We breathe all the time. But we don’t always do it consciously, we just kinda let it do its thing in the background while we go about our lives. This intrinsic thing that we cannot live without and we barely give it a thought. Amazing how our bodies work.
If you do take time to notice your breath throughout the day, you will notice how it gives away your mood – if you are stressed, you tend to breathe shallowly and you may sigh more; if you are relaxed, you tend to breathe deeper and slower. Noticing your breath in a yoga pose also let you know if you are in the right place – if you go to far in your pose, you may even find yourself holding your breath.
By consciously moving our breath in yoga practice, we help ourselves break through those tough moments. The breath carries oxygen to the muscles and the mind, enables us to relax around hardship and work more efficiently as we calm the sympathetic nervous system. Always looking for that “calm and steady seat” Patajali talks about in the Yoga Sutras, and learning to sit with both hard and ease on the journey to that seat.
One of the most basic breaths in yoga is the Dirgha Pranayama. A pranayama is a controlling or directing of the breath and the energy that rides on the back of the breath. Using your breath in your practice transforms how you support yourself in your practice and can take an ordinary pose or movement into the realm of extraordinary and even life-changing. The Dirgha breath uses the full capacity of your lungs, exploiting the lowest section of the lungs where the most gas exchange takes place (learn more about the function of the lungs here). This makes it a very relaxing breath :-). There are several variations to the Dirgha Pranayama. The one below is my favorite. It always feels like coming home to breath this way….
First try this breathing practice just sitting or lying down so that you can focus solely on the breath. When you feel comfortable with it, try it within an asana practice. Any of the practices on this site would work beautifully – especially this and this. In asana, always let the breath help move your body for maximum benefit. The more you practice this breath on your mat, the more you will find your body automatically moving into this pattern in times of stress and anxiety. Yoga on the mat, after all, prepares us for yoga off the mat (otherwise known as a conscious life :-).
Dirgha Pranayama – Truly Breathe Deep
3-Part Breath / Complete Yogic Breath
- Start in a comfortable position, spine extended, belly relaxed.
- Slow and steady, begin your inhale by sending breath deep into lungs to expand belly.
- Taking in more breath, expand your lowest ribs from side to side.
- Taking in more breath, fill lungs to top, lifting clavicles.
- Begin your exhale by releasing the top third of breath, relaxing clavicles back.
- Then release the middle third, relaxing lowest ribs.
- Then release the bottom third, relaxing belly back.
- Continue, letting your inhale flow into the exhale and your exhale flow into your inhale.→Precautions:
- Any irritation of the respiratory organs — do not practice.
- Any feeling of dizziness — return to normal breathing until it passes.→Benefits:
- Calms mind, enhancing introversion
- Oxygenates blood
- Releases tensions in chest and abdominal cavity
- Massages organs, improving digestion and elimination
- Facilitates deeper experience of asana
- Builds strength and endurance
- Can ease some respiratory conditions