In yOga (see sanskrit transliteration scheme), prANAyAma (control of life-force through breath) is an important and ancient conglomeration of techniques to promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and enlightenment.
In this article, I will discuss a powerful deep breathing technique that is very healing by itself. This can be used whenever you feel stressed, or just want to get into that calmer state of mind.
This breathing technique can be done in either “sitting up” or “lying down on back” positions.
3-Part Deep Abdominal Breathing
If you observe babies and very young children, you will notice that their abdomen expands and contracts deeply and rhythmically with breath. As we become adults, we start to exercise shallow breath and forget deep breathing. It is well known that whenever we are stressed our breath becomes shallow and vice versa. When we take deep long breaths, we calm our mind.
Note that you don’t actually breathe into your stomach or abdomen. There are no organ’s there that can take in breath. With deep breathing you will actually expand the lungs into the abdomen pushing the organs there aside and hence a bulging abdomen.
Time for Practice
- Practicing on an empty stomach is the best, especially in the beginning stages of the practice.
- Whenever you feel fatigued and require a boost in energy.
- Handle Stress
- Expand lung capacity
- Strengthen lungs
- Give more oxygen to the body
- Expel stale air in the lungs due to prolonged shallow breathing
- Prepares you for advanced breathing techniques
Deep Breathing in Lying Down Position with a Book on the Abdomen
If you are not used to deep breathing, it may initially be uncomfortable. You may want to start this lying down on your back with a book on diaphragm area of your abdomen, to get a feel for how the abdominal breathing works.
- Lie down on carpet or a mattress.
- Place a book on the abdomen, with top of the book over the diaphragm and the rest of the book extending down over the abdomen.
- Close your eyes.
- Perform khEcarI mudra (This is Optional until you become familiar with the breathing technique. See NOTE below)
- Inhale, through both nostrils, into the abdomen (this fills in the lower part of the lungs). Your stomach will expand, and raise the book up.
- After you fill in the abdomen, start breathing into the mid-lungs, i.e. chest region.
- After you fill in the chest region, you breathe into the shoulder (top of lungs). Breathing into this region requires practice, so don’t sweat it, if you can’t initially.
- Exhalation—you do in the reverse order—through both nostrils.
- First, exhale air from the shoulders.
- Then exhale air from the chest.
- Then, exhale air from the abdomen, by contracting the abdomen in toward the spine, which brings the book down.
- This completes one cycle.
- Do this technique for at least 5 minutes. If you can’t do this for 5 minutes, do this for as long as it is comfortable and go to the next step. Just relax in that step for a couple of minutes, then start the technique again. This way you will buildup endurance. In the beginning, doing this for 5 minutes is enough. You can extend the time after you become comfortable with the technique.
- After you finish the technique, just stay still and observe the quality of breath. Do not make any changes to its rhythm or judge it in anyway. Just observe.
Some Important Points to Follow
- Inhalation and exhalation should be of same length. You can count the time. Ideally, you want to do something like 4 seconds into abdomen + 4 seconds into chest + 2 seconds into shoulders while inhaling and using the same count for each region while exhaling. However, 10 seconds may be too demanding for beginners. So, experiment with these counts to come up with a count that is comfortable for you. Longer the times the better, but that requires practice. Make sure that your counts for abdomen and chest are equal, and that for shoulders is half that count. If you can’t keep the counts so balanced, it is okay. It will come with practice.
- The inhalation and exhalation should be smooth. Do not strain. Do not hold breath at any point. If at any point you feel dizzy or painful, stop. Give a few minutes of rest and then start again. Pain is there because you probably never used those muscle in your life. It will become easier with practice. Fill in various regions of your torso to the level that you are comfortable with. Breathing into lower lungs (abdomen) is very important—even if you can breathe only a little bit of air into the abdomen, it is good.
- Once you are comfortable with the practice you can increase the exhalation to twice as long as the inhalation, i.e., 1:2 ratio. For example, if the inhalation takes a total of 5 seconds, then the exhalation should extend to 10 seconds.
- NOTE—After you become comfortable with the breathing technique, it is beneficial to add one more element—touching the tip of your tongue to the soft palate on the roof of your mouth (called khEcarI mudra in yOga literature) with mouth closed, throughout the breathing exercise. This mudra is supposed to complete the energy circuit.
Deep Breathing in Lying Down Position without the Book
After you know how to do the deep breathing with a book, you can proceed to practice the same without the book.
Deep Breathing in Sitting Up Position
You can do the above breathing technique sitting up one the floor or in a chair with your spine erect. Of course, you will not use a book in this case.