recaka, p •uuraka , kum bhaka

James Mallinson jim at KHECARI.COM
Tue Mar 22 10:16:26 UTC 2011

Dear Dominic,

I think your hypothesis is strong. The one text I thought of that  
might weaken it is the Vaikhānasasmārtasūtra. I have only Caland's  
translation with me, not the Sanskrit text, from which it would appear  
that, in the few references to breath retention, recaka/pūraka/ 
kumbhaka are not used.

(By the way, the Yogayājñavalkya mentioned by Christophe is not very  
old - 13th century or later. It borrows many verses from the  
Vasiṣṭhasaṃitā, which itself is derivative of Pāñcarātra  
Saṃhitās such as the Ahirbudhnya and Pādma.)

In later haṭhayogic works there is a confluence of three types of (or  
theories behind) breath retention: (1) the ancient (and not  
specifically yogic) tradition of regulated breathing or prāṇāyāma  
which is thought to get rid of karma and physical impurity; (2) a  
yogic principle that links the breath, the mind and semen - by  
stopping one, the others are also stopped; (3) specific methods of  
inhalation and exhalation known as kumbhakas (somewhat paradoxically  
since kumbhaka of course means the holding of the breath) which have  
various effects on the subtle body. The latter are first found in the  
c.13th century Gorakṣaśataka (a different text from the one better  
known by that name but which was originally called the  
Vivekamārtaṇḍa). They include techniques such as ujjāyī, in  
which a rasping noise is made during inhalation, and bhastrikā, in  
which the yogin is to breathe in and out rapidly, like a pair of  

The terms recaka/pūraka/kumbhaka are used for all three types. To  
hijack your question, Dominic, I wonder if you or anyone else might  
have an answer to a question I have been pondering recently. Why do  
all the haṭhayogic kumbhakas have feminine names when kumbhaka is  
itself masculine? What might be their referent?

Yours, with best wishes,


On 22 Mar 2011, at 09:02, Dominic Goodall wrote:

> Many thanks, Christophe, for these references.
> What I was hoping for was something closer in date to Kau.n.dinya’s  
> Pa~ncaarthabhaa.sya (C4th–C6th??), which I imagine to be  
> considerably earlier than the (C7th–9th??),  
> and earlier than the passages you quote.  I was wondering whether  
> anybody might be aware of evidence that would weaken or strengthen  
> the hypothesis that the terminology comes  
> from a Shaiva tradition of yoga.  After Kau.n.dinya, the next  
> passage in which the terminology occurs, it seems to me, may be  
> chapter 4 of the Nayasuutra of the Ni"svaasatattvasa.mhitaa (C6th?),  
> and there kumbhaka has joined recaka and
> Yours,
> Dominic
> On 21-Mar-2011, at 3:37 PM, Christophe Vielle wrote:
>> Dear Dominic,
>> I do not have any idea of the relative date ascribed to the Yoga- 
>> yaajña-valkya where the terms are used (6.24-25), but there is also  
>> the 3.28.9,
>> and also the Ii/svaragiitaa of the (XI.36 transl.  
>> Dumont 1933: 142-3):
>> recaka.h puuraka/s caiva praa.naayaamo 'tha kumbhaka.h /
>> procyate sarva/ yogibhir yatamaanasai.h //
>> (nothing seen in the paa/supatayoga of the VaaP 10.73 sq. // MaarkP  
>> ch. 39 Bibl. Ind., mainly on maatraas in the praa.naayaama)
>> See also the later Ii/saana/sivagurudevapaddhati (IV - Yogapaada,  
>> pa.tala 2, v. 42 sq. = TSS vol. 4 p. 625),
>> and the JaiSa (unpublished) adh. 51 (or 52) v. 35:
>> recapuurakakumbhaadinyaayenaabhyasata.h /sanai.h /
>> a/se.sapaapak.sayak.rt praa.naayaamo dinedine //
>> Best,
>> Christophe
>>> Dear list,
>>> I hope you won't mind a another terminological discussion related  
>>> to yoga !
>>> Is it known when the terminology of recaka, p•raka/p•ra?a,  
>>> kumbhaka first started to be used for prÇ?ÇyÇma ?
>>> It seems that the Yogas•tra (2.49) and YogabhÇ?ya speak rather  
>>> of ÊvÇsa and praÊvÇsa (in 2.49).
>>> In the tradition of commentaries on the s•tras perhaps it is the  
>>> YogabhÇ?yavivara?a which first uses the recaka-p•raka-kumbhaka  
>>> terminology ?
>>> Kau??inya's PañcÇrthabhÇ?ya (on PÇÊupata 1.16) refers to  
>>> recaka and p•ra?a. Are there other attestations likely to be  
>>> earlier than the YogabhÇ?yavivara?a ?
>>> Dominic Goodall
>>> École française d'Extrême-Orient,
>>> Pondicherry
>> --
>> --
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