Tap the Real Power of Your Breath

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By 2017-09-10

BY Ray Long

Take a moment to think about your breath: Is it deep or shallow? Slow or fast? It's interesting that it can take a few moments to figure out our patterns of breathing, even though it's something we're always doing.

The reason most of us can't pinpoint what's happening right away is because breathing happens unconsciously: It's part of the autonomic nervous system, which tells our internal organs (like the diaphragm and lungs) to function without our conscious control. Yet unlike other functions our autonomic nervous system regulates—like digestion and circulation—breathing can also be voluntarily regulated. And when I teach patients and yoga students how to do this, it can transform their practice.

For starters, regulating the breath through a technique commonly called "belly breathing" creates more capacity to take bigger breaths. People often tell me that just 10 minutes of belly breathing seems to help their breathing feel "freer." In turn, this leads them to tune in to the energetic centre in the abdominal area, where the "belly brain" lives. Finally, there's an energetic shift that happens when you're able to control your breath with belly breathing. You may start to see the breath as not just air, but also as energy moving within your body. When this happens, you're really tapping into the power of breathing.

Before learning how to belly-breathe, it helps to understand the basic anatomy of the breath. Respiration happens in two phases: inspiration (inhaling) and expiration (exhaling). Normal, restful breathing primarily uses the diaphragm, whereas exercise or exertion recruits the accessory muscles of breathing—the intercostal and upper thoracic muscles, near the ribs and chest, respectively—to further expand the chest. A full yogic breath is based on diaphragmatic, or belly, breathing, but includes intercostal and upper thoracic breathing as well.

Pose to prepare for belly breathing: Parighasana (Gate pose)
Kneel on your right leg and stretch your left leg out to the side, turning the foot so that the toes point toward the corner of your mat. Inhale and extend your arms to either side at shoulder height. Keeping your sides long, exhale and bend leftward to bring your left hand toward your left ankle. Sweep your right hand overhead, feeling length in your right side body. Stay for up to a minute; inhale to come up, and then switch sides.

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