Episode #1 of the course Breathing techniques by Hannah Faulkner
Welcome to the breathing course!
My name is Hannah, and I’m an international yoga instructor and award-winning yoga lifestyle blogger. Over the next ten days, you’ll learn breathing exercises to help you control body temperature, balance emotions, clear the mind, and restore equilibrium.
Today, we’ll talk about consciously using our diaphragm to lengthen the breath and expand our lung capacity.
Conscious vs. Unconscious Breathing
Did you know that although the regular human lung capacity is about six liters of air, we typically inhale much less?
Shallow or chest breathing is an unconscious programming that lets stagnant air and pollutants gather in the depths of the lungs. When shallow breathing is the only type of breathing you do, you’re only using a small fraction of your lung capacity. With poor posture, inactivity, and muscle stiffness, this continued pattern will most likely lead to fatigue and respiratory weakness.
So, how can we improve our lung function and expand our lung capacity?
According to The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga, we need to practice a minimum of ten weeks of daily breathing exercises before seeing any noticeable improvements. Practicing these techniques is considered to be one of the highest forms of purification and self-discipline for the mind and the body.
What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
I usually teach three-part diaphragm breathing at the beginning of my yoga classes, as it is one of the most common techniques for deeper breathing and lung expansion.
Our diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of our lungs. Our abdominal muscles help move the diaphragm and give us more power to fill and empty our lungs. This method helps strengthen the diaphragm muscle, so we can use less energy when breathing.
As a yoga practitioner for the past seven years, I now naturally use my diaphragm to inhale and exhale, even when I am not consciously trying to. A deep breath first fills the lower belly, rises to the lower rib, and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. This breath should be both long and smooth.
Let’s begin in a cross-legged seat (Sukhasana in Sanskrit) or kneeling on your heels in Hero’s Pose (Virasana in Sanskrit). If you have tight hips, you can place a block or blanket (or two) underneath your sit bones.
Lengthen your spine by imagining a thin line stacking each vertebra, like a puppet on a string, from your tailbone to the crown of your head. Simultaneously, roll your shoulders back while tucking your lower ribs inward. Knees should be descending while your chin is parallel to the floor.
If this is your first time or you have a lung condition, I recommend lying on your back with your knees bent, one hand on your upper chest, and another resting on your abdomen to feel these areas expand and contract.
How to Breathe with Your Diaphragm
Begin by breathing normally through your nose, and notice where your chest rises and falls. Next, inhale deeply through the nose, first expanding through your lower belly, then diaphragm (upper abdominal area), and finally through your upper lungs (chest). Even when you think you can’t inhale any more, try to squeeze in a little more air. Imagine the air traveling all the way to the top of your head, allowing your lungs and stomach to fully inflate. This enables oxygen to reach the deepest depths of your lungs and break up any toxins and pollutants that may have accumulated.
Think of your breath as an elevator, filling up with people (oxygen) at each stop up, pausing at the top, gently traveling back down, and deflating the lungs, and finally, the abdomen empties completely as you pause for a second at the bottom.
When you think you can’t exhale any more, keep blowing from the depths of your lungs and stomach.
You can start with three seconds of inhale and exhale, and try to gradually build up to eight seconds or more for each inhale and each exhale. Don’t forget to pause at the top and bottom for one second.
This exercise should be practiced ten times in a row and at least five times daily.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about listening to the sound of our breath to still our incessant mind.
To your continued success,
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD and James E. Groves, MD
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