In order to live and keep the body healthy, we need not only food and water, but also air to breathe. We breathe so often, and without thinking, that it’s easy to forget about. We can go days without water and possibly weeks without food but we can only go minutes without breathing.
So the air we breathe is even more important than eating and drinking. We can even say that our life begins and ends with a breath.
In yoga we want a more conscious breathing, and since the goal of yoga is to lead to meditation, then we want the breathing to be focused on awareness.
Within one breath, three phases can be distinguished: Inhalation, exhalation and a pause in breathing. The Sanskrit expressions for the three phases of the breath are: Puraka – Inhalation, Rechaka – Exhalation, Kumbhaka – Retention of the breath.
One phase flows into the other. The exhalation should last approximately twice as long as the inhalation. The pause in breathing arises naturally at the end of the exhalation phase and lasts until the impulse to inhale occurs again.
Quiet, regular and deep breathing is decisive for our health. It has a harmonizing and calming effect upon body and mind. On the other hand, breathing that is too rapid and shallow has a negative influence upon us, as it can intensify nervousness, stress, tension and pain.
In yoga we want all exercises to be practiced in a physically and mentally relaxed state. A physically relaxed state is essential, as it is only then that the muscles can stretch in the respective Asana without creating tension. A mentally relaxed state is necessary so that the Asanas can be practiced with full concentration on relaxing and breathing. When done properly we find a joy in the correct breathing, a heightened awareness. We get reminded that yoga means Union and with correct breathing we can touch into a Unity with all things!
The 3 Types of Breathing
In yoga three types of breathing are used:
Clavicular (Collarbone) breathing which is shallow and rapid. In this breathing the air flows into the top of the lungs then out on exhale.
Thoracic (Chest cavity) breathing which is a medium breathing. With this type the ribs are lifted so that the chest expands. With an exhalation, the ribs return to their original position.This breath is also rapid and shallow and does not satisfy the want for peace. To resolve this type of breathing slow and deep abdominal breathing is of great assistance.
Abdominal (Diaphragmatic) breathing which is deep breathing. On inhaling the abdominal organs press downwards so that the abdominal wall extends outward. This type of breathing allows the full use of lung capacity, slows down the breath in a natural way and promotes relaxation.
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The full yogic breathing combines all three types of breathing, beginning with a deep abdominal inhalation and drawing the breath upwards through the intercostal (chest) and clavicular (collar bone) areas.
The normal breathing of the body has a natural purification system for introducing oxygen into the blood stream. With yoga breathing (pranayama) you get a more highly purified air into the blood circulation which helps the yogi get into a higher consciousness with his yoga breathing.
The body needs to get rid of carbon dioxide and toxins all the time. So what does it do to get rid of these wastes? It breathes out! The body has a natural method of delivering the wastes to the lungs after it inhales and on the exhale the toxins like carbon dioxide are expelled out into the air. With yoga breathing the body remains cleaner and the consciousness is heightened.
Practice Steady Breathing
Maintaining a steady, rhythmic breath is the single most important part of your yoga practice. By controlling your breath, you calm your mind and bring awareness to the present moment. This awareness is the heart of yoga. In yoga, it is believed that by consciously practicing breath control exercises, you can bring positive changes to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
Remember: The “goal” in yoga is to stay centered, to bring awareness to whatever pose you are currently in. Your breath can help you know how you are doing. Learning to listen to your breath can help you to become calm, focused, and aware in the present moment. It helps alot to have steady, strong breath.
The 3 Part Breath
One popular method for steadying the breath is the Three Part Breath. Three- Part Breath — Dirga Pranayama (prana or life-force energy and ayama which means to extend),is often the first breathing technique taught to new yoga practitioners. It is a fantastic pranayama for anyone to practice, at the start of a yoga class, during a yoga class, sitting in your car in a traffic jam or even when you are sitting on a bus!
With this breath practice we awaken our ability to control the flow of life-force energy within the body. Through control of the breath we can gain control of our body, mind, and spirit. Eventually we can learn how to direct prana throughout our body. This practice or knowledge can be incredibly useful in times of stress or when you need rejuvenation.
If you are new to pranayama, we suggest that you practice first with an experienced teacher. Also remember that if you have breathing or respiratory problems (asthma, emphysema) to be careful, listen to your body at all times and stop if you become dizzy or lightheaded.
Dirga Pranayama is also known as the three part breath because in this type of pranayama we are actively breathing into three parts of our abdomen.
The 3 Positions:
The first position is the low belly (on top of or just below the umbilicus).
The second position is the low chest (lower half of the rib cage).
The third position is the low throat (just above the top of the sternum).
The Benefits And Limitations
In this type of Pranayama, the breath is continuous, inhaled and exhaled with the help of nose. The inhalation starts in the first position, the low belly; then moves to the second position, the low chest; then to the third position, the low throat. The exhalation starts in the low throat, moves to the low chest, and finishes in the low belly. Place your hands on the individual positions to feel the breath rising and falling through each position.
When you start practicing, you may want to individually isolate the movement in each position, using the hands. When you start enjoying with inhalation and exhalation then start practice without the hands. Eventually relax the effort of the Pranayama and breathe into the three positions gently, feeling a wave of breath move up and down the torso.
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