On average, we take 23,040 breaths a day. For most of us, we don’t think about breathing; it’s just our bodies make sure we do it, but yoga is founded on making each breath count.
Yoga breathing or Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling your breath. Its definition stems from the words prana meaning “life force” and Yama meaning “control” or “discipline”. It goes without saying that breathing is our life force, but are we controlling our breaths? Are we using our whole lung capacity? Breathing deep is not only relaxing, but it’s especially effective in oxygenating your blood, which is essential to re-energizing our bodies and leading a healthy and balanced life.
Before you begin your yogic breathing experience, take time to prepare your mind and body. As with anything, consult a physician if you have any respiratory issues (such as asthma) before you try Pranayama. Don’t worry about overdoing the repetitions, and remain relaxed throughout the breathing exercises.
There are traditionally three different types of breaths – High, Middle, and Low, with the ultimate goal being to combine all three for a Complete Breath.
Also known as “collarbone breathing”, primarily takes place in the upper chest and lungs, and involves raising the collarbone, ribs, and shoulders. This is the least ideal form of breathing, as the upper lungs and ribcage do not allow for much expansion, severely limiting the amount of oxygen you’re able to intake.
Otherwise known as “abdominal breathing,” this primarily takes place in the lower chest and lungs. While much more effective than high breathing due to the large oxygen capacity of the lower lungs and diaphragm, low breathing rarely provides a sufficient amount of oxygen during any sort of physical activity.
As you may have guessed, middle breathing takes place in the middle parts of the lungs, and exhibits some attributes of both high and low breathing. Like high breathing, your ribs and chest expand, but rather than moving upwards with each breath, they expand outwards. As in low breathing, your diaphragm also expands slightly; however, middle breathing alone remains much less effective, as the breaths tend to be quite shallow.
The Complete Breath is a combination of high, low, and middle breathing, involving the entire respiratory system to achieve the deepest breath possible. This type of breathing is the foundation for all yogic breathing techniques and should be understood before furthering your practice. Don’t worry, this type of breathing is only used during breathing exercises.
As with anything, breathing is a part of your yoga practice. Just as you are not expected to be able to touch your toes on the first day of class, you won’t be expected to master the complete breath right away. The goal of yoga is to center your mind and body, bringing awareness to your own energy, and with that will come a mastery of the complete breath.
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