In my last post, I talked about several ways that we can use the breath as a calming practice by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Taking deep breaths was one method I briefly mentioned for accomplishing this.
A full yogic breath, also called a three-part breath or a diaphragmatic breath, is very effective at accomplishing this task. This breath includes a complete filling of the lungs on the inhale to maximize the oxygen available to the blood and a complete exhale to fully release all stale air, carbon dioxide, and toxins that are excreted via the breath.
The diaphragm is a muscle that is extends across the bottom of the rib cage and separates the thoracic (chest) cavity from the abdominal cavity. As the diaphragm contracts, the thoracic cavity expands giving our lungs more room for air and causing us to inhale. It also presses down into the abdominal cavity causing our abdominal organs to be pressed outward. As the diaphragm relaxes, the air is forced back out of the lungs as the size of the thoracic cavity decreases and the abdominal organs settle back into place. This rhythmic change in the size of the abdominal cavity leads to this type of breathing sometimes being called “belly breathing” even though the breath does not literally fill the belly.
This breath can be done is any position, but sometimes it is easiest for beginners to get a feel for this breath by performing it while lying down because it makes the fluctuations in the abdomen easier to feel. In whatever position you choose, start with one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest.
As you deliberately take a deep inhalation, notice how your belly expands, then your ribcage expands, then your upper chest expands as your lungs fill completely with air. As you fully exhale, notice your upper chest, then your ribcage, and finally your belly softening back into place. Use your muscles to push that last bit of air completely out of the lungs before your next inhale. Repeat this several more times and notice how this feels in your body.
If at any point in time you begin to feel lightheaded or are struggling to maintain an even flow of breath, take a break and return to your normal breathing. Most of only use about 30% of our lung capacity on a regular basis, so this deeper breath will give the blood much more oxygen than you may be used to having.
This is a wonderful breath that will bring higher oxygen levels to the blood, a more efficient removal of breath-borne wastes, and a calming effect to the body. And it’s all free and easy to use!