Whether you use Sama Vritti Pranayama to calm down on a hectic day or to prepare for seated yoga breathwork - learning equal breathing is an excellent resource for quick recall. In this post, we explore how to practice this powerful pranayama to improve focus and lower stress.
This post is a part of our "Preparatory Series - 6 Essential Practices To Start Pranayama". The idea is to understand the breath from a yoga perspective, to experience prana, observe the breath, and understand the anatomy of the breathing apparatus as per yoga theory. It will make it easier to undertake advanced pranayama practices. Once you build each aspect of the breath, you find yourself capable of breathing in permutations and combinations - as pranayama often demands.
So far, we have covered the parts of breathing, Ujjayi Pranayama, interrupted breathing, and other yoga practices to develop the basic skills. Each technique has a distinct purpose. It may be to strengthen the lungs, improve control, or expand lung capacity. Here, we explore how to practice Sama Vritti Pranayama, also called Equal Breathing or Box Breathing outside of yoga.
Meaning: What is Sama Vritti Pranayama
Sama Vritti Pranayama, also called 'Equal Breathing,' is four-part yoga breathing technique to reduce mental chatter and manage stress. It involves inhalation, breath retention, exhalation, and breath suspension using an equal count. The purpose of Sama Vritti is to quiet the mind, turn it inward, and reduce mental chatter. It can also be used to prepare for meditation.
The Sanskrit word Sama translates to ‘equal’ and Vritti translates to ‘conduct.’ Based on that, Sama Vritti Pranayama is a technique of "a breathing exercise to maintain equal conduct." Unfortunately, the true essence of these words is lost in translation. We hope to address that in a future editorial.
In yoga, Sama Vritti Pranayama is used to create pranic harmony. It balances the flow of prana in the energy pathways. It is a way to learn and experience how prana enters the body and moves through it. At the same time, it is neither complicated nor profound.
How to practice Sama Vritti Pranayama
To prepare for Sama Vritti, get into a meditative asana on a yoga mat. Beginners can use Corpse Pose, Easy Pose, or a chair. Experienced yogis should use Padmasana, Vajrasana, or Siddhasana. Spend a minute or two observing the breath and get away from external distractions.
Try to get a feel for how long you are inhaling and exhaling. Observe without controlling or altering the breath. Place the hands on your thighs and form any yoga mudra. Vayu, Gyan, or Adi Mudra are fine choices. Empty your lungs with a hearty exhale when you are ready for Sama Vritti Pranayama.
Inhale for four counts. One count equals one second.
Retain the breath for four counts. Don’t tense up by trying to force the breath to stay in the body. Remain relaxed during retention.
Exhale to the count of four and feel all the impurities leaving the body.
Suspend the breath outside the body for four counts. Again, stay relaxed. If you are struggling with the count, reduce it until you can match all four parts of the breath.
Repeat these steps for three to five minutes or as per your capacity. This is the basic practice of the pranayama.
If you are doing Sama Vritti to calm down, this basic version is sufficient. Do it more consciously if you are learning it in preparation for yoga practices. Bring awareness to the lungs and prana as it enters and leaves your body. Yoga students should also pay attention to the diaphragm and breathing patterns. It is the right time to learn how to link the mind to breathing.
Breakdown and Detailed Explanation:
The pranayama sounds too simple for all the fantastic calming benefits associated with it, right? Right, indeed. The steps listed are the ‘final form’ of Sama Vritti Pranayama. Unless you are trained in seated yoga breathwork (or blessed by Lord Shiva), you are unlikely to do it for 3 minutes on day one. Here’s how to gradually build your pranayama practice –
Start Sama Vritti with an even inhale-exhale (1:1). Use any count that feels comfortable. Increase it by one measure every few days. Move to the next step when you can do Sama Vritti for eight seconds (8:8).
In this step, you add internal breath retention but not external breath retention. You now start working with 1: ¼: 1. For instance, eight seconds inhale – two seconds internal breath retention – eight seconds exhale. Gradually try 1:1/2:1 and 1:3/4:1. After a few days on each ratio, you should be ready to try 1:1:1. Move on to the next step.
In this step, add external breath retention. This is the hardest part of the breath to master. Do it the same way you as in step two i.e., ¼ to ½ to ¾ to 1. If you have no experience with breath retention, first learn Kumbhaka Pranayama.
This series should be followed in the causal order in which it is presented. The breath is delicate, subtle, and elusive. Be patient and regular when you attempt Sama Vritti Pranayama.
Time and Duration:
As a calming technique, Sama Vritti Pranayama can be done at any hour, even before bed. For yoga or spiritual purposes, do Sama Vritti in a quiet place early in the morning. Place it at the start of your pranayama routine. If you don't do pranayama, place it at the start of meditation. Additionally, you can add Sama Vritti to your 'warm up' routine before yoga asana. It will steady the mind so you may experience a grounded postural yoga session.
Additional Practice Tips
DON’T start Sama Vritti with a long count. 4 counts per part is a guideline. You can do 2 or 3 counts. Work with what feels natural. If even small counts are challenging, start with even inhalation and exhalation. Work that up to 6 to 8 counts.
DO take a break when you fall out of time. Try again. It takes a few days of practice before you can sustain a steady even count for Sama Vritti Pranayama. It's not as easy as it sounds.
DO learn Viloma, Pratiloma, and Anuloma Pranayama before you attempt Sama Pranayama. Those techniques prepare you for this and future yoga breathing practices.
DON’T do Sama (or any other pranayama) while standing. They must be done while sitting down – either on a chair or in an appropriate cross-legged meditation posture.
DON’T practice Visama (Unequal) and Sama pranayama in the same session. It sends confusing signals to the body. Plus, Visama breathing is far more advanced.
Sama Vritti Contraindications
Sama breathing is safe to practice. People of any age (even kids) can use it with guidance. Two of the four steps involve breath retention (called Kumbhaka in yoga). If you extract Kumbhaka from Sama breathing, you are left with inhalation and exhalation. We inhale and exhale all the time. There are no contraindications for it.
Retention is the only challenging aspect of Sama breathing. It can aggravate underlying health conditions and lead to discomfort if done incorrectly. Breath retention is contraindicated in pregnancy, hypertension, heart disease, eye or ear infections, and respiratory diseases.
Check the guidelines for pranayama for more general dos and don'ts.
Visama and Sama Vritti – What’s the difference?
Sama Vritti Pranayama uses equally counts for Puraka, Kumbhaka, Rechaka, and Shunyaka. It is a uniform-breathing exercise with a 1:1:1:1 ratio. In contrast, Visama Vritti Pranayama refers to irregular breathing. You use different ratios of inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention.
In yoga, 1:4:2:1 is considered he ideal ratio for breathing, which is Visama. However, Visama pranayama is an advanced practice that must be done under proper guidance.
Once you understand Sama Vriti Pranayama, you can use it to tackle stressful situations, deep your yoga practice, or add it to a holistic health routine. It can lead to more energy, better concentration, improved digestion, and a balanced mind. And, who doesn't want that?
Here is a summary of how to use Sama Vritti Pranayama -
As a yoga exercise to improve lung function and capacity
To reduce stress and anxiety (Equal Breathing Technique)
Quiet the mind in preparation for meditation
Understand the relation between matra (counts) and breathing
Sama Vritti Pranayama is also called four-part breathing, box breathing, or equal breathing. Four-part breathing seems relevant, especially if the Sanskrit words twist your tongue. Relevant because we will be looking at three-part yoga breathing next. Speaking of twisted tongues, three-part breath is called Dirgha Shvasam.
Luckily, the pranayama procedure is a lot simpler than the pronunciation.