda has not mentioned them.) Working the breath through visualized centers or chakras is another technique, done in Yogananda's "third kriya." The key ideas from these three commentators, and this is mastered in the "first kriya" of Yogananda's lineage, is the "feeling into," "reflecting on," and "following internally" the breath as an internal act. It is marvelous that these three commentators, alone from a broad field, extracted this idea from both the Sanskrit and the yogic lore.

Now you can see how much is packed into a sparse Yoga-Sutra verse, and how much is required to unpack them.

Now, to make this indisputably clear, there is an additional verse in the terse Yoga-Sutra adducing to all that has been said about the reality of the breathless state kumbhaka and it's centrality to the states of samadhi. In speaking of the means to samadhi the Sutra lists a number of "obstacles." These include worldly-mindedness, disease, doubt and others. The text states that these cause distraction to the mind, preventing samadhi.


"Disease, Dullness, Doubt, Carelessness, Sloth, Worldly-mindedness, False notion, Missing the point, and Instability, are the causes of distracting the mind, and they are the obstacles.

M.N. Dvivedi, "The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali"

The next verse lists the "symptoms" or "accompaniments" of distraction. Astoundingly, the five symptoms of distracted mind include the the two human breaths:


"Pain, Despair, Nervousness, Inspiration, Expiration, are the accompaniments of the causes of distraction."

M.N. Dvivedi, "The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali"

"Sorrow, Dejection, Restlessness Of Body, Inhalation And Exhalation Arise from (Previous) Distractions."

Swami Hariharananda Aranya, "Yoga Philosophy Of Patanjali"

When in kumbhaka, long or short, movement of thought causes gross breathing to resume. Then kumbhaka is lost. As soon as movement of mind resumes, and especially if there is any misgiving, worry, or fear -- breath resumes. Verily, both religion and kumbhaka require faith. Notice how Nityananda mentions faith so often.

For religious persons advancing along this path of God-knowledge, distracting thoughts that lead to breathing will include: "My goodness, I'm not breathing! Is that O.K? I feel like I'm suffocating! Oh no!" etc. (This is, in fact, very dense psychological conditioning to dissolve.) But any movement of thought brings movement of the gross breath. Note how the three verses above are clear: Breathing is a sign that the mind is moving, not in stillness. Thus the gross breath is antithetical to samadhi.

Here it is interesting to note, in examining the wilderness of Yoga-Sutra commentaries, that some commentators cannot accept the kumbhaka reality even when it is presented in Patanjali's verses. Taimni changed simple "inhalation and exhalation" into "hard breathing."  Leggett also couldn't get his head around the kumbhaka mystery and dramatized the problem as "spasmodic breathing." We begin breathing spasmodically whenever our mind is distracted or thoughts move? Who ever breathes spasdomically? Call the ambulance! Leggett, I note, is fond of the idea of steady, regulated breathing as a yogic technique throughout his presentation. However, deliberate steady and measured breathing are a part of preparatory pranayama exercises and not used in the meditation technique, proper, that Nityananda and Yogananda used. The Sutra does simply state that breathing itself is the indicator of distraction and moving mind, with which samadhi is impossible. 


The Bhagavad-Gita on the Breathless State

To add confidence to the serious God-seeker and religious person it would be good to bring out the fact that the Bhagavad-Gita also references the 4th Pranayama. This is the verse that says:

"Some yogis offer the incoming breath into the outgoing breath." 

This is quite obviously a reference to the 4th pranayama and the state of kumbhaka. Most translators end up with a sentence like this. The sentence depicts the two gross breaths becoming one, as if the breaths neutralize each other, thus they stop. This is the first stage. The two outer gross breaths go away, but are then found and enjoyed within in a subtle (airless) form. So the two breaths still exist. Then even these are "offered into each other." Nityananda specifies that the goal is the one breath which should be a continual or fixed subtle (pranic) in-breath. Such is the wisdom the yogi and religious person should pursue.

The two breaths represent the vibration of the egoic consciousness. When the two breaths are equalized, mind becomes still. Further, when they are equalized into one-breath they become the form of prana called udana. This udana rises. Thus one's life force rises up the spine continually to the head instead of out to the dualistic outer samsara. As this the prana is continually raised up in the form of udana, upper portions of the body become reddened, particularly the face and nose. Occult senses located in the head as well as mental faculties, moreover, are activated and enlivened. What else would happen on the path back to the Lord? We are His children.

I have read 30 different translations and commentaries of the Bhagavad-Gita, mostly by Indians. Never have I seen any lay out  what this verse by Krsna really means or it's connection to the "4th Pranayama" of the Yoga-Sutra. But it is quite clear.

The Yoga-Vasistha on the Breathless State

The Yoga-Vasistha contains and amazing section in which a character named Bhusunda the Crow relates his practice of the 4th pranayama and the breathless state. He is a delightful character, and is depicted as living right near heaven near Brahman, on the "Tree of Life." Bhusunda has somehow been able to live through all Ages of Brahman, even the dissolution and re-manifestations of the great cycles. He attributes this to his practice of the state of kumbhaka, or the 4th pranayama. By staying in the state of kumbhaka, the text implies, physical immortality is acquired. For the average devotee learning it, it will conduce to health and longevity. 

When the breath is ended, the dualistic karma associated with this particular body is attenuated then ended. This is the point of Muktananda's story about the disciple and the guru, who on traveling decided to sleep surreptitiously in a wealthy man's house. The guru warned the disciple, "Don't become anybody."That meant, "Stay in the breathless state." The servants of the pasha found the disciple sleeping and chased him out with a good beating. On exit he found his guru happily waiting for him, untouched. The devotee asked "Why did I receive a beating but not you?" the guru answered: "I told you, don't become anybody!" When the gross breath is gone, the grosser karma associated with the body and this incarnation (and its natal charts) becomes thin and finally dissolved. Then the devotee, breathing only the subtle breath, only has astral karma to experience (because he is still breathing astrally) though he may still be in the body. This is salvation.

By staying in the breathless state we come to have more to do with Isvara or Bhairava than with the particular ego embedded astrologically in our body, and its necessary dualistic stories and experiences. For those who have begun to find the inner breath, the statements by Bhusunda the crow will be alluring and profound, adding to that practice which dissolves mind and presents God's limitless ananda.  Om.

The Vijnana-Bhairava on the Breathless State

This astounding scripture is viewed by the Hindus as an "agama," which means a scripture spoken directly by God. It features Lord Shiva dictating to Shakti, who is playfully acting as His "secretary," listing a large number of meditation techniques for getting established in the state of "bhairava," which we can take to mean samadhi. The scripture refers to the 4th Pranayama as "the middle state." The verses directly specifying it are verses 24-29. Of the 112 dharanas (meditation techniques) the scripture lays out, this one receives the most attention in the scripture. It seems as if Shiva liked it the best. The translator and author Jaideva Singh, who gave us the text titled "Vijnanabhairava or Divine Consciousness," spends a great deal of time discussing the fundamental technique in his introduction, laying out even more helpful knowledge than is present in the verses or the commentaries on verses 24-29 themselves. 

The "Long," "Fine,"
"Regulation" and "Counting" 
Ideas of Sankara and Other Yoga-Sutra Commentators

 Now, let me clear up some common misunderstandings of these verses by many commentators. There has been a lot of clutter placed around these Sutra verses.


When the verses speak of the three actions as becoming "long" this refers to an increasing length of time with the breath held in or out. It should give an idea of the true nature of kumbhaka to realize that the yogi can stay breathless with the lungs fully expelled just as easily as with the lungs full, or more easily. It is not a question of "holding the breath." It is not a question of "oxygenating the cells" first with a lot of bhastrika so you can fake it. In fact, the tendency is to want the lungs to stay empty and the establishment in real kumbhaka is favored by emptied lungs. This is the ancient mystery of true pranayama, friends. "Long" does not refer to the outbreath or the inbreath being slow or extended. There may be techniques leading to kumbhaka that feature a slow-breathing practice. But that slow-breathing itself would be incidental to the development and only of a psychological or kinesthetic value. It could serve him just as handsomely to, say to himself, "I'll open my mouth wide. I'll imagine that the wider I open it, the more prana comes in me." For a knower-adept, this creative concept could work as well as "slow breathing." The opening of the mouth being nothing but a psychological assistant to change the conditioning associated with breath. As another example, another canny yogi may teach himself to "breathe" by moving a finger or opening and closing his hand as if it's a mouth or a lung. With this device he replaces "opening and closing of the lungs" idea with another kinesthetic idea to pacify his mind regarding breath. The value of that device (the moving hand) being a psychological crutch to convince the conditioned mind that "something is being done" to "breathe."

Note: This is not fantasy, but a true mystery of mind and yoga allowing the yogin to dispense with breath. This also relates directly to Sankara's teaching that we walk around full of invented "causes" in our heads and embedded in our conditioning. 'The nose bone's connected to the throat bone, the throat bone's connected to the lungs bone, etc.' These self-created rules are the rules that bury ordinary conditioned minds that are not free.

In like manner a yogi may entertain himself with "long or slow" breaths while he is developing the real pranayama, which is perception of a subtle breath. However, the slow breaths are superfluous to the inner breath and unnecessary to it, or to the state of kumbhaka except as faith devices. It is merely his psychological ruse for convincing himself that it's o.k. to let go of the gross breathing. A canny guru, just to illustrate the matter further, might come up to the slow-breather trying to do the Big Sankara Incremental and say, "Listen, John. This is rather boring and uncreative. Why not try lifting your foot up from the floor very slowly as your breath-in, imagining that you are pulling prana in through the floor. That will be what fills you. The floor's full of prana! Enjoy it!" If that young yogi has locked onto the inner breath, he could learn to breathe indeed this way. But his foot movement would only be a device to assure his mind that he's breathing in some mechanical way, as he believes he must, and that everything's o.k. The body is used to this assurance, to the idea of continually performing a vital mechanical breathing action 'or else death.' Oh, how conditioned we are to believe we need to breathe! It's huge karmic conditioning. The devotee upon spontaneous kumbhaka (and the emptying of the lungs), feels restless and afraid as soon as he notices he is not breathing! This fear and nervousness can also distract during early savikalpa samadhi. In this yoga, the yoga of pranayama and kumbhaka, one must train himself away from the belief that he needs to breathe. It is increasing perception of the inner breath that gives this final training. Do you think this is tangential? No, this is all directly related to understanding Yoga-Sutra verse 2:51, why the "fourth pranayama" (the inner breath) is a reality, is possible, and how it is attained. Aum.

Or, another canny guru could say: "Try breathing by combing your hair, friend. Each time you comb, imagine you're pulling the prana into yourself through your hair. In hundreds of streams!" This could work too. So, it is the same with the "slow breath" approach that some yogis may use, and which the Yoga-Sutra commentators may affirm. The "counting" and the "slow" sounds like wonderful Mechanical Rules and Techniques for all the Virgo types and "lung-bone" thinkers. But it's nothing but a psychological device. Applying "long" to the process of inhalation and exhalation, and thinking that the yogi is 'learning to get by on very slow breaths' is a misunderstanding. It is only one possible psychological ruse to help the yogi convert over to the inner breath without fear. Many commentators, apparently, don't understand the truth about kumbhaka or the real import of these Sutra verses. Even Sankara did not know. It is very sketchy how much of the yogic processes Sankara actually experienced. In sum, kevali kumbhaka is not a slower and slower breath, but abandonment of gross breath. Nityananda did know all this. None of this works until the yogi, through using the right meditation technique and learning to open his inner "mouth of prana", feels and experiences the inner breath, then gets such a surfeit of it that his body burns. Otherwise none of this can be understood. Thus Nityananda said, so many times, to breathe that inner breath, referenced in Yoga-Sutra 2:51.

"Fine, Subtle"

When the translations or commentaries speak of the breath becoming "fine" or "subtle" it does not mean "just a little air is breathed in" or "just a little air is breathed out" as many commentators, even some Indian acharyas, have written. Leggett displayed his misunderstanding of this when he commented: "The holy texts say that sages (rsi) could prolong a breath for years. So it becomes long. And a the breathings become long and slow, they also become fine." This is incorrect and just a story that satisfies the material mind. "Subtle" in the Sutra, when referring to pranayama, mean subtle in the sense that the astral body is the subtle body, completely different than the gross body. "Fine" is another word used for "subtle" in these texts, making misunderstanding more likely. It does not refer to "a tiny bit of air," but to a non-physical astral breath. Truly, most Yoga-Sutra commentaries on these two verses are terribly cluttered and mucked up with these the "long" and the "fine" ideas which are accretions left by those who do not have knowledge, and apparently did not have enough chastity or guru-bhakti.

What happens is that the yogi begins to perceive the subtle pranic in-breath, and switched or factor when aware existence nourishing sustaining nature (felt same way inbreath feels associated with 'cool heat throughout there discovery one abandonment other what then remains work increasing felt inflow dependence such that gross becomes increasingly unnecessary sages referenced Leggett went without years were cheating getting by on just little bit involves an astral more than any in-and-out oxygen develops simply incidental process as body continue enact breathing actions (expansion lungs contraction etc through force conditioning while re-tooling psychology regarding its supply a yogi who enters state kumbhaka abide wants his throat nose closed off truly not contented unless is completely locked up in air channels he despises ordinary breath I mean to be very clear about this for sake white European yogis of India and the literature


The idea of "regulation" is found in some translations of verse 2:50 and not others. The conscious regulation of the breath, counting of seconds and breaths, etc. is a preliminary exercise at the beginning of pranayama efforts. Very little of this counting and timing business is necessary, for discovering the inner breath, should a fellow have chastity and guru-bhakti for a siddha. Not that it should not be done at the start. Simple pranayama techniques are powerful and do stir the serpent. But just as the natural breath has a capricious quality (being in the hands of the Lord), the inner pranic breath is the same way. The breath-mantra used by Yogananda and Nityananda requires very little counting or timing fuss before it reveals the inner pranic breath, and the states of kumbhaka (breath held out and in) occur naturally, beyond intention or will, through the kundalini-grace.

Leggett is the most direct translator, and his rendering of the verse where many translators insert "regulation" is simply:


"The external, internal, and fixating operations, practiced in terms of place, of time and of number, become long and fine."

Yoga-Sutra Verses 2:49-51, Trevor Leggett, "Sankara On the Yoga-Sutras"

He doesn't speak of "regulating" the breaths but simply that the progress can be measured or observed by markers markers of number, duration (time), etc.

At the very beginning some counting and timing is helpful. Perception of the subtle pranic inbreath immediately trumps and moots any more timing or counting of one's breath. All attention is then placed on that and the best approach is to simply follow it, in all its capricious glory, along with visualizations and bhakti. Once the inner breath is known, visualizations regarding it quickly become far more significant as techniques than counting and timing. These can take a wide variety of forms, and in fact can be individual and effective according to your own karmic makeup, the turn of your mind, and what engages your imagination. Nityananda's visualization of a well, a bucket, etc. come to mind here. Yogananda himself stated that a lot of the spiritual territory is explored, traversed, and negotiated finally by the power of imaginative devices. Some of the best of these arise instinctively within the yogin or yogess herself as they grasp hold of these inner realities. One of my favorite visualizations for the nourishing inner breath is a valley or canyon swept with breezes and light, a patch of blue sky above, the great warm gales carrying upon it good things and boons. I see all this and become the breather of that great open air pace within. Or, a flower opening to embrace the sun. Or, a circle that receives. All the universe and its "laws" are imaginative ideas of Brahman the Lord.

And above all, the word and the sound knowers know, in various forms according to the mind or the sort of prana. Aum.

One of the great faults of many commentaries (surrounding verses 2:49-51) is the notion that the yogin is supposed to simply try to "hold his breath" (in or out) for longer and longer periods. This is a fruitless idea and probably dangerous. I am surprised at how many Yoga-Sutra commentaries speak of this as if it's possible or advisable to stop the breath without other preparatory esoteric perceptions and development. No wonder so few take the Yoga-Sutra seriously. Understanding of true pranayama (and these verses) is only complete with cognition of the "inner breath," as Nityananda has repeatedly referenced it and I have explained it here. It is only through the inner breath that kumbhaka is achieved, by switching one breath for another as a train would switch tracks. Not through a brute stoppage of the breath. Yes, holding the breath in kumbhaka, whether spontaneously or by choice, is good work and enjoyable, but when you need to breathe again, breath unless your pranic in-breath is fully open. Breathing must go on! Focus instead on finding the inner pulse of the breath on the mental level. The breath must convert to a thought, mental sound, inner action, and nourishing feeling alone! Lock onto the flighty inner breath, same as the flighty gross outer breath, and stay with it, enjoying it. Be devoted to it. Then understand Yoga-Sutra verse 2:51.

In kevali kumbhaka and samadhi gross air-breathing stops but breathing does not stop. Breathing continues within. Then finally, in another stage, the yogi lets it become one inner, constant puraka (inbreath). This fault of the Yoga-Sutra commentators spans Taimni, Leggett, Hariharananda, Prasada, Bazl, M.N. Dvivedi, Charles Johnston, Iyengar, many others, and Sankara himself. Nityananda has finally made this clear at the nadir of the Kali Yuga.

Amazingly, even Sankaracharya did not have insight into the meaning of these Yoga-Sutra verses 2:49-51. His commentary on 2:49-51 is both barren and tangential. His commentary about "internal and external fields" related to the two breaths, picked up and carried forward by so many commentators, is creative invention in my opinion. Like much of Sankara's commentary on occult yogic subjects, it was space-filler by a commentator who didn't  understand the verse in basic terms. There is no yogic metaphysics that matches the two breaths into "inner and outer fields," and if one wanted to create them it would be a distraction and waste of time.

This is one of several examples where Sankara piles obscurations onto yogic scriptures instead of elucidating them. Like his empty-handed commentaries on Upanishadic "size of a thumb," fireflies, comets, and the first letter of Aum fulfilling all wishes. A philosopher is not necessarily a yogi. He was an avatar of jnana and detachment, but not a bhakta or highly developed yogi, or qualified commentator on a great many verses. Aum. Yet, praise Sankara, who have us the pristine philosophy of non-dualism! For in the next section I am going to quote Sankara a great deal in explaining true causation, and the most magnificent religious philosophy known to man, all articulated by Sankaracharya, true hero, and the rishis who wrote the Upanishads.


Copyright 2011 Julian Lee. All Rights Reserved.
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