Yoga Wellness Educator. Certified to teach Hatha Yoga, Meditation, Pilates, Reiki. Yoga Therapy Foundations program. I love to write.
In yoga, we use the word Pranayama which is composed of ‘prana’ and ‘ayama’. Prana refers to the vital energy that we find in the air, food, sunshine, and water, and from which we get our own vital energy. Ayama means breath control or control of the vital energy.
Focusing on our breath means our mind is focusing on the rhythm of our breath. For yoginis and yogis, this develops the pratyahara aspect of the eight limbs of yoga—detaching our mind from our senses.
It is said that you can inhale and exhale up to seven times as much air (oxygen and prana) during deep yogic breathing than in a superficial, chest-based breathing.
This way of breathing helps us to maintain good health, purifies and calms our nervous system, and strengthens our concentration.
You can sit on a yoga mat or a blanket on the floor and cross your legs. If you prefer, you can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor. In both cases, keep your spine upright without straining.
You can also choose to lie down on a yoga mat or a thick blanket on the floor.
You have two lungs located in your chest. They have a similar but asymmetrical anatomy. The right lung has three lobes. The left lung has two lobes as it has to make space for the heart.
How do you manage to breathe into the lobes of your lungs? You use the three parts which are the abdomen, the diaphragm, and the chest.
(Repeat each part three to six times)
As you slowly inhale, visualize the three lobes of your right lung filling with air. Then exhale slowly by letting the air out of the three lobes. In deep yogic breathing, the lower lobe is the first one to be filled with air, followed by the middle lobe, then the upper one.
- To control the lower lobes of your lungs, place a hand on the rib cage at the level of the diaphragm (Fig 1). Your hand rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale. Rest the other hand on your thigh. This shows that the air is reaching the lower parts of your lungs.
- Now, place your hands on the lower sides of your rib cage (Fig 2). Make sure the air moves this lower, outer part of the lungs. Focus your mind on the part of your lungs under your hands.
- Place your hands behind your back (Fig 3) so that your fingers point in the direction of your spine. Focus your breathing on the back part of the lower lobes.
- To control the breath in the middle lobes of the lungs, place a hand on the chest between your breasts (Fig 4). Rest the other hand on your thigh. Inhale and exhale in a way that your hand rises and falls with your breath.
- Place your hands on the middle sides of your chest (Fig 5). Breathe so deeply under your hands that your sides will expand like a squeezebox.
- Place your hands as far as possible behind your back (Fig 6) so that your fingers point toward your spine. Focus your breathing on this back part. This is called clavicular breathing.
- To control the upper lobes of the lungs, place one hand on the upper part of the chest (Fig 7), below the collarbones. Inhale deeply and exhale so that your hand lifts and drops with your breath. Do not use the power of muscles to let this breathing happen. Let the breath itself lift the hand.
- Place your hands on your hips to free and lift your armpits (Fig 8). Focus your attention on the upper sides of the lobes so that you feel the breath lifts them under the arms.
- Lift your arms above your shoulders, take your hands back and place your palms on the upper lobes of your back (Fig 9). This helps beginners realize the position of the lobes. With practice, beginners will no longer need to put their palms back.
You are now ready to do the full yogic breathing.
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Full Yogic Breathing
To be capable of holding your breath without spasming, pretend that you are swallowing after you inhale. If you find this difficult, direct your attention to the back of your head; this should make swallowing easy.
Deep yogic breathing involves controlling breathing in such a way that air fills first the abdominal section of the lungs, then the middle section, and finally the upper clavicular section. Exhale in the same order from the bottom part of the lungs to the middle to the upper part.
Place one hand on the diaphragm, and the other hand on the middle of the chest (Fig 10). The lower hand can be moved to the top of the chest when you have filled the bottom lobes.
Now start with a deep inhalation, distributing one-third of the breathing to the abdominal region, another third to the middle part of the chest, and with the remaining third fill the clavicular part of the chest. For a beginner, do two beats per section so that the breath becomes: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 up until the full deep breath is completed.
As you get comfortable with the deep yogic breathing, you can start holding your breath for a couple of seconds before you exhale.
With time and regular practice, you can increase the time you hold your breath in a way where the inhalation, holding the breath, and exhalation take equal time.
So far, you’ve done the deep yogic breathing either sitting on your calves and heels or sitting on a cushion on the floor or on a chair
You can practice deep yogic breathing while lying down in a relaxed manner (Fig 11).
Lie on your back. Take a few deep breaths in each of the three lobes of your lungs starting by the lower lobes, then the middle ones, then the upper ones.
Do at least three cycles of the ten breathing techniques with a clear and peaceful mind.
As a beginner, take a short period of rest before you repeat the whole cycle three to six times.
“Le Pranayama”. Yoga revue mensuelle No 128 (pp 27-35). Devi, SM. December 1974.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Liliane Najm