In pranayama, matra is one of the ways in which the breath can be measured. According to Patanjali, there are three qualities of pranayama that can be described:
- Desha, or "space."
- Kala, or "duration."
- Sankhya, or "number of rounds."
It is the second quality, kala, that can be measured by units of matra. In traditional sacred texts, there are several ways to measure a matra. One method is the time it takes to turn your index finger around your knee, then snap your fingers. It is said that the duration of this action is between one to two seconds.
Matra is a very important quality in mantra theory as it refers to the meter of a mantra. Matra outlines the rhythm and pronunciation of a mantra. One popular matra is the Gayatri Mantra, which has a distinctive meter and pattern.