Breathing techniques – part 2
The first part of this article covered essential techniques for learning breath control. Those techniques are excellent for easing stress and getting in to a calm relaxed state. The methods described in this part of the article will help you cultivate energy and bring focus to your mind. I will cover three different methods in this article – Three-part breath, Ocean breath, and Breath of fire.
Caution: Before engaging in any of the practices described on this website, please consult your physician or other health care professional to determine if these exercises are safe for you. The breathing techniques described on this page may cause difficulties with breathing if they are not practiced under the guidance of a professional practitioner. If you feel any discomfort or other difficulties associated with this practice, discontinue these breathing methods at once, and seek the attention of a health professional. For full usage rights, please read the disclaimer provided here.
This breathing technique can be used in conjunction with various yoga or meditation practices. It’s a good method for clearing the lungs while taking in as full a breath as possible. Try using the three-part breath to empty your mind, just before a sitting meditation.
When we take a deep breath, most often all we do is puff out our chest which expands the rib cage. We learned in the first part of this article that this is not the best method for inhaling as much oxygen as possible. Drawing breath into the lower part of the lungs is the preferred method for taking a more complete breath. Here we will expand on the belly-breathing technique to develop greater lung capacity.
- To begin the three-part breath – Find a comfortable position, either seated or lying down. You may want to do a light stretch so you can thoroughly relax while settling into your position.
- Begin with a belly-breath – As mentioned before, draw air down into the belly, allowing it to expand. This brings air deeper into the lungs through the proper use of the diaphragm muscle. Continue breathing into the belly until you are relaxed and feel comfortable where you are at. Belly-breath for a few minutes. This gives time for your diaphragm to lengthen and stretch.
- Allow the breath to progress into the ribs – For the next step of this method, continue breathing into the belly. At this point though, you are going to allow the air to fill a larger area of the lungs. Pulling the air in, let your rib cage expand and your lungs fill.
- Continue with a progressive, full exhalation – As you exhale, slowly let the ribs come back to normal position before exhaling all the air from deep within the lungs. Be sure to release all the air from the lungs, as this will make your inhale come more naturally.
- Draw the air deep, while expanding the upper body as well – At this point in the breath work, you should be comfortable drawing air deep into the lower lungs, allowing the air to continue to expand higher into the torso. Now you will draw a progressive breath. Inhale deep into the lungs with the belly-breath, then allow the air to expand the ribs, and finally raise the chest area.
- Proceed with another progressive, full exhalation – Begin by letting your chest fall, then brining the ribs back to the normal state. Continue exhaling by releasing the air from the bottom of your lungs. This is the final part of the three-part breath.
- Continue as you feel comfortable – That concludes the three-part breath. I recommend continuing with a few more full breaths, until you feel your focus entirely on your breathing. This will help get you into the proper state for yoga or meditation.
Here is a concise video explanation of the three-part breath.
Until you feel completely comfortable completing the three-part breath, be very aware of your breathing. If it feels strained or causes other discomfort, please discontinue this exercise. It’s only after several attempts, and through practice that you will feel at ease with the three-part breath.
The Ocean Breath technique is a method which helps develop strength throughout the breathing apparatus. In this breath you are controlling muscles in the throat to create slight tension in the breath. Doing so will exercise the diaphragm muscle due to the need for a slow controlled flex. You can think of it as similar to doing an arm curl with a small weight.
Although the Ocean breath is often used to facilitate the practice of yoga asanas, you can use it to help you with sitting meditation as well. This method will help bring oxygen into your system, while creating a calm focused state of mind.
Please find a comfortable place to sit and follow these steps:
- First take a few deep breaths into the belly – This will warm you up for the practice. For this method it is good to reach a relaxed state prior to beginning the Ocean breath. The controlled breath takes a bit more effort than usual, and you may find yourself tired after a few attempts. Return to normal belly-breathing any time you feel that you are exerting too much effort. Be sure that you are lookng forward with an aligned spine when practicing this technique. You will begin to consciously exert tension on the throat, so it’s important to be aware of where the pressure is coming from.
- Now begin by creating a gentle tension in the throat – You are going to be using the muscles of the glottis (vocal cords) to constrict the throat slightly. The constriction does not need to be strenuous. It is the same movement you make when you are whispering, or fogging a mirror. If you have ever tried to make the “Darth Vader” sound, then you already know how to make this motion.
- Take a deep slow breath – With your throat slightly constricted take a slow controlled breath. You may want to try it first with your mouth open, then change to nostril breathing. It’s easier to get the feel for creating the slight tension by inhaling through the mouth. The air should make a rushing noise as it flows into your lungs. Once you feel the proper amount of tension, and can control the breath, change to nostril breathing.
- Exhale slowly, with the same tension – Once you have completed an inhalation, maintain control of the breath, and slowly exhale. The exhale should last roughly as long as the inhale. You may experiment with different timing as you grow in experience, but for now keep the inhalation and exhalation about the same length.
- Repeat as you feel comfortable – Continue breathing in this way for between 10-15 breaths. It will be different for everyone, so only practice this method as long as you feel comfortable. As your muscles increase in strength, you will learn greater breath control. At that point, you will be able to extend your practice for greater periods of time. Until then, do not strain yourself, otherwise you will just set yourself back. Conduct the exercises at an easy relaxed pace.
Here is a nice description of the “Ocean Breath technique” it is referred to as the “Ujjayi Breath” in this video.
I personally find that the Ocean Breath is helpful for learning how to exert breath control. Besides the benefical oxygenating effect it’s also a deliberate controlled motion, which brings stillness to the mind. Take time to get comfortable with this method, as it will be very beneficial for bringing strength to the specific muscles used in breathing.
Breath of Fire
This breathing method rapidly oxygenates the blood, bringing a heightened state of awareness. After completing this exercise you will find that your body is vibrant and full of energy. Be sure to use caution when practicing this technique. You may feel light headed after doing this breath for a minute or two, so please remain seated after engaging in the Breath of Fire.
Begin the practice by finding a comfortable place to sit. Be sure that you head and neck are straight, just as in sitting meditation. Take a few relaxed belly breaths before beginning this technique.
- Rapidly inhale and exhale with shallow breaths – This technique differs from most in that the breath is not drawn deep into the lungs. Instead the breath is kept very shallow, reaching only to the uppermost part of the lungs. Both the inhalation and exhalation should last about the same amount of time, less than 1 second each. You can equate the speed of this breath, to that of a light panting. If you have heard a dog breath after a run, then you will know what this should sound like.
- Allow yourself time to adjust to the rhythm – It’s easy to become out of breath quickly with this technique. So you may have to try several times to establish your rhythm. In between attempts, be sure to take natural breaths to maintain a normal level of oxygen. Don’t get so caught up in trying to master this technique that you lose awareness of your state of mind. This technique will benefit you greatly if you slowly take the time to learn how to properly implement this method.
Just after completing the breath-of-fire technique is a good time to practice remaining in a non-reactionary state. If someone calls for you, simply listen – allow it to be. When you feel comfortable and able to take action, do so at your own pace.
These breathing techniques will round out the repertoire of methods available to you. Try using a variety of techniques at different times throughout the day to see how they make you feel. Learning how your breath controls your physiology and state of mind will help you learn a great deal about yourself. If you would like to explore these methods further I recommend finding a local practitioner or spiritual teacher to guide you in this pursuit.
I hope you enjoyed this article and will check back soon. If there are other techniques which you would like me to write about please feel free to email me from the contact page.
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