A complete Yogic breath has four main components : it begins with the exhale by gradually drawing the lower abdomen in, following the ascent of the diaphragm, the chest lowers and at the end of the exhale there is a slight contraction of the abdomen followed by a pause. Then the inhale comes into the chest-as the lungs expand, the diaphragm descends into the softly expanding belly, the belly moves outward and then there is a slight pause. And the cycle continues. The more effective the exhale technique is, the more expansive the inhale becomes, for as you relax through the calming exhale, the inhale will naturally become more profound. As a result, you develop parasympathetic tone from consciously lengthening the exhale. In other words… you relax, you feel calm, and focused.
Keep in mind this will be a new pattern for many of you, and it will take time to develop. Begin by simply focusing on relaxing the abdomen and lengthening the exhale. As this new pattern becomes apart of you, then begin to add more precision with the expansion and contraction of the torso. Recently, one of my teachers, Chase Bossart (http://www.yogawellinstitute.com/about-chase/), began queuing the breath with: “lead with your chest on your inhale, lead with your belly on your exhale.” In order for this to happen, the belly must be supple and therefore is often the main focus of how breathing is cued. A complete breath will emphasize both the upper and lower part of your torso, and in turn every cell of your body. This has been a helpful mantra for me during my own practice and as you can see in the image below, is exactly what our body wants to do. Essentially, we are returning to relaxed diaphragmatic breathing. Newborn babies are great teachers of relaxed diaphragmatic breathing for they have not learned how to get in their own way yet. 🙂 Notice how their belly gradually expands completely on the inhale and the belly descends completely on the exhale. Now, as adults it takes time to relax the abdomen, but once you are able to do this then you are able to consciously expand and lengthen the breath with precision, something a baby is not able to do. 🙂
The most amazing part about breathing is that it is the vehicle to access our Autonomic Nervous System; which influences EVERYTHING. The more you can get out of the way and be fully present with the breath, the more you will relax and the more it will expand. Our exhale is directly linked to our parasympathetic (relax and digest) tone, while our inhale is linked to our sympathetic (fight or flight) tone. Therefore, when you practice this type of breathing you are toning your nervous system. In turn, you are bringing balance to your ENTIRE system and being.
In Yoga there are many tools to influence our state, but the breath is by far the most profound tool, for not only does it restore your entire system, but it also cleanses your perceptual lens aka the mind-body so that you are able to focus, receive, meditate, and make positive decisions. Refinement of breathing takes time and requires both a qualified teacher and an element of surrender. If you can sustain a long smooth breath during your yoga āsana/posture practice you will notice that your movements slow down and therefore your mind settles. Keep in mind there are many variations of conscious breathing practices, depending upon your desired outcome. It is best to first develop a consciously relaxed diaphragmatic breath, and if you are curious about other techniques you can come visit me at Jackson Hole Yoga Therapy and learn more.
But enough with trying to convince you through your cognitive mind, lets do some practice shall we?
1.) Lay down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat
2.) Place your hands on your lower abdomen with your elbows and shoulders relaxed.
3.) Close your eyes and observe your breath as it is
4.) Exhale gradually draw in your lower abdomen
5.) Pause slightly
6.) Inhale let your chest and belly expand
7.) Pause ever so slightly
8.) Repeat 4-7