Ratios and Pranayama – Understanding the Link

You may not know but use of ratio in varied phases of the breath to each other is extremely significant while practicing pranayama. In Pranayama, it is possible to fix the ratio between the following:

  • Inhalation
  • Retention afterward
  • Exhalation
  • Retention afterward

The use of ratios can be categorized into two categories:

Samavrtti PranayamaSame Length

In the first category, the inhalation, the exhalation, and the breath retention are all the same length. This is referred to as samavrtti pranayama. The term sama means ‘the same’ and vritti means ‘to move’.

The practice is known to be good for those who use a mantra in their breathing exercises. This indicates they can make the inhalation, the exhalation, and the retention of each breath last for about the same number of mantra repetitions.

Vismavrtti Pranayama – Different Length

In this category of pranaya, the different phases of the breath are of different lengths. This is known as vismavrtti pranayama. Exhalation in this pranayama is twice as long as the inhalation.

Working with Breath

It is crucial in any pranayama practice that the practitioner works with a breath ratio. This ratio needs to be just perfect for them. Now this may vary from day to day. When the ratio is too easy, the practice maybe get a little mechanical. And if the ratio gets too tough or complex, resistance may occur which lead to problems.

How to Choose Breath Ratio

The breath ratio should be chosen after considering two factors:

  • The possibilities
  • The goals

The Possibility

What is possible depends on one’s capability to inhale, hold the breath, exhale, and again hold the breath. This can be evaluated via observing breath while practicing asanas. The idea of the limits can be made as one observes the body through certain postures.

For instance, for inhalation and exhalation of similar length, a forward bend is usually comfortable and free. On the other hand, a back bend will make inhalation and exhalation shorter. For an inverted pose the exhalation will be okay whereas the inhalation is relatively shorter.

A pranayama practice may be designed in a fashion wherein the exhalation is longer than the inhalation. For instance, if you choose to breathe in a 1:2 ratio, it is crucial to encourage total emptying of the lungs, which sequentially encourages voluminous inhale. In order to reinforce the inhale you need to work with the exhale.


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