Take a Deep Breath: Yogic Breath Explained
Pranayam is an ancient yogic practice of conscious breathing. Its practice has a two-pronged beneficial effect: it brings about a state of balance, from where health is restored and enhanced. Its practice also serves as a doorway to higher states of consciousness.
Living a modern lifestyle, many people’s nervous systems are in an over-stimulated state. The practice of calming, grounding and relaxing breathing techniques is a great gift to reduce stress in the nervous system, to focus an over-stimulated mind, and thereby bring ease to one’s life.
Oft-given advice to someone who is stressed, anxious or worried is, “Take a deep breath.” But it is important to understand how to truly take a deep breath in order to reduce stress.
I have made an experiment many times. I ask someone who has had no previous pranayam practice to take a very deep breath. I have observed that the tendency is to raise the chest while inhaling.
Try it now as you read this writing:
- Take a deep breath and raise your chest, filling it to the brim with air.
- Hold your breath for a second and place the palm of your hand on your diaphragm and the other on your lower abdomen and you will notice that they feel tight.
You may also notice that your shoulders are raised, the middle of your back is tense and your jaw is tight.
- Now, keeping your hands in place, exhale.
Having held your breath for long enough to notice all those things, you will likely exhale in one big shot. Your chest will likely collapse in towards your belly, which in turn pushes your lower belly outwards.
According to pranayam, this is not the best was to transfer oxygen to the cells. (Click to read the biochemistry of breathing.) A true deep breath is marked by the expansion of the lower belly rather than just filling up the lungs with more air.
Now make another experiment:
- Place both hands on your lower belly.
- Without raising your shoulders or chest, gently and slowly inhale. Feel your belly expanding, pushing your hands outwards.
- Slowly exhale and draw your belly inwards to gently engage your pelvic core.
- As you exhale, imagine the breath is sending roots of a giant tree down into the ground.
This is a truly deep breath. Seems simple! The work is to be conscious of breathing deeply in your day-to-day activities, particularly when you are rushing, feeling nervous, frustrated or impatient. Through conscious breathing practices, we can truly relax with a deep breath and not trigger the stress response to regular situations.
A healthy breath is imperceptible, subtle, gracious, and always from the belly.