The complete yogic breath is a practice that allows us to take in seven times the amount of oxygen as with a normal breath. It can help us to transition from activity to a more restful state, and in turn it also allows us to transform a shallow unproductive breath to a deeper more productive breathing habit.
Every breath we take has the potential to both nourish us and cleanse us. The inhale breath brings in vitality and energy while oxygenating the blood. The exhale breath allows us to let go of toxins, tensions and anything that isn't necessary anymore. When breathing is short and shallow we start to feel dull, tired, uninspired and cloudy.
There are several reasons that breathing becomes shallow. One can be our posture. When we loose awareness of the support of our bones, we sit or stand with a slump. This in turn starts to compress the diaphragm muscle making it hard to get a full deep breath. Reminding yourself to realign the bones and elongate the spine begins to make room for the diaphragm muscle to expand and contract more easily and fully with each passing breath. Some yoga postures can also alleviate this "slump" by training the muscles to hold the bones in alignment, maintaining a relaxed and lifted body posture.
Another reason for shallow or inefficient breathing can be our emotions. Our breathing affects how we feel and how we feel affects our breathing.
When we are scared, angry, depressed or even frightened our breathing rhythm changes. It takes a bit of "breath awareness" to remember to breathe through powerful emotions.
Learning and practicing the complete yogic breath can be just the remedy for retraining the breath when we catch our breathing shifting. It can reset the nervous system, emotions and return us to a more rhythmic and supportive habit.
Starting a Breathing Practice
The first step in working with the complete yogic breath is to find a comfortable position either lying down or sitting in up.
If you are just learning this practice its best to lie down so the diaphragm is relaxed and free.
1. As you relax the body, start by placing one hand on the lower abdomen just below the navel and the other hand on the low ribs just above the navel. Allow the breath to come and go smoothly and evenly. Begin to let go of any pauses or noises in the breath.
2. Begin to send the force of breath to the abdomen (the lower hand will rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale). This is the first part of the complete yogic breath.
3. Once abdominal breathing is established, allow the breath to expand the abdomen and then the ribs (the hand resting on the low ribs will rise and fall in succession with the lower hand)
Take several breaths to establish this pattern. As you inhale the abdomen will rise then the ribs will expand. As you exhale, contract the ribs and then the abdomen.
4. In the final phase of the complete yogic breath, place the lowest hand from the abdomen onto the upper chest just below the neck. Continue to expand the abdomen and ribs as you inhale and now expand the upper chest. So as you inhale, expand the abdomen, ribs and chest. As you exhale, contract the chest ribs and abdomen.
Take several long slow deep breaths expanding abdomen, ribs, and chest on the inhale and contracting chest, ribs and abdomen on the exhale. Allow the breath to become smoother and more refined.
Practice the complete yogic breath several times a day and as needed to reset and restore the natural breathing rhythm. If you are experiencing difficult emotions, this breathing practice will serve to remind you to work with these emotions with care and consideration, like riding a wave that safely delivers you to the shore. Whenever the breathing becomes shallow and short, this breathing will allow you to shift to a deeper more complete breath habit.
With time and practice the complete yogic breath will be your "go to" when you need to make a shift not only in your breathing but your state of mind and emotions as well.
What do you notice about your own breathing and how it affects your state of mind and emotions?
Recommended video: Breathing with the Full Body
This article was originally published in Ornish Living