Nisshesha rechaka pranayama and the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā

A few years ago I found this video of Dr. Prakash Malshe talking about intermittent hypoxia, from a yogic perspective. The sanskrit term is nisshesha rechaka pranayama which means retention during full exhalation.

I think it’s quite interesting to connect modern physiology with yogic wisdom! Where awareness goes, blood will flow, bringing oxygen and stem cells for bodily healing.

Dr. Malshe quotes a verse from the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, which was written as a condensation of earlier yogic knowledge, in easy to recall mnemonic rhymes to be used as a teaching aid in oral transmission from teacher to student. Most sources cite only four chapters, with the second covering pranayama – but I managed to find the cited fifth chapter here.

I’m not sure which historical copy of the text it has been sourced from, but I have rendered my own translation of the relevant verses here:

yasmin yasmin yadā deśe rujā bādhā prajāyate
tasmin deśe sthitaṃ vāyuṃ manasā paricintayet ||5.9||
“Whenever a place of sickness or injury arises, there direct the wind with the mind and observe.”

ekacittena tad dhyātvā pūrayet pūrakeṇa tu
niḥśeṣarecakaṃ kuryād yathāśaktyā prayatnataḥ ||5.10||
“Complete the inhale only after diligently holding the exhale, with single-pointed focus for as long as one is able."

bahudhā recakaṃ kṛtvā pūrayitvah punaḥ punaḥ
karṣayet prāksthitaṃ vāyuṃ karṇatoyam ivā’mbunā ||5.11||
“Satisfactory repetition will remove stagnant winds, analogous to how water in the ear can be removed by pouring in more water [and emptying it out again].”

Removing water from the ear – what a cool analogy :)

This would appear to be very similar to the breathwork taught by Wim Hof, which alternates rounds of hyperventilation with breath retention on exhalation. Hyperventilation is not explicitly included in the text, but it is most likely part of the oral transmission.

In yogic terms, this prior “energetic charging” breath to reduce carbon dioxide would be kapalbhati or the more vigorous bhastrika. I have not been personally initiated in an Indian lineage, but AFAIK these techniques are traditionally practiced after preliminary methods like anulom vilom to balance the left and right channels. Daniel Simpson has written quite a good summary of the history of Pranayama.