Breath equals life but how much attention do we pay to our breathing? In the yoga tradition, the breath is said to carry a person's life force. The practice of breath control is called Pranayama and some yoga gurus consider it the most important practice of yoga. Abdominal Breathing is a very simple but important pranayama practice. Read on to find out more.
Abdominal or diaphragmic breathing is practised by enhancing the action of the diaphragm and minimizing the action of the ribcage. The diaphragm is a domed sheet of muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity and, when functioning correctly, promotes the most efficient type of breathing. It is the effect of the diaphragm rather than the diaphragm itself that is experienced as the stomach rises and falls. The correct use of the diaphragm, achieved through the practice of abdominal breathing, improves the lymphatic drainage from basal parts of the lungs, massages the liver, stomach, intestines and other organs that lie immediately beneath it and exerts positive effects on the cardiac function. It improves oxygenation of the blood and circulation and activates the parasympathetic nervous system stimulating a relaxation response in the body.
Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breath. However, due to tension, poor posture, restrictive clothing and lack of training, it is often forgotten. But once this technique becomes a part of daily life and correct breathing is restored, there will be a great improvement in the state of physical and mental well-being.
ABDOMINAL (OR DIAPHRAGMIC) BREATHING
Lie in shavasana and relax the whole body.
Place the right hand on the abdomen just above the navel and the left hand over the centre of the chest. Observe the spontaneous breath without controlling it in any way. Let it be absolutely natural.
To practice abdominal breathing, feel as though you are drawing the energy in and out directly through the navel. The right hand will move up with inhalation and down with exhalation. The left hand remains almost still. Let the abdomen relax. Do not try to force the movement. Do not expand the chest or move the shoulders. Feel the abdomen expanding and contracting. Continue breathing slowly and deeply.
Inhale while expanding the abdomen as much as comfortable, without expanding the ribcage. At the end of the inhalation, the diaphragm will be compressing the abdomen and the navel will be at its highest point.
On exhalation, the diaphragm moves upwards and the abdomen moves downward. At the end of the exhalation, the abdomen will be contracted and the navel compressed towards the spine.
Continue for 30 breaths.
Relax any effort and once again watch the spontaneous breathing pattern. Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as a whole. Become aware of your surroundings and gently open the eyes.
Instructions from Bihar School of Yoga manual