immortal
Revered for its ability to jolt the practitioner into ever deepening states of awareness, this specialised breathing technique has been passed from teacher to student for hundreds of years across many ancient traditions, including hatha yoga, tantra, taoist chi gong, the six yogas of Naropa (Tibetan yoga), and many of the martial arts. So what is the this technique, and how does it have such a profound effect on the practitioner? First let’s take a look at the basic technique and how it is described by the traditions that utilise it, then we’ll take a look at what’s going on at the physiological level.
The technique goes by many names: Vase breathing, Reverse crane breathing, Shakti chalana, Ibuki, etc. The list goes on. While each tradition describes this technique in its own unique way, essentially they are all teaching the same physical sequence. Here’s the exercise in it’s basic form: Breathe in, push the air down into your abdomen (lower lungs). While holding your breath bare down as if you’re going to the toilet. At the same time, pull up your sphincter, perineum, and, if you’re female, contract the muscles inside your cervix. Hold for as long as you are comfortable then slowly exhale. Inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose.
In the Taoist traditions this is said to build chi and light the fire in your lower tan tien to initiate the gestation cycle of the immortal fetus (a type of inner spiritual alchemy that is said to eventually transform the practitioner into an immortal).  In Yoga talk the practice is said to fuse prana and apana (downward and upward moving energy) in the navel chakra, which causes kundalini (a dormant spiritual force) to awaken and begin her ascent to the crown chakra where she blesses the yogi with self realisation and a host of siddhis (powers of the mind). The tantra texts describe this as a type of divine marriage of energies within the body, a marriage that lifts the practitioner into states of pure blissful awareness. Starting to realise why this was and still is seen as such an important practice?
From a western, physiological, perspective by drawing up and contracting the muscles of the perineum, anus, and cervix you have stimulated/activated the pelvic splachnic nerves. These are the nerves that cause genital arousal and subsequently turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates a relaxation and healing effect on the body. Secondly by pushing down the breath, you activate the vagus nerve. This activation can actually generate orgasm in a woman, but more importantly it deactivates areas of the brain that cause fear and emotional distress, such as the amygdala. So effectively, it makes you emotionally centred (to a degree). It also releases a host of hormones and neuro chemicals into your body that positively change your mental, emotional, and physical state of being. Plus, like the splachnic nerves, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
With all this nervous system activity happening from a simple breath holding technique lots of brain changes also take place, as you can imagine, changes that are conducive to meditation and deep states of awareness. Those changes are usually visible on brain scans after only four weeks of practice.

So, there you have it. If you want to accelerate your practice, or just add a powerful anti-stress technique to your repertoire, introduce this to your daily routine. You’ll see the benefits in a few weeks 🙂