Flawed breathing and stress are the principal reasons for most of the psychosomatic problems today. This is probably why many people come to me stating that their Doctor has suggested ‘Pranayama’ to deal with their psychological as well as medical issues (mostly triggered by lifestyle). Pranayama helps optimally manage the Central Nervous System and also the Sympathetic and the Parasympathetic branches of Autonomic Nervous System which are closely intertwined with breath.
Traditional yogic scriptures claim that one’s life span is decided by the number of breaths one has taken in one’s lifetime. Hence, More number of Breathes = Shorter life; Less number of Breathes = Longer Life. Thus, it is imperative to be aware of the flow and the rhythm of your breath as ‘right breathing’ will allow you to lead a fulfilling and stress -free life.
Yogic Breathing does it ALL
Yogic Breathing, involving Sectional Breathing, emphasizes on the components – “Deep”, “Slow”, “Long” and “Full”. This breathing when done in unison can prove a panacea to mankind. It distinctly involves your abdomen, intercostal muscles and clavicle during respiration.
Abdominal Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing
In this breathing, the whole focus is on your abdominal region. As you inhale, your abdomen expands out, in a rhythm, allowing the navel to reach farthest point from the spine. As you exhale, your abdomen moves in slowly, bringing your navel closest to the spine. Abdominal Breathing draws the greatest amount of air into your lungs for the least amount of muscular effort.
Tip: The respiration is happening with the rhythmic pushing of the abdomen, within your comfort zone.
Intercostal or Middle Breathing
As the name indicates, the focus area is the rib cage. Before you start this breathing, slightly contract your abdomen without holding your breath. This will ‘kind of’ lock the abdomen in its place and allow complete involvement of your ribcage. Inhale slowly by expanding your rib cage outwards and upwards. You can visualize the expansion of the chest, with the stretch of the intercostal muscles during the movement. Then slowly exhale by contracting the chest downwards and inwards. Thoracic Breathing requires slightly more muscular effort than abdominal breathing.
Tip: Only your thoracic region is completely active. Rest of the upper body is in passive mode.
Upper Breathing or Clavicular Breathing
You may need a little practice to figure out and involve the right part of the body for this breathing. In this breathing, your abdomen and ribcage are constant; holding your abdomen & chest constant, fix your attention in between your collar bone. As you slowly inhale, feel the movement of the breath moving outwards in both the directions from the center of the collar bone towards the end of the collar bone, expanding the collar bone to its fullest. Your shoulders get lifted up towards the end of your breath ((lifting up of the shoulders would be a subtle movement (mostly as an effect of expanding collar bone); it may not be directly visible)). As you exhale, you release your shoulders and the breath enters from the end points of your collar bone to reach the center of collar bone as you complete your exhalation.
Clavicular Breathing is the most ignored breathing. Compared to other two breathings, this requires maximum involvement of your muscles.
Trust me, the moment, you master this breathing, you will feel as if some ‘stored up heavy tension’ is getting dissipated from your mind, making you light and completely relaxed.
Tip: In this process of respiration, you will feel your collar bone going up to the chin and coming back to its original place. If still difficult to figure out the complete movement of clavicular breathing, get into sniffing action and you will know the exact movement of the muscles involved.
It is the combination of all these three kinds of breathings, known as, “Yogic Breathing”. This allows optimum intake of air into the lungs and expels the maximum amount of carbon dioxide during exhalation.
As you inhale, let your abdomen expand completely, then your rib cage and then your clavicle. These three areas should be completely involved in a rhythm and without any jerks or breaks. Similarly, as you exhale, let your shoulders and collar bones relax, then allow your rib cage to go down and inward & finally your abdomen into your spine. The inhalation and exhalation should happen in a sequence in a motion and without exerting any force.
You might find it difficult in the beginning to combine all these areas to their optima as one may be more dominant than the other. A good idea will be to start with sectional breathing separately and then go on to combine all the three together. With regular practice, this will become second nature to you.
Shallow respiration starves our body of oxygen nourishment and at the same time, fails to eliminate optimal carbon dioxide causing an imbalance in the body & the mind, thereby an imbalance in your ‘universe’.