Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Kumbhaka Mean?

Kumbhaka is a Sanskrit term that means “breath retention.” It is a technique that is a key component of pranayama breathing exercises used in conjunction with meditation and some yoga asanas. Kumbhaka is believed to increase the heat in the body and, in doing so, provide a range of physical and mental health benefits.

There are two main types of kumbhaka: antar kumbhaka, which is the cessation of breath when the inhalation is complete and the lungs are filled up; and bahya kumbhaka, which is the cessation of breath when the exhalation is complete.


Yogapedia Explains Kumbhaka

Just prior to antar kumbhaka, inhalation should take in slightly more air than normal to completely fill the lungs. Likewise, just prior to bahya kumbhaka, the exhalation should be complete, expelling more air than normal from the lungs.

Two additional types of kumbhaka are practiced by the most advanced yogis: sahaja (or sahit) kumbhaka, which is holding the breath with neither inhalation nor exhalation in mind; and kevala kumbhaka, which does not require inhalation or exhalation and is considered on par with the state of samadhi (the final stage of union with the Divine).

Many diseases are thought to be caused by disturbances within the pranic energy system in the body and mind. Pranayama – for example, nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) with antar kumbhaka – helps bring the energy system into harmony. Therefore, effective practice of kumbhaka in conjunction with pranayama is believed to help prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases, from skin disorders to diabetes. Kumbhaka also has the following benefits:

  • Helps remove impurities from the body
  • Boosts physical and mental vitality
  • Improves concentration
  • Clears and stills the mind

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