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Buddhist Pranayama practices?

Was wondering if there are pranayama practices that come from the Buddhist tradition in the ritual sense as a part of the meditation practice. I know that we follow the breath in meditation, but I am interested in learning about pranayama exercises.
Are there any sutras specific to pranayama?
Did Buddha comment on pranayama?
Or did other Buddhist groups just appropriate pranayama from the Hindu tradition?
With so many sutras I have no idea to where even look for pranayama references.
I understand that there are Dzogchen yantra practices that include pranayama - but am not sure if this a recent incorporation to the tradition, or something taught in the sutras. And do Dzogchen folks incorporate pranayama with their regular practice or is this and yantra part of a different practice?
If anyone can enlighten me I'd appreciate it.
I am hoping to deepen my own pranayama practice by understanding its roots with Buddhist examples (if there is such a thing).
Thanks in advance for your input.


  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited January 2015

    What are pranayama practices? I think there are some Theravadans who do this, but I cannot remember the name. A pretty well known one if I recall. Not sure what the Pali sutras say. Who told you Dzogchen is involved with pranayana?

  • @Jeffrey‌
    I don't know how to embed a video, but here are Kundalini and Hatha pranayama exercises:

    And ashtanga:

    Tibetan Bon practice:

    I have this DVD (http://www.amazon.com/Tibetan-Yoga-Movement-Perfect-Rhythm/dp/B005V3XCTM/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1421372864&sr=1-2&keywords=yantra) which says is published by the Dzogchen community. It's described as: Senior Instructors Fabio Andrico and Laura Evangelisti, together with other Yantra Yoga practitioners, present traditional Yantra Yoga as they learned it from Dzogchen Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu.
    This Fabio sometimes has pranayama workshops here in Southern California which are hosted by the Dzogchen community. (http://www.yantrayoga.org)

    I guess this is why I am a bit confused about what exactly are Buddhist pranayama practices. I see this under the Dzogchen banner and was making the assumption this was a part of Dzogchen practice.

  • I don't think it is the main practice of Dzogchen which is to rest in the nature of mind and not do anything contrived such as a 'trick'. Rigdzin Shikpo says you can waste your time and only end up with a 'bag of tricks' but no insight into the natural state as is.

    Rigdzin Shikpo is the head of the Longchenpa foundation which is one of the major lineages of Dzogchen teaching. He states in his book 'Clarity Openness and Sensitivity' (or is it 'Never Turn Away'?) that the meditation method you should not have a contrived breath rather it should be natural and uncontrived. He gives a technique what to do if our breath comes to be contrived. The technique is to say to yourself that 'you are not meditating'. Stay sitting and just do not medititate. So you just sit on the floor and tell yourself that you are not meditating. Do that until your breathing returns to normal.

  • I am aware of just following the breath, which is what I do with my mindfulness meditation practice. There is a difference between Pranayama and mindfulness meditation and I keep them separate in my overall practice.
    As I stated I am trying to learn more about Buddhist pranayama practices and whether there are comments about it in sutras.
    So I guess I am to assume the yantra/pranayama Dzogchen practice is just some sort of off-shoot? That no where in Dzogchen texts there is any mention of pranaya,a/yantra? This Dzogchen Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu just made it up?

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator
    edited January 2015

    Pranayama is a yogic practice. It means "extension of the life force" and is part of the 8 limbs of yoga, within the yamas and niyamas. It's roots are in India, but it came about via the practices of Ayurveda and yoga. It is mentioned in the Baghavad Gita, but mainly in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is where the history and current practices for it come from. If I recall, pranayama has it's roots in India as long as 5000 years ago. That's long before Buddhism came long.

    Doesn't mean it doesn't go well with Buddhism. But it is not specifically a Buddhist practice.

    I should add, there can be some risks associated with some types of pranayama. There are many types, uujai (spelling?), breath of fire, and alternate nostril are mostly what I practice. If you are interested in learning proper ways to do it so you don't cause yourself health issues, you'd be best to check with an experienced yoga practitioner/teacher.

  • sovasova delocalized fractyllic harmonizing Veteran

    Here is a potentially helpful article by Geshe Michael


    Our entire being is like the layers of an onion. The outermost layer is the gross physical body. The next layer down is what feeds this layer, the breath being our most important “food.” This breath layer is linked to a layer of subtle physical energy—the prana, or inner winds.

    These winds flow throughout our body in the next layer, the nadis, a network of tiny tubes or channels more subtle than the finest light. Upon the winds in these channels ride our thoughts themselves, the innermost layer, like a rider atop a horse: the amazing frontier where mind and body meet.

  • I've been working with an experienced pranayama yoga teacher for many years.
    Just wondering how Buddhism views pranayama.
    It seems pranayama practices are nowhere in the sutras - purely a Hindu practice - is that what you guys are telling me?
    And just a practice a sole modern Dzogchen teacher promotes?

  • There is a sutra somewhere in which the Buddha before he became enlightened, practiced breathing exercises involving suspension of breath. He developed headaches. Yeah Goatarama, duh! :s

    If you wish to study prana, chakras, wind breath gymnastics then start with Anuttarayoga Tantra and a Buddhist teacher of this tradition. Most of these practices are supervised and rightly so . . . There are forums devoted to this type of 'spiritual' specialisation and detour.

    From what I understand the Buddha practiced all kinds of extreme fasting, air control and who knows what. Then he decided to teach a bit of balance known as the Middle Way.

    Of the potential adverse effects of yogic practices, pranayama is the most common reported in the medical literature.

    The beneficial effects of mantrayana are partially due to a side effect - a more complete out breath. That is I feel safe, sufficient and makes one aware of the feedback potential of breath.

    breath in sutra

    breath in practice

    Hope that is of some use.

  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Moderator

    I think depending on who they study with and where those masters were raised and trained, that it is possible some of those practices came into play for some teachers. But to my knowledge, no, they are not present in the Buddhist sutras that I have ever seen. I have been on retreat with Dzogchen teachers and it is not something they happen to practice (that they told us, anyhow), nor did they talk about it at all. Our sangha leader has been a Dzogchen practitioner for many years and he said he cannot think of anywhere he has seen or read that pranayama is a part of that.
    The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a good read though.

  • @Daiva ah I see. I think maybe it is not a Dzogchen thing but rather maybe a few Dzogchen teachers teach it. Have you considered mailing Chögyal Namkhai Norbu?

  • @Jeffrey‌
    They seem to have workshops in San Francisco and was thinking about attending one. But it looks like they are run by Fabio Andrico, not Norbu.

    I purchased a book by Norbu, Yantra Yoga (http://www.amazon.com/Yantra-Yoga-Tibetan-Movement/dp/1559393084/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421460825&sr=8-1&keywords=yantra+yoga)

    In it there are a few pages about "body movement and pranayama" practices - and it states it was introduced to Tibet in the 10th century. It also states its part of the Dzogchen tradition.

    Quote: "The Yantra Yoga of Vairocana belongs to the Dzogchen tradition. The method of Dzogchen is different from the method of the anuttaratantras."
    Am not sure I understand what this means but it got me wondering whether this was a tradition that has roots in the time of Buddha and whether any sutras made reference to it or not.
    And I guess just made the assumption this was part of Dzogchen practice but came from other traditions- and I don't really know the history of the Dzogchen tradition and in my naive mind I just though for some reason it had its roots in the time of Buddha. So that's why I thought there might me some sutra references.
    In the Norbu book he doesn't quote sutras - so am kind of wondering where he is getting this stuff.

    I practice pranayama, but it is part of my yoga practice - not my Buddhist mindfulness practice.
    I keep them separate - but Norbu seems to insinuate that yantra is part of a Buddhist practice. And again, part of my confusion - because as others have stated above I am familiar with the practice of following your breath, Anapanasati, but not through this sort of more intense pranayama practice.

  • As I have said I don't think it is part of ALL of tantra or Dzogchen teachers.

  • Understood - just seems kind of strange that Norbu claims it's part of Dzogchen tradition since the 10th century - so I guess he is the only Dzogchen person who practices this?
    And I guess it seems that pranayama isn't a part of any Buddhist tradition whatsoever...

  • I think it is a part of tantra but not a part of the highest tantra: Dzogchen and Mahamudra. I'm not sure just know a few teachers of those who do NOT teach pranayama breathing.

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran

    It's a very powerful teaching for those who have great expectations of dharma, and require a deep and meaningful experience!

    But the end will be the same regardless of what your practice is...

    If you need to have a kundalini experience - then do it!

    There is no single way to awakening - what works for you doesn't necessarily work for someone else.

    Who is doing the judging and what is the value of their judgement?

  • anatamananataman Who needs a title? Where am I? Veteran
    edited January 2015


  • @‌anataman You make a good point

    @anataman said:

    But the end will be the same regardless of what your practice is…

    I guess it doesn't really matter. Trying to pin down a Buddhist version of a pranayama practice is not important. If my pranayama yoga practice works for me, then it is good enough - since that's my personal meaningful path.

  • These yogic teachings exist. I was taught pranayama in yoga, they sometimes had the opposite effect to the intention. For example raising anxiety, instead of calming it. I was never convinced by the expertise of teachers. In martial arts there are breathing kata, that I found efficacious.

    In Tibetan and probably Klingon, yogic techniques are known as Trul Khor. You need a teacher.


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