Yoga and pranayama are the most accepted holistic exercises for (possible) absolute health as explained by biopsychosocial model. Pranayama is the breathing exercise highly recommended for various physiological and psychological disorders. Kumbhaka forms the basis of deepest breathing exercises (Pranayama) required to regulate the activities of mind and increase the concentration. This helps stabilizing the mind and lowering metabolism.
Kumbhaka is the “voluntary cessation of breath” and the extreme stage is known as Kevali Kumbhaka where respiration ceases and metabolic activities stop unless reverted voluntarily. It is of utmost importance for yogis (one who performs yogic exercises) to attain samadhi which becomes easier with kumbhaka as explained by yoga and religious scriptures.
Importance of Kumbhaka
Respiration includes inhalation and exhalation. In between these two processes there is a very minute gap or pause (normally in miniseconds) which is usually not noticed and it recurs, i.e, inhalation-pause-exhalation-pause-inhalation…. and it continues. The maximum gap or pause is observed in the state of rest. Kumbhak enforces to increase the pause by ceasing the breath routinely and continuously by various types of pranayama and kumbhaka exercises. It is being observed that more is the time spent for pranayama (and kumbhaka) increased is the concentration and better is the control over mind. Various ancient yogis (expert in yoga and pranayama) noticed the importance of respiration and its correlation with activities of mind and vital forces. Aging is also seen proportional to frequency of respiration or respiratory rate, i.e, frequency of inhalation and exhalation in one minute. Medical science recorded normal respiratory rate in humans as 12-16 breaths per minute with life span of 70-80 years. These figures may vary due to geographical, communal and other distribution factors.
Though the level of consciousness varies from species to species, it is seen highest in humans where conscious mind can provoke to perform activities and exercises as per wishes and this voluntary performance is not up to such an extent in any other species and consequently all other species cannot cease their breath as and when desired (voluntarily). Some species (e.g, whales) can take enormous air and cease it for a long time but that is spontaneous requirement and involuntary; and it is the necessity for them to survive this way.
Practicing kumbhaka for a long time increases endurance of physiological as well as psychological structure of an individual. Continuous and long term practicing increases the hold or control on breath up to an extent where it reaches to its extreme stage (Kevali Kumbhak) and the respiration is ceased permanently unless desired to get into normal state. Aging is proportional to metabolism which in turn is proportional to respiratory rate. Metabolism lowers down as the respiratory rate decreases and this helps prevent aging or at least lowers down the process. It has not been recorded scientifically whether kevali kumbhaka can increase age (or can make immortality a fact) by lowering down the basic reactions which support life, however, various yoga sutras and religious scriptures define samadhi and immortality (anti-aging) an approachable dreams for determined individuals.