Asana and Pranayama In Raja Yoga

~ Swami Mounamurti Saraswati

Asana and Pranayama are stage three and four on the eight fold path of Patanjali's Raja Yoga

The traditional ancient text on Raja yoga is the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. According to the Raja yoga system asanas (yoga postures) are the stepping stones which prepare the Aspirant or Sadhaka for higher stages of Yoga such as Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and the ultimate attainment Samadhi.

The external stages of Yoga are described in chapter two 'Sadhana Pada" it supplies the means whereby you can enter the esoteric stages of Yoga mentioned in Chapter three 'Vibhuti Pada" which are Dharana (concentration) Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (Self-Realisation or attunement to the oneness of the ultimate self).

Before Patanjali mentions Asana and pranayama-in the very first sutra (verse) of chapter two he mentions Kriya yoga as the discipline for Sadhana which can awaken total inner awareness and surrender. In Chap2.v1 Patanjali says that

Tapahsvadhyayeshvarapranidhanani kriyaayogah

Tapas, Swadhyaya and Ishwara Pranidhana constitute Kriya Yoga

To ready yourself for Kriya yoga and the higher stages of Esoteric yoga mentioned in Chap3 the aspirant should take to the practice of Asana to make the body healthy, strong supple etc. The classical Meditation Asanas are required e.g. Siddhasana, Padmasana etc., but to be able to sit in absolute ease for 1,2,3 hours at a stretch the body needs to practice many other Yogasanas.

These asanas not only make the aspirant healthy, supple etc which is a prerequisite but they also make you it is said mentally and Psychically strong so that you can endure the opposites of cold and heat, happiness and sadness etc. When one has the ability to sit comfortably in a classical Meditation asana one begins Pranayama. This involves various techniques of "Prana Nigraha" breathing techniques, which are explained in v50, and v51which involve Kumbhaka (breath Retention).

"Pranayama is a powerful method of creating yogic fire to heat the kundalini and awaken It". Quote by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

Ultimately Kumbhaka affects the Cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the very sensitive spinal cord (Sushumna) and the Brain, which forms the central nervous system. What happens next has not been scientifically scrutinized but the infinite potentiality of energy in Mooladhara Chakra definitely releases some consciousness revealing experiences when the Cerebrospinal fluid becomes highly activated (Charged) and it (the charged energy) starts to rise up in the Central Canal of the spinal cord, towards the brain. As this begins to happen different levels in the Nervous system are awakened, producing mind-blowing experiences and altered states of consciousness.

This is the realm of Sushumna and potentially Kundalini awakening. This area is the interface between the known physiology of the human body (Neurochemistry, Physics and its laws of operation) and the scientifically yet uncharted areas of pure consciousness and the evolutionary energy of Maha Kundalini.

The Central Canal is collapsed in most areas of the adult spinal cord, but in some places (and in young children) remains open, lined with ependymal cells, and filled with CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid) 4

Mysteriously the central canal which is formed by the neural fold or plate in the spinal cord
is the first manifestation of a human being to appear in a zygote (unborn child).
Yogis have long known the key to transcendence lied in Sushumna
"We return from whence we came"

Thereafter in v52 it says, "that which is veiling the light is removed. This happens spontaneously when Kevala Kumbhaka (breath suspension) occurs and Sushumna awakens automatically. This reveals the Chakras , Lokas etc. and connects one to previously unawakened Neural circuitry. Then Ajapa Japa or real Kriya Yoga are experienced in absolute tranquillity and stillness of breath and mind. This is the stairway to the esoteric higher stages of Raja yoga. Raja Yoga is sometimes known as the Royal path.

Sadly many Yoga schools say that they teach Raja yoga, but they forget before meditation comes Pranayama, which must be mastered first. If you have read the Biographies and teachings of some realised masters of higher yoga, you will see all have utilized the techniques of Pranayama before initiation into Higher Yogas.

Examples are:

Lahiri Mahasay1 from Varanasi who attained Mahasamadhi in 1895. He is said to be the modern day father of the ancient Kriya Yoga tradition. In Lahiri Mahasay's biography it is reported that before he was initiated into Kriya Yoga by Babaji, that he practiced Pranayama religiously, daily for 25years.

Param Guru Swami Sivananda2 practiced Pranayama and Swara Yoga when he was a Doctor in Malaya, before he renounced and went to Rishikesh for Sannyasa. It is said by Swami Satyananda in his early teachings book that during Swami Sivananda's period of Tapasya and Sadhana that he was also initiated into Kriya Yoga by Babaji, and asked to build a mission.

Swami Satyananda3 (Paramahamsaji) even today attests to the potency of Pranayama and says that without Pranayama there is no real Bhakti.


Do you remember the old saying that those that only half breathe only half live, or have you ever heard the saying that Pranayama and Kriya Yoga are like gymnastics for the central nervous system. I believe this is so true.

Once at a Satsang by Swami Satyananda Saraswati on Kundalini Yoga, Swamiji spoke of negative ions, kumbhaka, and the increased concentrations of carbon dioxide.

This Satsang by Swamiji triggered a flood of thoughts on Pranayama that I had been thinking over for years, and because the internet is a good platform to ask some questions and get some answers or stimulate some thought, I submit them now for future Yoga Researchers

Quoting Swamiji's statements, "increased levels of carbon dioxide increase the human organisms ability to assimilate ions". I have been thinking about this for years as I gradually started to learn kumbhaka (breath retention) ratios in Pranayama such as Nadi Shodhan. For example the ratio I use is 1:4:2:1


Question: Does the net gain of carbon dioxide perfusion lead to vaso dilation in the brain and give the distant capillaries in the brain an important flush of blood, nutrients and prana.

-The central nervous system regulates pH, and in Yoga we work with and make extremely versatile the CNS. Variations to the set points of pH are looked after by the Chemoreceptors which tell us when to breathe, and when we increase the concentration of CO2 in the bloodstream through pranayamas it effects the CO2 concentration level in the cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounding the the spinal cord, the brain and inside of the cerebrospinal canal, (the mystical Sushumna).

-Molecular CO2 crosses the blood brain barrier diffusing easily, liberating Hydrogen ions. My mind flashes to deep see free divers who in fact practice pranayama, at least the world champs do. They report euphoria and altered states of consciousness often, and as a diving friend of mine (who has a science degree) told me in a conversation about the phenomena: they build up a CO2 tolerance. And that is one of the benefits we get with pranayama.

-What goes on chemically around the spinal cord and the brain, and inside the central canal of the spinal cord intrigues me very much.(See diagrams below)

Question: Do the liberated ions make headway through the central canal of the spinal cord or Sushumna Nadi?(See diagrams below)

Question: Does the neck position in Jalandara bandha, which is used with many of the Kriyas of Kriya Yoga and many Pranayamas stimulate the carotid chemoreceptors into play, thus having a profound effect on the breath and mind

-Yogis train for years with Pranayamas and Kriyas, so the usual fears of pH extremes resulting with acidosis and alkolosis are highly unlikely. This I believe would happen to untrained persons only and most Yogis (Sadhak's) look very much forward to altered states of consciousness.

PRANAYAMA RESEARCHERS OF THE FUTURE WILL BENEFIT BY TREADING THIS PATH Validate the mystical science of in depth Yoga and you will serve the hidden evolutionary plan of mankind.


Some of the less cosmic (physical / mental ) benefits of training in pranayam can be easily demonstrated by showing you my chart below from my days at Wollongong University. The chart which was used a part of a practical assessment to show a comparison between two students metabolic rate and breath flow/ volume rate, indicates how training in yogic breathing techniques compares to a non yogic trained student.

I was Student B, (then 44 years old in 2001) and, student A was an 18 year old athlete who was one of my class mates.

During the assessment we were both hooked up to a closed circuit Spirometer. Lying flat on your back (Supine) and relaxing with a nose clip attached to your nose, and a mouthpiece inserted in your mouth the experiment starts with the stop watch on and you commence breathing the pure 100% Oxygen for 10 minutes. During the assessment the Carbon Dioxide which is generated by the exhalations is absorbed by Soda Lime inside the Spirometer.

If you compare the horizontal distance between the (top) crests of the wave like curves this indicates the top of the inhalation, and the time taken between breaths.

The Vertical distance between the troughs of the wave (bottom) and the crest (top) of the wave indicates volume of oxygen inhaled or exhaled.

By following the blue line you can follow the volume of oxygen my body used for one breath and see the number of breaths, then compare this data to my classmates on the red line. Student B on average takes between 3 - 4 breaths for each breath made by student A. You can work out the comparison of the volume of Oxygen (Litres) used whilst relaxing.

You can then decide if controlled relaxed breathing, that is one of the outcomes of pranayama practice is useful. My class mates did not know what was going on. This quantifiable/objective data clearly shows that benefits.

This can be gained by consistently practicing full yogic breathing, all pranyamas including kumbhaka, Ajapa Japa, Kriya Pranayama, Kriya Yoga. Any Yogic technique, that works with the breath and develops the capacity and efficiency of the lungs helps.

Did you know that there is a link between speed of the breath and brain wave activity?

When you breath slowly and deeply, your brain emits beneficial Alpha waves which reflect deep relaxation. This is desirable and helps to maintain the health and Homeostasis of the body/mind complex.

Metabolism / Breath Rate & Volume

Above ~ Ventricles of the Brain

The flow route of the Cerebrospinal Fluid


1.Giri, Swami Satyaswarananda (1983)

Lahiri Mahasay the polestar of Kriya

The Sanskrit Classics ,San Diego, U.S.A

2.Saraswati, Swami Janakananda (2000)

Bindu number 13" On the path to greater awareness"

Haa Course Centre

Hamneda, Sweden

3.Saladin, Kenneth S (2001)

Anatomy & Physiology: the Unity of form and function

2nd Ed, Mc Graw-Hill

New York

KRP The Brain