I.34 प्रच्छर्दनविधारणाभ्यां वा प्राणस्य

pracchardana-vidhāraṇābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya

“Or, by the sending forth and receiving in of prāṇa.”

In sūtras I. 34-39, Patañjali gives alternate methods to realize citta-prasādanam  (clarified, serene consciousness).  This description of different possibilities is characteristic of Patañjali’s text, and of yoga philosophy. The paths to the goal are various–perhaps as many as there are individual people.

The first of the “ors” concerns prāṇa.  Though prāṇa can, rightly, be translated as breath; the concept of prāṇa is larger than our conventional idea of what breath is. Prāṇa is  energy, the energy that pervades the universe; it is the mover of all activity, the vital force of  life.

Prāṇa burns as fire; it shines as the sun;
It rains as the cloud; it blows as the wind;
It crashes as the thunder in the sky.
It is the earth; it has form and no form;
Prāṇa is immortality.

Everything rests in prāṇa, as spokes rest
In the hub of the wheel; all the Vedas,
All the rituals, all the warriors and kings.
Praśna Upaniṣad II.5-6

BKS Iyengar uses this image of the hub of the wheel as he describes how integral prāṇa is to practice: “If you look at breath in the form of the respiratory system, it is physical. But when the action of the breath on the mind is studied and understood, it becomes spiritual. Prāṇāyāma is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual. Hence, prāṇāyāma is the hub of Yoga.” (BKS Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 58)

Sūtra I.34 has been interpreted to refer especially to the exhalation and retention of breath. Pracchardana comes from pra, “forth” + chṛd, “to emit, spew,” and reminds us that exhalation is a release out, a return of the flow of the vital energy of prāṇa to the universe around us. Vidhāraṇa, likewise, does not simply mean inhale or retain. It derives from the beautiful verb dḥr, “to hold,” which is the root also of dhāraṇa (the sixth limb of yoga–“the placing or holding of the attention at a place,” see III.1) and dharma (duty or purpose, what is done to “support” or “hold” the world). The prefix vi acts as an intensifier here, and the verb vi-dhṛ comes to mean, depending on its context, “to hold, bear, carry, support, organize, retain.” Our English words “retention of the breath” or “holding the breath” don’t quite express the sense of support or organization that vidhārana suggests. Mr. Iyengar describes, “Inhalation is the act of receiving the primeval energy in the form of breath, and retention is when the breath is held in order to savour that energy.” (Light on Pranayama, p. 10) Holding” and “savouring” get at the fuller sense of the word vidhārana. Indeed, the formal practice of “retention” of the breath is referred to in prāṇāyāma as kumbhaka, which means, literally, a pot.  The pot is a vessel that holds its contents, perhaps for cooking, fermentation, or, simply, storage. Retention should not be misinterpreted, says Mr. Iyengar, to be “re-tension.”  The brain, the body are relaxed, quiet–pot-like.

For most of us, as we begin to learn the āsanas, we must learn Not to stop the breath, especially in moments of stress, like when we feel anxiety at learning something new. Exhalation is most helpful to learn not to do this. It relaxes the body and will lead to an easy inhalation. As our practice of the āsanas continues, we also begin to experience the breath differently in different parts of the body. We learn to make space in the body; for example, we lengthen the sides of the body, we feel our ribs all the way up to our armpits almost like undiscovered (or long-forgotten) territory. Energy, that is, prāṇa, begins to flow more fully through us. This might be understood, itself, to be a kind of vidhāraṇa: we make space to receive prāṇa, to organize, conserve and manage it.

BKS Iyengar re-tells a story from the Purāṇas to describe prānāyāma. (See Tree of Life, pp. 56-7 or his commentary on sūtra II.49.) In it, the angels and devils churn the ocean to make the elixir of life. Viṣṇu throws Mount Meru into the ocean to be the churning stick.  And the great tortoise Kūrma takes part to support Mount Meru. It is a wonderful image of the dynamism of our breathing process. Life is dynamic, and our breath is an ongoing, ever-present way to connect in and out–to life itself.


“One should inhale and exhale slowly and pause, maintaining the retention for as long as is comfortable. This practice ensures a state of consciousness which is like a calm lake.”
–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on I.34

“It is very necessary in understanding the basic tenets of Hindu psychology to bear in mind the fact that the physical brain and the mind are not identical. The brain is only an instrument of the mind….The brain has a dual task: one, to coordinate the sense data so as to transform them into perceptions, and second, to become an instrument for the communication of the instructions of the mine. In the interval between these two functions, the brain attains its highest efficiency. The regulation of breath tends to create this interval; it does not matter what the duration of that interval is…in that interval the brain renews intself. Its heaviness and congestion are removed making it very vital in its functioning.”  –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on I.34

• Mr. Iyengar emphasizes softness and steadiness in his commentary on sūtra I.34. What has finding these two qualities in the breath taught you about your mind?
• How has yoga practice affected your feeling of your body as a vessel (or pot)?
• How do you hold energy? Do you tend toward anxiety? Depression? Has yoga practice influenced these tendencies?


neuter noun in compound

expulsion (from pra, “forth, + cṛd, “to spew or eject”)


neuter noun, 3rd case dual

holding, supporting, retaining (vi-, intensity, + dhṛ-, “to hold, support”)




masculine noun, 6th case sing., “of”

breath, life force, energy (from pra, “forth,” + an, “to breathe”)

2 thoughts on “I.34 प्रच्छर्दनविधारणाभ्यां वा प्राणस्य

  1. Dear Julia, Thank you. You have presented some of the many perspectives on this powerful force called Prana which has “form and no form.” This sutra which is so elegant in it’s simplicity. We are offered a way to both move and hold the life force within and around us. The practice of this sutra is helpful on so many levels. An beautiful example of simplicity that holds complexity–and all by letting go.

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