2.50 The breath becomes long and subtle when inflow (puraka), outflow (rechaka), and retentions (kumbhaka) are observed precisely according to location, count, and duration.
Upon birth, your first inhalation marks the beginning of your life as an individual. Your breath also marks your last embodied action when your final exhalation closes the cycle that started at birth. Life is what happens between your first and last breath. Attending to breathing is a simple, practical, and effective way to foster presence, because the breathing process only happens in the moment you are. Besides, each inspiration and expiration are unique, irreplaceable, and unrepeatable. Paying close attention to your breath invites you to be aware of what is happening at the most important moment of your life, the moment that you are in. Cherishing each breath ensures that you make each inhalation and exhalation count. You can choose consciously to be inspired with each inhale so that you prepare to receive all that is life affirming and life supporting. Conversely, you can choose to make each exhalation the perfect vehicle to allow whatever doesn’t serve you any longer to expire for good.
This aphorism lists the breathing processes of inhalation, exhalation, and retention. The simplest expression of the retention is the brief transition between each in-breath and out-breath, and between each exhalation and inhalation. Patañjali also notes that pranayama consists of a systematic observation of the breathing processes according to the parts of the body involved, the duration of each one of the aspects of the breath, and the count or number of repetitions for each cycle. The number of possible combinations of these elements is practically infinite. If you choose to see pranayama as falling in love with your breath, you can take time to appreciate and explore all the subtle intricacies of your respiration. This inquiry is done with love, curiosity, and great care. Recognize that you can create a lot of internal mental and physiological agitation by hyperventilating and that you can also make yourself unconscious through manipulating your breath. These are some of the reasons every single pranayama treatise warns practitioners about the power and risks of this practice.
It is also useful to recognize that Patañjali includes in this sutra the idea that pranayama inquiry is directed towards making the breath long and subtle. You may investigate this by observing the qualities of your natural breath when you are relaxed. Notice if observing the breathing processes already starts a process of lengthening each inhalation, exhalation, and the transitions between them. Recruit your attention to find out if you tend to hold your breath unconsciously.
Do you tend to breathe with your mouth open or closed?
What happens if you favor breathing through your nose only?
What is the duration of your natural, involuntary inhalation?
How does it compare to the duration of your natural exhalation?
Is there a brief pause during the transitions between exhalation and inhalation?
What happens when you lengthen your inhalations very gently and gradually while also keeping them smooth and fluid?
Is it possible for you to breathe creating movements in your lower torso, the lower abdomen and lower back?
How is it different to breathe creating movements mostly in the ribcage area? Could it be possible to breathe directing your breathing movements toward your collarbones, shoulder blades and armpits?
What are some similarities and differences when you breathe with movements in these three areas (lower torso, mid torso, upper torso)?
If you breathe with longer, conscious, inhalations and exhalations, what is the duration of the inhalation and the exhalation?
Are they very similar or different?
With voluntary breathing, breathing that you regulate, do the qualities of your inhalation and exhalation change when you keep the same duration constant for a specific number of breathing cycles?
In all pranayama practices remember the suggestion to release all strain, all struggle, and all self-judgment. If you are interested in embarking on a systematic journey of pranayama practice, remember the traditional recommendation of finding a qualified teacher you can trust to ensure a fruitful and beneficial practice.
As usual, one more way of exploring the meaning of this sutra is by chanting it.
You can choose to chant it in its traditional form with some of the words coming together:
2.50 saḥ tu bāhyābhyantarasthambha vṛttiḥ deśakālasankhyābhiḥ paridṛṣṭo dīrghasūkṣmaḥ
स: तु बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्थम्भ वृत्तिः देशकालसन्ख्याभिः परिदृष्टो दीर्घसूक्ष्मः ॥५०॥
Another option is to chant each word in the sutra individually:
If you prefer, you may listen to the podcast: