|Year : 2019 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 68-70
Tirumūlar on evaluating the qualitative standard of the pace of exhaling breath in pranayama practitioners
Subramanian Saravanan1, Ramakrishnan Iyankannu2
1 Clinical Research Section, Siddha Clinical Research Unit, A&U Tibbia College Campus, New Delhi, India
2 Department of Varmam, Pura Maruthuvam and Sirappu Maruthuvam, Maria Siddha Medical College and Hospital, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, India
|Date of Submission||14-Jul-2019|
|Date of Decision||27-Jul-2019|
|Date of Acceptance||21-Aug-2019|
|Date of Web Publication||09-Dec-2019|
Siddha Clinical Research Unit, A&U Tibbia College Campus, Karol Bagh, New Delhi - 110 005
Tirumūlar's Tirumantiram is the earliest known Tamil treatise on yoga, in which 14 poems are dedicated to the practice of pranayama. These poems give a detailed insight on the methods and benefits of pranayama. The purpose of the study is to advance ideas related to pranayama by proposing a test to identify the stages of progression of a pranayama practitioner. The proposed test is based on the method prescribed in the poems of pranayama in Tirumantiram on evaluating the qualitative standard of the pace of exhaling breath in pranayama practitioners. The verse 567 from the research edition of Tirumantiram critically edited by Annamalai was selected for decoding in which the highest quality standard for the three phases of breath in a pranayama cycle, namely Pūraka (inhalation), Kumbhaka (retention) and Rēsaka (exhalation) is described. On the highest quality standard of Rēsaka, Tirumūlar says 'the exhaling breath should not cause flutters in powder of bran kept nearby'. The description exhibits a method to visually evaluate the pace of exhaling breath by observing its impact on powder of bran. Tirumūlar's ideology on “the exhaling breath and its impact on rice bran powder” could be developed in the name of 'Bran test' to identify the stages of progression of a pranayama practitioner.
Keywords: Bran test, pace of exhaling breath, pranayama, stages of pranayama practitioner, Tirumantiram, Tirumūlar
|How to cite this article:|
Saravanan S, Iyankannu R. Tirumūlar on evaluating the qualitative standard of the pace of exhaling breath in pranayama practitioners. Yoga Mimamsa 2019;51:68-70
|How to cite this URL:|
Saravanan S, Iyankannu R. Tirumūlar on evaluating the qualitative standard of the pace of exhaling breath in pranayama practitioners. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2019 [cited 2020 Apr 10];51:68-70. Available from: http://www.ym-kdham.in/text.asp?2019/51/2/68/272451
| Introduction|| |
The Tamil Siddha Yoga tradition is one of the most important and interesting offshoots of the pan-Indian Tantric Yoga movement, and Tirumūlar is the greatest exponent of yoga in Tamil culture (Zvelebil, 1993). Tirumūlar's Tirumantiram, a flagship Tamil Siddha work, is unique in that it blends philosophical exposition with practical techniques such as Ashtānga Yoga and Mantra Yoga (Anand & Menon, 2017). It is the earliest known Tamil treatise speaks Ashtānga Yoga. Its period is generally accepted by scholars as fifth to sixth century (Annamalai, 2002; Subbarayappa, 1997).
Tirumantiram (Tiru means holy or sacred or noble, mantiram means chant or mantra or hymn) consists of over 3000 poems referring to various practices including ethics, devotion, and yoga. In Tirumantiram, there are 14 poems dedicated to the practice of pranayama which speak in depth about the benefits of pranayama and explain how breathing is an important connection between mind and body (Twal, Wahlquist & Sundaravadivel, 2016). In the first poem on pranayama itself, Tirumūlar warns the uselessness of pranayama for a nonvirtuous person. The poem says “the mind (manas) is the master of the body and five senses. That master (manas) lies and moves in a horse (prāna). The horse (prāna) will support only the virtuous sādhaka and will make the nonvirtuous one to fall down.” The song simply reflects the importance of the first two stages of Ashtānga Yoga, namely Yama and Niyama (the moral attributes to be followed in everyday life), as a prerequisite for pranayama practice. In the fourth poem also, Tirumūlar again indicates the link between prāna and mind by saying “control of prāna will lead to control of mind (manas) and finally towards liberation.” The eighth poem stresses the importance of merging the two opposing forces (vāyu s) prāna and apāna by pranayama practice to achieve highest states of yoga, the poem says: “the two vāyus (prāna and apāna) pull each other up and down during inhalation. Unskilled persons do not know the way to merge them; the skilled one, who could merge them, will become immortal.”
The purpose of the study is to advance ideas related to pranayama by proposing a test to identify the stages of progression of a pranayama practitioner. The proposed test is based on the ideology on evaluating the quality of the exhaling breath, available in the poems on pranayama in Tirumantiram. In the article, the phrase “exhaling breath” represents “exhaling breath at nostrils.”
| Materials and Methods|| |
The research edition of Tirumantiram, based on the consultation of 15 different palm leaf manuscripts of Tirumantiram (Annamalai, 2002), has been referred for the study. In this edition, among the 14 poems speak pranayama, the eleventh poem, i.e., verse no. 567 [Figure 1] was chosen for decoding which speaks the highest quality standard for the three phases of breath in a pranayama cycle, namely Pūraka (inhalation), Kumbhaka (retention), and Rēsaka (exhalation).
|Figure 1: The verse speaking the highest quality standards of breath in a pranayama cycle in Tirumantiram|
Click here to view
| Results|| |
The verse 567 could be literally translated as “do Rēsaka without causing flutters in powder of bran kept nearby, do Pūraka by saturating the ten nādi s, do Kumbhaka by merging prāna and apāna, those who achieved these qualities will live longer.”
Each round of pranayama is generally a complex act and consists of Pūraka, Kumbhaka, and Rēsaka (Kuvalayananda, 2010). In the verse 567, due to the priority given for arrangements of words in rhyme scheme, the highest quality standard of breath in a pranayama cycle are listed in the order of Rēsaka, Pūraka, and Kumbhaka. In the same order, they are detailed in [Table 1] along with their measurability.
|Table 1: Highest quality standard for the three phases of breath in a pranayama cycle set by Tirumular and their measurability|
Click here to view
The standard set by Tirumūlar for Rēsaka of a pranayama cycle exhibits a traditional method to visually evaluate the qualitative standard of the pace of exhaling breath by observing its impact on powder of bran.
| Discussion|| |
In the 14 poems on pranayama in Tirumantiram, only one pranayama method is described without mentioning any name. In the method, all Pūrakas are done through the left nostril and all Rēsakas are through the right; and the ratio of mātras (seconds) for Pūraka, Kumbhaka, and Rēsaka is 16:64:32. The kumbhaka phase is described in a poem (verse no. 561) as antara kumbhaka (retention of breath “inside the lungs” after inhalation) and in another poem (verse no. 566) as bāhya kumbhaka (retention of breath “outside the lungs” i.e., in the atmosphere after exhalation). This pranayama method is discussed in the modern yoga text “Light on Pranayama” in the name of “chandra bhedana pranayama” (Iyengar, 2016). Description of a single advanced pranayama technique which could be practiced only by persons who achieved excellence in pranayama, clearly states that the 14 poems on pranayama in Tirumantiram are targeted towards advanced learners and not for beginners. Accordingly, it could be concluded that the highest quality standard of breath prescribed by Tirumūlar for the three phases of a pranayama cycle is exclusively applicable for those who achieved excellence in pranayama practice. Among these highest quality standard, the standard prescribed for Pūraka and Kumbhaka are subjective measures and difficult to measure since they could be identified only by means of one's own perception. On the other hand, the quality standard prescribed for Rēsaka is an objective measure which is perceptible to persons other than the particular individual, i.e., the qualitative standard of the pace of exhaling breath could be visually measured by observing its impact on bran powder.
Based on the pace of breath, the world renowned yoga author Iyengar categorizes the pranayama practitioners into nine groups in his book “Light on Pranayama.” The book elaborates 14 basic types of pranayama. In the book, the art of inhalation, exhalation, and retention are discussed in separate chapters, and under the chapter “Grades of Sādhakas,” the author categorizes the pranayama practitioners into three main groups in accordance with the progress they achieve in the practice of pranayama, they are: “low” in which the breathing is coarse and rough; and “average” in which it is half-soft; and “high” in which it is soft and fine. These groups are again subdivided to show their subtle differences; they are, lowest of the “low,” average among the “low,” best among the “low,” lowest of the “average,” average among the “average,” best among the “average,” lowest of the “high,” average among the “high,” and best among the “high” (Iyengar, 2016). Among these nine stages, the “best among the high” is the stage described by Tirumūlar in which the exhaling breath should not cause flutters in bran powder. The phenomenon behind the method to evaluate the standard, i.e., “the impact of exhaling breath on bran powder” may be used in developing a test in the name of “Bran test” to differentiate the nine categories of pranayama practitioners classified by Iyengar. The influence of pranayama practice on the pace of exhaling breath of a practitioner could be evaluated stage by stage by the proposed test. Since pranayama is said to be beneficial in enhancing longevity, the suggested test might be useful in forecasting the projected life expectancy of an individual.
Considering the close association of Tirumantiram and Tirumūlar to Tamil Nadu, rice bran (Oryza sativa Linn.), which is the most common bran of the region, might be the optimum choice for the test. But dependence on rice bran is the main challenge in establishing the method at a broader population level. Currently, measurements of nasal flow and nasal dominance can be made by advanced instruments like rhinomanometry and acoustic rhinometry. Accuracy is the advantage of these methods, but they can measure only temporally discrete measurements. Whereas continuous measurements of nasal flow and nasal dominance can be made using thermal or auditory sensors etc., they remain an expensive option in a large-scale medical device. A small, portable, easy to use tool which allows continuous accurate measurements and recording of air flow in each nostril separately was also developed at minimal cost and effort by a group of biomedical scientists from Israel and applied successfully in long-term recordings (Kahana-Zweig et al., 2016). Based on these different models, development of an appropriately designed tool to measure the pace (or speed) of exhaling breath will make the “Bran test” more applicable in classifying the stages of pranayama practitioners.
| Conclusion|| |
Tirumūlar's ideology on “the exhaling breath and its impact on rice bran powder” shows a lead to develop a qualitative test with grading system in the name of “Bran test,” which will be helpful in identifying the stages of progression of pranayama practitioners.
Corresponding author is thankful to the Director General, Central Council for Research in Siddha, Chennai for the constant support and encouragement.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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