Breathing is an important part of a yoga practice.
The quality of your breathing is completely dependent on how effectively your breathing muscles work. Doing the Complete Breath or Belly Breath makes you use the abdominal muscles to squeeze the last bit of breath out. It also makes you use your diaphragm muscle to inhale. The Complete Breath also goes one step further and brings the chest muscles, and even some shoulder muscles, into play. So, doing the Complete Breath, exercises all of your breathing muscles.
HOW TO INHALE COMPLETELY
To inhale, slowly expand the abdomen and chest. Don’t take a quick breath. Slow inhalations activates your diaphragm and chest muscles, and pulls air into the lungs. It expands and lifts the abdomen and chest completely.
HOW TO EXHALE COMPLETELY
Exhalation in the Complete Breath is primarily a relaxation process. After completely filling your lungs with air, the chest muscles in the rib cage and shoulders will be tense. In order to exhale, begin to slowly relax these muscles, and the air will begin to come out. You will notice a tendency to breathe out quickly as you exhale. You may also have a tendency to slump forward as you exhale. Avoid doing both. Instead, relax your chest slowly, controlling the exhalation so that it is slow and gradual. When you have relaxed your chest completely there will still be some air left inside, so continue to sit up straight, and pull your belly in, squeezing the remaining air out of your lungs.
Always breathe in and out through your nose.
Your nose warms and filters the air before it gets to your lungs. When you exhale it is much easier for you to control your breath if you use your nose instead of your mouth.
The Complete Breath Exercise
HOW TO INHALE
Begin your Complete Breath exercise by sitting up straight and exhaling all air from your lungs so you can begin with a fresh inhalation.
1. As you begin to inhale, relax your abdominal muscles and feel as though you are filling your belly with air.
2. After you have filled your belly, keep filling up into the middle of your chest. You will now begin to to feel your chest and rib cage expand.
3. Keep on inhaling until the air fills all the way to the top of your lungs. It will feel as though the top of your chest is expanding and lifting as you finish filling your lungs.
4. Now you have filled your lungs completely with air from the bottom to the top.
In the beginning, the complete inhalation from steps 1 through 4 will take about 5 seconds. With regular practice it should take 10-15 seconds.
HOW TO EXHALE
5. After you have inhaled completely, hold your breath in for just a brief moment, and then begin immediately to exhale as slowly as possible. In order to exhale, all you have to do is begin to let the air out slowly.
6. Continue to relax your chest and rib cage as you exhale slowly.
7. After you have relaxed your chest and rib cage, there is still a lot of air left in your lungs, so begin to pull your belly in just like you do in Belly Breath. This will force the remaining breath out.
Remember: Do not slouch forward as you pull your belly in.
After you have finished breathing in completely and breathing out completely, just continue this quiet process of completely filling and emptying your lungs. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing to the exclusion of everything else. Feel everything you can about breathing. Relax your face and your mind, and just observe the breath flowing in and out of your body. Feel this subtle energy of breath that everything in life depends upon. Continue practicing this breathing exercise for 2-5 minutes in the morning and evening. Within a month you will be able to do this for 5-10 minutes. You’ll love it and feel calm and refreshed afterwards.
More Breathing Practice Exercises
1. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip width apart. Place one of your hands on your chest, and the other on your belly.
2. Slowly inhale deeply (expanding your abdomen) and exhale (contracting your abdomen), while trying to keep your chest relatively motionless. Repeat this deep breathing for 10 to 20 breaths.
3. Pause for a second or two between each inhalation, and exhalation – keeping the throat loose (do not use your throat to hold the breath – use your diaphragm).
Belly-Chest Breathing (Classic)
1. Lie on the floor as you did in the previous exercise.
2. Inhale into the belly first, then the lower rib cage, and finally into the chest (belly – ribs – chest) pausing for a couple seconds.
3. Exhale in reverse sequence (chest – ribs – belly). Release through the shoulders and chest. Pause again.
4. Repeat for a number of breaths as before.
Chest-Belly Breathing (Desikachar)
1. Lie on your back as before.
2. Inhale into the chest first, then ribs, and finally belly (chest – ribs – belly). Pause.
3. Exhale in reverse, by drawing the belly in first, then ribs, and then chest (belly – ribs – chest). Pause.
4. Repeat for a number of breaths as before.