“No posture makes us more concerned about others. This is worth meditating on.”
TKV Desikachar

What Are We Seeking?

Four Parts of Breath


This series of articles is a preparation for a series on Pranayama – Yoga’s breathing practices. Before we delve into Pranayama we need to get acquainted with a few general qualities of breathing and a few personal qualities – things that are unique to every individual. This article assumes you are familiar and capable of breathing using Ujjayi technique.

Your Breath

Let’s start with a short practice to determine your breath capacity. This will give the ideas in this article a personal context – something that is unique for you. The practice is to sit comfortably and count the number of Ujjayi breaths you take over a period of 5 minutes. To do this practice you will need a timer to time 5 minutes with some kind of audio signal when the time is up (or use this – do a test to make sure your speakers are working and the volume is set).

Welcome back 🙂 Now we will do a little basic math:

  • The duration of the practice as 5 minutes = 300 seconds.
  • Divide the 300 seconds by the number of breaths you counted.
    For example – if you counted 28 breaths – then 300 divided by 28 = 10.7. This is the average length of your breath – almost 11 seconds.
  • Then divide that number by 2.5.
    For example: 10.7 divided by 2.5 = 4.3.
  • Round that number down to the closest even number.
    For example: 4.3 seconds is rounded down to 4 seconds.
  • This will be your base breathing duration (which we will soon explain further and put to good use).

There are two numbers to take away from this practice:

  • The length of your breath – in this case ~ 11 seconds.
  • Your base breathing duration – in this case 4 seconds.

Structure of Breath

Two parts of breath are fairly obvious – inhaling (taking air in) and exhaling (pushing air out). The two others are always there but we are not used to acknowledging them – these are the holds or stops that come in between the inhale and exhale. In Sanskrit they are called Kumbhaka. The hold after the inhale is called Antah Kumbhaka (or A.K. for short) and the hold after the exhale is called Bahya Kumbhaka (or B.K. for short).


We will use this structure to communicate breathing practices. For example: inhale 4 seconds, hold 2 seconds, exhale 7 seconds, hold 2 seconds. A shorter way to communicate this would be to simply say breathe 4 – 2 – 6 – 2.


The limitation of this notation is that it indicates a specific length of breath. What if we wanted to communicate the same idea – but in a way that you can apply the practice to your breathing capacity. Fortunately there is a way to do this. We communicate the breathing practice in multipliers instead of numbers. Like this:

breathpractice_mulThe base duration in this example is 4 seconds. The inhale is “1” meaning [ 1 x 4 seconds = 4 seconds]. The A.K. hold is 0.5 meaning [ 0.5 x 4 seconds = 2 seconds] and so on. So the same breathing formula, in this example “1 – 0.5 – 1.5 – 0.5” will result in different durations – depending on your base breathing duration. You can try to apply this formula to your breathing duration.

This entry was posted in Breath, Pranayama, Uncategorized, Yoga. You are welcome to read 15 comments and to add yours

15 Trackbacks

  • By A Sample Breathing Practice | iamronen on August 22, 2009 at 3:57 am

    […] that we can communicate breathing formulas and have the tools to time and count in a breathing practice let’s try a sample breathing […]

  • By Viloma Ujjayi | iamronen on August 26, 2009 at 3:30 am

    […] your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Like Anuloma Ujjayi –  one round of breathing is made up of two […]

  • By Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 17 | iamronen on August 30, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    […] and pranayama practice shorten the time it takes to make this […]

  • By Twisted Learning | iamronen on September 1, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    […] practices including a Pranayama breathing practice and a short […]

  • By Pratiloma Ujjayi | iamronen on September 22, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    […] your practice includes holds then add them where necessary. Please remember that one round of Pratiloma breathing is made up of […]

  • By Pranayama with Blocked Nasal Passages | iamronen on October 23, 2009 at 10:36 am

    […] Anuloma Ujjayi is not accessible then take up a breathing practice based on Ujjayi breathing without any nostril […]

  • By Movement in Breath in Intent | iamronen on November 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    […] “takes place”  between inhales and exhales – during breaks/holds in the breathing.  To practice intent you need to first develop an extended capacity of breath – including […]

  • By Pranayama Exposes Mind | iamronen on December 8, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    […] current Pranayama practice was something like: 10 – 0 – 15 – 0  x8 10 – 0 – 15 – 5  x8 […]

  • By Pranayama Exposes Beyond Mind | iamronen on December 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    […] requires quite a bit of counting. Counting, repeatedly, for a substantial period of time collects and focuses mind and gives […]

  • By Doshas – Manipulating Fire | iamronen on March 27, 2010 at 11:05 am

    […] breath has four parts that can be consciously arranged into breathing patterns – formulas. Breathing formulas have an immediate & accumulative effect on the fire that burns within. […]

  • By Welcome to Pranayama Journal | iamronen on August 21, 2010 at 8:35 am

    […] I have written about the basics of breathing and Pranayama practices I have not yet gotten around to writing about the process of developing a […]

  • […] with a fairly simple exercise (and a little mathematics) you can find in this post about the four parts of the breath. Once you know your base breathing duration you can apply that to a breathing […]

  • By Pranayama Prepares Mind for Meditation | iamronen on March 13, 2011 at 9:10 am

    […] (Yoga breathing practices) are a transitional practice for the  mind. The use of formulated, measured and repeated breathing keeps the mind busy and involved. It gives the mind something to […]

  • By Yoga On the Mat Practice: Summer-Fall 2013 - iamronen on November 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    […] Bahya Kumbhaka (holding the breath after the exhale) had a very powerful impact on me. At first it caused quite a […]

  • By Graduality and Edges in Practice - iamronen on December 25, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    […] is a formula for breathing, where the breath is made up of four parts: an inhale, a pause, an exhale and a pause. This […]

Leave a Reply to Three Things you Need to Start Practicing Pranayama | iamronen Cancel reply