In yOga (see sanskrit transliteration scheme), prANAyAma (control of life-force through breath) is an important and ancient conglomeration of techniques to promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being, and enlightenment.
In this article, I will discuss a powerful deep breathing technique that is very healing by itself. This can be used whenever you feel stressed, or just want to get into that calmer state of mind.
This breathing technique can be done in either “sitting up” or “lying down on back” positions.
3-Part Deep Abdominal Breathing
If you observe babies and very young children, you will notice that their abdomen expands and contracts deeply and rhythmically with breath. As we become adults, we start to exercise shallow breath and forget deep breathing. It is well known that whenever we are stressed our breath becomes shallow and vice versa. When we take deep long breaths, we calm our mind.
Note that you don’t actually breathe into your stomach or abdomen. There are no organ’s there that can take in breath. With deep breathing you will actually expand the lungs into the abdomen pushing the organs there aside and hence a bulging abdomen.
Time for Practice
- Practicing on an empty stomach is the best, especially in the beginning stages of the practice.
- Whenever you feel fatigued and require a boost in energy.
- Handle Stress
- Expand lung capacity
- Strengthen lungs
- Give more oxygen to the body
- Expel stale air in the lungs due to prolonged shallow breathing
- Prepares you for advanced breathing techniques
Deep Breathing in Lying Down Position with a Book on the Abdomen
If you are not used to deep breathing, it may initially be uncomfortable. You may want to start this lying down on your back with a book on diaphragm area of your abdomen, to get a feel for how the abdominal breathing works.
- Lie down on carpet or a mattress.
- Place a book on the abdomen, with top of the book over the diaphragm and the rest of the book extending down over the abdomen.
- Close your eyes.
- Perform khEcarI mudra (This is Optional until you become familiar with the breathing technique. See NOTE below)
- Inhale, through both nostrils, into the abdomen (this fills in the lower part of the lungs). Your stomach will expand, and raise the book up.
- After you fill in the abdomen, start breathing into the mid-lungs, i.e. chest region.
- After you fill in the chest region, you breathe into the shoulder (top of lungs). Breathing into this region requires practice, so don’t sweat it, if you can’t initially.
- Exhalation—you do in the reverse order—through both nostrils.
- First, exhale air from the shoulders.
- Then exhale air from the chest.
- Then, exhale air from the abdomen, by contracting the abdomen in toward the spine, which brings the book down.
- This completes one cycle.
- Do this technique for at least 5 minutes. If you can’t do this for 5 minutes, do this for as long as it is comfortable and go to the next step. Just relax in that step for a couple of minutes, then start the technique again. This way you will buildup endurance. In the beginning, doing this for 5 minutes is enough. You can extend the time after you become comfortable with the technique.
- After you finish the technique, just stay still and observe the quality of breath. Do not make any changes to its rhythm or judge it in anyway. Just observe.
Some Important Points to Follow
- Inhalation and exhalation should be of same length. You can count the time. Ideally, you want to do something like 4 seconds into abdomen + 4 seconds into chest + 2 seconds into shoulders while inhaling and using the same count for each region while exhaling. However, 10 seconds may be too demanding for beginners. So, experiment with these counts to come up with a count that is comfortable for you. Longer the times the better, but that requires practice. Make sure that your counts for abdomen and chest are equal, and that for shoulders is half that count. If you can’t keep the counts so balanced, it is okay. It will come with practice.
- The inhalation and exhalation should be smooth. Do not strain. Do not hold breath at any point. If at any point you feel dizzy or painful, stop. Give a few minutes of rest and then start again. Pain is there because you probably never used those muscle in your life. It will become easier with practice. Fill in various regions of your torso to the level that you are comfortable with. Breathing into lower lungs (abdomen) is very important—even if you can breathe only a little bit of air into the abdomen, it is good.
- Once you are comfortable with the practice you can increase the exhalation to twice as long as the inhalation, i.e., 1:2 ratio. For example, if the inhalation takes a total of 5 seconds, then the exhalation should extend to 10 seconds.
- NOTE—After you become comfortable with the breathing technique, it is beneficial to add one more element—touching the tip of your tongue to the soft palate on the roof of your mouth (called khEcarI mudra in yOga literature) with mouth closed, throughout the breathing exercise. This mudra is supposed to complete the energy circuit.
Deep Breathing in Lying Down Position without the Book
After you know how to do the deep breathing with a book, you can proceed to practice the same without the book.
Deep Breathing in Sitting Up Position
You can do the above breathing technique sitting up one the floor or in a chair with your spine erect. Of course, you will not use a book in this case.
You have been tagged for Personal Development List would love for you to participate.
Thanks for the invite. I have updated the list here on my site. Thanks for taking the pains to put the list together. Much appreciated.
Great post! You are so right to emphasize the importance of full, deep, rhythmic breathing. We have only two points to add:
(1) To ensure that the inhale and exhale are the same length, we’ve found it very helpful to use the heartbeat;
(2) Breathing in a ratio of 2:1 exhale to inhale is good for developing the exhale, if that is needed. But many people have difficulty with the inhale. We have found it most beneficial to maintain an even balance between the inhale and the exhale, and we’ve found that when people need to work on the exhale, it is best to do so in the context of a balanced, full breath.
Thank you for your good work.
Dear Puran and Susanna Bair,
Thank you very much for your insightful comment. Your points are well-taken. As you saw above, I make it clear in the points (1) and (3) sub-section, “Some Important Points to Follow,” that first 1:1 breath must be mastered and only after that 1:2 breath should be tried and only if comfortable.
Your suggestion about using the heartbeat for getting the breath rhythm is very interesting. It would be great if you could elaborate a bit more on that one, or point out a link.
In my own experience focusing on the heart-center, following inner guidance, during my mantra meditation (a couple of years ago) alleviated certain adverse effects I was experiencing at that time and helped activate the Kundalini Sakthi in me.
Certainly, the link for heart rhythm meditation is:
Puran and Susanna,
I appreciate the links.
Useful and healthy meditating tips as well guidelines to build a healthy mind, body and soul.
i think you are right here this could also help with childbrith and control
If you want to learn about abdominal breathing then check out this site I found. You will be glad that you did!
Thank you for the link.
Dear sir i was doing vasi yogam past 15 year which my guru teach me ,i’t gud should i learn more or wht should i do .
Nobody can answer that question but you. I suggest that you follow your heart. Since you have a guru, have you asked him/her the same question?
Thanks for this detailed instruction of the breathing technique! I’ve read other people’s instructions on breathing exercises and yours is definitely one of the best
Hello Desika, I’d like to know what you think of inhaling AND exhaling starting from the belly then to ribs, then to chest area. How cold you explane the benefits to your described way? Thank you! Anastasia