Sunyaka Pranayama, Benefit from Absolutely Empty Lungs

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all Techniques of Yoga articles

The word Sunyaka literally means Zero,

nothing, or naught.

Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra 2:49,

states that pranayama is the gap

between inhalation,

and the corresponding exhalation.

Training the Mind on extending this gap as much as possible,

is Pranayama. Sunyaka Pranayama is built on this concept.

 In a full cycle of respiration this gap (when we are neither inhaling nor exhaling) comes twice; once after the inhalation is completed and before the exhalation begins – Kumbhaka-, and next after the exhalation is complete and before the next inhalation begins – Sunyaka. 

It has been observed by the yogis that the Mind is most saturated with the thoughts while inhaling and while exhaling. Thus the action of thoughts in the mind is connected to both inhalation and exhalation, or when the respiratory system is active. The mind has been found to be steady ( without any thoughts), or focused during the expanse in time of either the Kumbhaka or the Sunyaka; the two passive phases of the process of respiration. Prana ( bio-motor energy) is the healthiest, strongest and purest when the mind is steady. 

Sunyaka pranayama is a yogic breathing practice where the practitioner trains to prolong the suspended stage of the breath to the maximum possible. This pranayama is also known as keval sunyaka, or keval kumbhaka where keval stands for absolute, meaning absolute ( zero air is present in the lungs)  or holding of the gap for a longer time with the lungs absolutely empty of any air. Sunyaka is also known as prolonged suspension as breath is suspended for Sunyaka to happen.  Another name for Sunyaka is Bahir kumbhaka ( external kumbhaka).

Sunyaka Pranayama

How to do Sunyaka Pranayama ( Prolonged Suspension)‚Äč

  1. Get into any sitting yoga postures like Sidhasana, Vajrasana, or Padmasana, avoid sitting in Sukhasana for doing Sunyka pranayama 
  2. Make sure the chin is held parallel to the floor, the spine is held erect, lengthen the spine upwards by lifting the chest up and outwards, breathe normally for a while
  3. Take a short inhalation for providing a kick start to the long, slow, and smooth exhalation that follows, pull in the abdomen while exhaling as if the air is being pushed out completely, continue exhaling till the last molecule of air is shoved out of the lungs
  4. Pull the diaphragm up into the ribcage sucking the abdomen in towards the spine creating a big hollow between the ribcage and the pelvis
  5. Now suspend ( no inhalation or exhalation), stop the breath once the lungs are absolutely empty of air, keep the eyes open and mentally focus on the tip of the nose
  6. Eyes can be closed after the mind goes completely steady and concentrated, keep the breath suspended till one comfortably ( no strain) can
  7. Now release the abdomen and take a normal inhalation without any jerks or strain

Precautions, Details to be kept in Mind – Sunyaka Pranayama

  • Suspend the breath only until it can be comfortably held, in case gasping is experienced while releasing the abdomen it is an indication that the breath was held beyond one’s holding capacity which can be strenuous on the system
  • Sunyaka is best done in the morning hours before the meals are taken, it can also be done at other times of the day provided the rule of four hours gap between the last meal had is followed
  • Never use force while exhaling or while suspending the breath for doing Sunyaka,  All pranayamas must be done with a completely relaxed and patient mind, any force if employed can harm the respiratory organs of the body, moreover any tension while exhaling would impede the complete exhalation leading to residual air pending in the lungs
  • The inhalation taken while releasing the abdomen after the suspension must be smooth and without any jerks in-between, the presence of jerks is an indication of a strain during the suspension
  • Keep the mind completely focused through  the practice
  • The next round should follow immediately after the  inhalation is complete, avoid breathing normally ( taking a break) between two rounds of Sunyaka
  • The abdomen must not shake, quiver or jerk  for the period the suspension is being held
  • While suspending the breath make sure that all the other impulses and temptations are also kept suspended

Contraindications, Limitation for Vaccum Breathing

  • Persons with cardiac or respiratory problems must avoid doing Sunyaka Pranayama
  • Pregnant women and children under the age of 7 years must avoid doing Vaccum breathing
  • People having the issue of low blood pressure must not do this pranayama
  • Patients who have recently undergone any abdominal surgery, or have ulcers in the stomach should not do Sunyaka

Duration and Number of Rounds

Inhale for 3 seconds, then exhale till 4 seconds, suspend till 5 seconds and release. This becomes one round of Sunyaka.  The beginners can start with inhaling for 3 seconds, then exhaling till the lungs are completely empty and start by suspending for 5 secs, gradually increase the suspension to 30 seconds, over the period of several days, before releasing the abdomen. Gain control of the basic time units – Matra – ratio by consistent practice for some time before gradually increasing the numbers.

Do at least a set of 10 rounds of Sunyaka in one sitting. One can do multiple sets of Sunyaka in a day. 

Sunyaka Pranayama – Benefits and Advantages

One must do Sunyaka by following the strictures laid down for benefiting the most out of doing any pranayama.

  • Doing Sunyaka regularly improves digestion
  • It relieves constipation by aiding the peristalsis process within the intestines
  • Sunyaka induces hunger and enhances the vigor in the body
  • The mind becomes  one-pointed, concentrated, focused,  calm, and peaceful
  • It improves blood circulation by putting pressure on the abdominal viscera, it is popularly used as a part of the yoga processes for improving blood circulation
  •  It improves the quality of inhalation
  • Practicing this Sunyaka pranayama reduces fat around the abdominal region along with other techniques which form the part of yoga for reducing the belly fat
  • It reduces the blood pressure and increases the pulse rate