Common steps and sub-activities
Sahita is a controlled breathing exercise, used in Laya yoga, which superficially appears to be based on manipulation of oxygen supply, but is in reality used to manipulate trigger points. The technique involves a small amount of breath holding – but this is designed to pull in the muscles and apply pressure to the vagus nerve in the chest. By doing this one invokes the parasympathetic nervous system. But the entire exercise is designed to circulate energy around both the parasympathetic system and the sympathetic system – a controlled flow.
The terms used in Laya yoga are rather confusingly different to those used in Raja Yoga.
Apana or Apanana is the term used for ‘inspiration’ of the symbolic ‘breath’; Prana or Pranana is ‘expiration’; and Wyana or Wyanana is the ‘suspension’ of symbolic breath’. There are then two types of breath suspension methods:
- Sahita – is ‘inspiration’ and ‘expiration’ with suspension
- Kewala – is no ‘inspiration’ or expiration’, but suspension
To repeat, breath here is symbolic even though the method used to achieve this circulation is physical. The flows referred to here are spiritual flows of energy. In effect one is aiming to be able to control the flows of energy partly via physical methods – trigger points.
Swami Nigamananda - ‘Yogi guru’:
The practice of Hatha Yoga can be carried out when the body is made fit for the purpose the body should be cleansed first of the impurities through Sat Sadhna i.e. the six elementary practices of Yoga. Hatha Yoga is completely different from Laya Yoga. The practices of Hatha Yoga can make the body strong which can enable it to survive for a period of about four hundred years or more, whereas Laya Yoga helps the aspirant to attain union with the supreme. If the body is not kept purified both externally and internally through the practices of Hatha Yoga, the succeeding steps of Laya Yoga would yield no result.
So ignoring the rather horrific prospect of living for 400 years, Hatha yoga is designed to make you fit and thus able to manage these sorts of techniques without being worried by endless aches and pains, whilst Laya Yoga is the set of techniques aimed at giving you the spiritual experience.
Some of the claims for this method are related to health:
Dr. M. Hajirnis
If the quality of the blood is below par, the brain tries to get more blood. In the brain and even elsewhere in the body, all the capillaries are not functioning at all times. Some of them are lying dormant in a collapsed or closed state. In order to receive a greater quantity of blood, these capillaries are opened up. The effect is more marked in the brain. Thus cerebral anoxia leads to cerebral vasodilation, more capillaries open up and circulation improves”.
Oxygen control - The method appears to depend very heavily on the use of nostril holding to restrict the flow of oxygen. Thus the safety factor ensuring that one does not hyperventilate, is achieved via the restriction of the input mechanisms. In this respect the method is not dissimilar to the purse lipped breathing approach.
“ First exhale the air from the lungs through the right nostril by closing the left nostril with the fingers of the right hand; now inhale through the left nostril counting to 16 and then suspend the breath for 64 measures, and the exhale through the right nostril, counting 32’.
By restricting the nostrils to just one you are restricting the amount of oxygen inhaled, effectively reducing by half the amount you inhale in the time counted. Forget all the descriptions you get in western books about the two ‘energy flows’ and connection to the different nostrils, the aim is to make it easier to take in less oxygen.
The actual time in seconds is never provided in the text books, it is all done by counting, because when the original texts were written they didn’t have watches, so the descriptions all talk about counts of so many measures. So 64 measures does not mean 64 seconds. It is proportions that are key.
There are a whole series of variations on the time and proportions of time over which the breath is held. The original proportions above are 16:64:32 but there are many variations. I suspect that all these variations arose as different yogis achieved success with these proportions on an experimental basis.
Trigger points – the real key to the success of this method is actually the trigger points used and a number are listed
- Anal lock - The main technique above can be combined with what is called ‘anal lock’ which is using the muscles around the anus and pulling them in and holding them.
- Diaphragm lock - pulling your stomach muscles in and holding them.
- Chin lock – the chin lock used in jalandhara bandha
Other additions - There are also other additions to help with the technique – humming, counting, mantras etc
The inhalation stage may be accompanied by the mental use of the matrika letters of which there are 50. Matrika letters just act like a mantra. The matrikas are actually goddesses in Hindu tradition, but they are given sound ‘embodiments’in some tantric traditions, and occasionally known as the ‘Bija of the Varnamala’ - "garland of letters". During the inhalation stage matrika letters are mentally recited in ascending order. During exhalation, the matrika letters are recited in reverse order.
- Laya Yoga the definitive guide to the chakras and kundalini – Shyam Sundar Goswami
- Physiology of Pranayama - Dr. M. Hajirnis, Thane