Have you quit smoking? Well, now is time to learn how to breathe. The art of breathing in yoga is called Pranayam. It is an art of controlling the act of breathing. By controlling the breathing, we can efficiently control all the various motions of the body and the different nerve-currents that are running through the body. We can easily and quickly manage and develop body, mind, and soul through breath control or the control of Prana. It is through Pranayam that we can control our circumstances and character and can consciously harmonize our life with the universal life.
In the act of inhalation, the muscles expand the lungs creating a vacuum and the air rushes by the well-known law of physics. Everything depends upon the muscles concerned in the process of respiration. Without the aid of these muscles, the lungs cannot expand. The science of breath largely depends upon the proper use and control of these muscles. The appropriate conscious monitoring of these muscles will result in the ability to attain the maximum degree of lung expansion, and the greatest amount of the life-giving properties of the air into the system.
Yogic Classification of Breathing
The Yogis classify breathing into four general methods:
- High Breathing
- Mid Breathing
- Low Breathing
- Complete Yoga Breathing
We will give a general idea of the first three methods, and a more extended treatment of the fourth method, which is the base of the Yogic Science of Breath.
This form of breathing is known as Collarbone Breathing. Breathing in this way elevates the ribs and raises the collarbone and shoulders, at the same time drawing in the abdomen and pushing its contents up against the rising diaphragm.
In this process, we use the upper part of the chest and lungs, which is the smallest, and consequently, a minimum amount of air enters the lungs.
Breathing in this way, we give the maximum amount of effort obtaining a minimum amount of benefit. High Breathing is probably the worst form of breathing known to man and requires the greatest expenditure of energy with the smallest amount of benefit. It is an energy-wasting, poor-returns plan.
This method of respiration is known as Rib Breathing, and while less objectionable than High Breathing, is far inferior to either Low Breathing or the Complete Yoga Breath. In Mid Breathing the diaphragm is pushed upward, drawing in the abdomen. The ribs are somewhat raised, and the chest is partially expanded. It is quite common among men who have made no study of the subject. As there are two better methods known, we give it only passing notice, and that principally to call your attention to its shortcomings.
Let us again consider the diaphragm. What is it? We have seen that it is a sheet of internal skeletal muscle, which separates the chest from the abdomen. When at rest, it presents a concave surface to the abdomen. If you look at the diaphragm from the abdomen, it would seem like the sky as seen from the earth—the interior of an arched surface. By contracting the diaphragm, air enters the lungs, the chest rises and the belly expands.
In the Low Breathing, we inhale more air, since the lungs are unrestricted compared to the methods already mentioned.
- High Breathing fills only the upper portion of the lungs.
- Mid Breathing fills only the middle and a portion of the upper parts.
- Low Breathing fills only the lower and middle parts.
It is evident that any method that fills the entire lung space must be far preferable to those supplying only certain parts. Any method which will fill the whole lung space must be the greatest value to Man in the way of allowing him to absorb the largest quantity of oxygen and to store away the most considerable amount of prana. The Complete Breath is known to the Yogis to be the best method of respiration known to science.
THE COMPLETE YOGA BREATH
The Complete Yoga Breathing includes all the right points of High Breathing, Mid Breathing, and Low Breathing, with the objectionable features of each eliminated. It brings into play the entire respiratory apparatus, every part of the lungs, every air-cell, and every respiratory muscle. The whole respiratory body responds to this method of breathing, and it gives the maximum amount of benefit with a minimum expenditure of energy.
HOW TO ACQUIRE THE COMPLETE YOGA BREATH
The Complete Yoga Breath is the fundamental breathing technique of the entire Yogi Science of Breath, and this will require work, time and patience. The results obtained by a complete mastery of the Science of Breath are great, and no one who has attained them would willingly go back to the old methods. You will learn how to breathe.
Complete Breath is not a forced or unnatural thing, but on the contrary, it is a going back to first principles—a return to Mother Nature. It’s the civilized man who has adopted unnatural methods of eating, breathing and living in general.
Complete Breath does not necessarily call for the full filling of the lungs at every inhalation. One may inhale the average amount of air, using the Complete Breathing Method, and distributing the air inhaled to all parts of the lungs.
But, one should inhale a series of full Complete Breaths several times a day, whenever opportunity offers, to keep the system in good order and condition.
The following simple exercise will give you a clear idea of what the Complete Breath is:
- Stand or sit straight
- Breathing through the nostrils, inhale steadily, first filling the lower part of the lungs, accomplished by bringing into play the diaphragm, which descending exerts a gentle pressure on the abdominal organs, pushing forward the front walls of the abdomen.
- Then fill the middle part of the lungs, pushing out the lower ribs, breastbone, and chest.
- Then fill the higher portion of the lungs, protruding the upper chest, thus lifting the chest, including the top six or seven pairs of ribs. In the final movement, the lower part of the abdomen will be slightly drawn in, which action gives the lungs a support and also helps to fill the highest part of the lungs.
- At first reading, it may appear that this breath consists of three distinct movements. However, this is not the correct idea. The inhalation is continuous. The entire chest cavity from the diaphragm to the highest point of the chest in the region of the collar-bone expands with a smooth movement. Avoid a jerky series of inhalations, and strive to attain a steady continuous action. Practice will soon overcome the tendency to divide the inhalation into three movements and will result in a uniform continuous breath. You will be able to complete the inhalation in a couple of seconds after a little practice.
- Retain the breath for a few seconds.
- Exhale quite slowly, holding the chest in a firm position, and letting the abdomen slowly lifting upward as the air leaves the lungs.
- When the air is entirely exhaled, relax the chest and abdomen. A little practice will render this part of the exercise easy, and the movement once acquired will be performed almost automatically afterward.
By this method of breathing all parts of the respiratory apparatus are brought into action, and all parts of the lungs, including the most isolated air cells, are exercised. The chest cavity expands in all directions. You will also notice that the Complete Breath is a combination of Low, Mid and High Breaths, succeeding each other rapidly in the order given, in such a manner as to form one uniform, continuous, complete breath.
You can practice this breath before a large mirror, placing the hands lightly over the abdomen so that you may feel the movements.
At the beginning of practice, you may have more or less trouble in acquiring the Complete Breath, but a little practice will make it perfect. And when you have once acquired it, you will never willingly return to the old methods.
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