Breathing techniques of the Tibetan yoga tradition

The teaching of breath, as a cornerstone of yoga, plays an important role in the Tibetan yoga tradition. In tantric practice, various breathing techniques are used to give the practice a lasting effect. The energy form of lung permeates the entire being.

Lung - the breath energy

In the Tibetan yoga tradition, the teaching of the breath plays a decisive role in the success of tantric practice. Preparatory breath cleansing techniques purify the two breathing channels so that the flow of breath can be relaxed and deepened. The breathing posture and breath control are based on the purified breathing system so that lung flows into the subtle nadi system. In the yoga practice of Lu Jong, Tsa Lung and Tummo Yoga, the tantric yoga styles, the purified and deepened lung is used to realise the nature of the mind.

Prana or Lung in Tibetan – Tibetan breathing techniques

The enriching journey through the teaching of Tibetan breathing and its various techniques, such as the sniffing fox, the triple breathing rhythm, the 9 purifying breaths, the vase breath and methods of breath control and posture, enable us to understand the unique secret of vital energy, prana or lung in Tibetan. The ultimate goal of the teaching of breathing is union and oneness with prana or lung.

For how can the yogi or yogini achieve perfection,
if the inner form and secret of prana or lung
is not recognised and fully deployed.

The School of Breathing

Tibetan yoga attaches unique importance to the human body. It is revered as a microcosm in which the rhythm and order of the universe are reflected. The body is animated by lung, a mysterious vital energy, and nourished by that respiratory force. Knowledge of that vital biochemical and electrical energy called lung has existed in Tibetan practice for thousands of years. The teaching of breathing, one of the pillars of yoga, plays an important role in the lasting and effective success of the practice of tantric exercises. The lung form of energy allows us to invigorate, vitalise and permeate the whole being.

The Power of the Breath as Internal Medicine

The original force of lung is used in yoga and meditation as an internal medicine or self-healing energy to revitalise and penetrate the subtle nadi system. In doing so, we pay attention to the old, drained, worn-out breath that is circulating through the system or remains concentrated in one place. That old breath is partly responsible for the appearance of disorders and illnesses. It also prevents the development and realisation of inner forces. The teaching of breathing as a whole is the basis for the constant renewal and expansion of vital circulating energy, lung, which is constantly guided more deeply into the subtle energy network. Through this awareness and use of respiratory energy, the luminous energetic body or rainbow body is gradually built up and realised.

Nature as an Illustration of the Teaching

It is in the beauty and delicacy of nature that Tibetan yogis and yoginis find the teaching of yoga and of the vital lung energy. Indeed, nature provides a marvellous illustration of what is meant by a well-functioning holistic system. From the centre to the extremities, the internal form of energy known as lung acts and animates the whole being. Lung also penetrates the entire subtle nadi system when all the channels are pure, clear and permeable.

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The multiple breathing techniques of the Tibetan yoga tradition are designed to cleanse and strengthen the entire subtle network and to cultivate it in its purest form. Lung circulates throughout the subtle system, passing through the finest nodes to the furthest extremities.

Practice of Tantric Exercises

In the practice of Tantric exercises, throughout their lives practitioners are concerned with the forces and energies of the original cosmic force, prana or lung.

Purification, regulation and construction of respiratory energy is an elementary aspect of Tantric practice, in addition to all the other basic principles of yoga. In so doing, body, breath and spirit are led into a transformative unity of universal consciousness. These three aspects are harmonised through the practice of attention and directed awareness and gathered into a great whole.

The Subtle Energy Body

At the heart of Tibetan breathing techniques lies the subtle energy body, with all its energy centres or chakras and the network of nadi that extend like a coherent network over the entire energy body. This system of subtle nadi is penetrated by lung, the all-encompassing form of energy. Various primary and secondary forms of wind, which are situated in different energy centres, run through the nadi system.

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The Eight steps for Teaching the Breath

Learning to breathe involves a continuous process whose aim is direct experience and union with omnipresent vital energy. Learning to breathe takes place step by step through various constructive stages until the completion of union with the form of universal energy. To achieve this, the path is divided and constructed into eight stages:

– Paying attention to the breath

– Preparatory breathing techniques

– Respiratory balance

– Techniques for cleansing the breath

– Breath construction techniques

– Respiratory posture and breathing control

– Guiding the breath

– Breath awareness

Attention to the Breath

Breathwork allows us to train attention on all aspects inherent in breathing. In its most accomplished form, mindfulness links us to the Universal Force, the rhythm of breathing, the quality of breathing and the natural universal processes of breathing. The emphasis is also placed, as a starting point for teaching, on understanding of nasal breathing. Nasal breathing resembles the rhythm of a flower, and very few people realise that the nasal openings pulsate to an ancestral rhythm. They open and close like a flower, depending on the mood, the state of mind or the position of the sun and moon. This fascinating rhythm contains the great secret of life and initiates us into the profound mysteries of prana or lung.

Preparatory Breathing Techniques

The preparatory breathing techniques pass through the two respiratory channels in order to deepen the two respiratory currents. The breathing channels are freed from tension and tightness by powerful, jerky inhalation and exhalation techniques in different postures. In this way, the respiratory currents are guided towards a natural, relaxed flow.

Breathing Balance

Thanks to gentle breathing exercises and focused inner awareness, the filling and emptying movements of the breath are deeply relaxed and harmonised, in order to bring them to a stable inner balance. The in-breath and out-breath are autonomous, yet they condition each other, otherwise there is no balance or union of the primary forces.

Breath Purification Techniques

During each practice session, practitioners cleanse their nadi in order to protect and purify them. To do this, they use the main channels and through them penetrate the subtle network. The different techniques cleanse and balance the respiratory flow in the left and right respiratory channels. In doing so, they reduce tension and tightness on the physical, psychological, mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Among the most important purification techniques are the 9 purifications of the breath, which form the common thread running through the entire practice of a yogi or yogini.

Breath Construction Techniques

The practice of techniques for building the breath helps to enlarge and expand the space for lung. A combination of breathing exercises, cleansing techniques, physical exercises and meditation is at the heart of the construction techniques. This process requires a clear, focused mind and the ability to control and stabilise the breath.

Breathing Posture and Breath Control

Breathing posture and breath control are based on the purified respiratory system, so that lung can flow into and penetrate the subtle nadi system. In the practice of subtle energy yoga, purified and deepened lung is used to realise the nature of the mind.

Breath Guidance

The great art of meditation and the skill acquired in visualisation techniques form the basis of the conscious guidance of the breath. The breath is held deeply and for a long time, as if in a container, and controlled in a focused way. In doing so, practitioners connect with their clear mind and the energy of lung, directing it in a focused way through the subtle nadi system.

Awareness of the breath

The yogi or yogini creates a complete connection with the breath through meditative and pure immersion and merges with inherent awareness of universal vital energy, prana or lung.

Where the outside and the inside are identical, knowledge is infinite,
where shadow and light are identical, wisdom is infinite.

Milarepa – Tibetan yogi

Inspiration and enrichment from nature’s natural processes are integrated into the eight-step path of the theory of breathing. They are the key to unlocking knowledge of the mysterious vital energy known as prana or lung. The yogi or yogini becomes the vessel and prana or lung itself.

Prana Or Lung

The article was written by Naomi King for the 51st Congress of the European Yoga Union in Zinal.

Naomi King Yogalehrerin Meditationslehrerin und Achtsamkeitscoach
Naomi King

Der erste Schritt mit Yoga, Meditation und Achtsamkeit beginnt mit der inneren, fokussierten Ausrichtung: «Niemand kann die Brücke bauen, auf der ich über den Fluss des Lebens schreite, niemand ausser ich selbst.»