Break the habit of ignoring the breath. Just because we don’t have to expend effort to breathe, don’t take it for granted! The quantity, quality, and circulation of the breath creates the foundation for a vital and creative life. Mastery of the breath promotes health and vitality, assists in controlling the moods, develops concentration, and brings about a feeling of connectedness. In the earthly realms, breath comes first, and then the expression of the word follows according to the energy given to it by the breath. We must first cultivate the breath and then value each word we speak aloud or mentally. Yogis also believe that when you inhale, you’re taking in life force, or prana. When you exhale, you are releasing the eliminating force, or apana. We strive for an equal prana-apana balance.
(photo by Diego Diaz)
The mechanics of breathing begin with the lungs, which reside in a chamber created by the ribs, rib muscles, and diaphragm. Elastic tissue within the lungs allows then to expand and contract. Contraction of the rib and diaphragm muscles creates a vacuum in the chamber, which forces the lungs to expand and fill with air. When the diaphragm and rib muscles relax, the elastic tissue returns the lungs to the original size, expelling the air. Breathing provides waste removal and oxygen for cells throughout the body. It also creates a rhythmic movement of the spine, and pumps the cerebrospinal fluid. Controlling the rate of breath can also alter the heart rate. Movement of the diaphragm helps pump the lymphatic fluid and massages the abdominal organs.
(photo courtesy of Miles Kelly)
Long Deep Breathing is a foundational yogic technique that utilizes the full capacity of the lungs. When you first experiment with this conscious breathing technique, try putting your left hand on the belly, right hand on the chest to feel the movement of the diaphragm. Sit with a straight spine, shoulders relaxed, eyes closed. Or if you’d prefer a supine experience, lie down on your back, arms at your sides, palms facing up. Long Deep Breathing starts with the inhalation, as you fill the abdomen, then expanding the chest, and finally lift the upper ribs and clavicle. The exhale happens in reverse. First the upper lungs deflate, then the middle, and finally the abdomen pulls in and up, as the navel point pulls back toward the spine and the lungs are emptied completely.
This practice is essential for the release of tension. It promotes relaxation by balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Long, deep, and conscious breathing also increases oxygen intake, cleanses the blood of carbon dioxide to make the blood more alkaline, speeds up the physical and emotional healing process, and helps to break unconscious habit patterns and addictions. All these benefits can come from doing what you intuitively know how to do!
(courtesy of Arjen Kaur)