Advancing your Deep Breathing Exercises
Now that you’ve strengthened your diaphragmatic breathing, it’s time for the Yoga Complete Breath. (You have been practicing diaphragmatic breathing, right???) The belly breathing exercise is the beginning. Now we’ll add in the rest of the lung capacity.
The three parts of a complete breath
There are three parts of a Yoga Complete Breath. Unless you specifically develop all three aspects in the correct order, you are most likely over-emphasizing one of the aspects to the detriment of optimal breathing mechanics.
First is low breathing, which was covered in diaphragmatic breathing.
The second aspect is middle breathing. This involves widening and slightly lifting the rib cage to fill the middle of the lungs. This part of the breathing cycle uses the internal intercostal muscles, the ones between the ribs.
The third portion is high breathing. The ribs, collarbones and shoulder blades are raised. This involves the use of neck and shoulder muscles: the SCM (sternocleidomastoid), the scalenes and the upper trapezius.
Any of the three of these phases of this deep breathing exercise can be used independently for inhalation but there are drawbacks to using any of these by themselves. Of the three, low breathing is the best, with the only drawback being that the lungs are not completely filled. Middle breathing is limited in that the intercostal muscles cannot create enough space to completely fill the lungs.
Of the three portions, high breathing has the most drawbacks. Like the others, it is incomplete. However it has the additional negative that the primary muscles used for this portion of the breath are usually too tight in people anyway, especially in our current, computer oriented culture. Those three muscles being too tight is a primary cause of forward head posture. That in turn can lead to nerve entrapment through the neck bones and the scalenes themselves, can lead to tension headaches from shortened and tight sub-occipital muscles and a rounded upper back which will make deep breathing exercises even more difficult. Oh, and bad posture doesn’t look so good!
Enough talk! It’s time to breathe.
The complete breath is a 3 part inhalation, using the full musculature of the breathing apparatus, in the correct, natural order. It combines all three methods of breathing (high, medium and low) in the right order to use the full capacity of the lungs.
- Inhale through the nose, filling the lower portion of your lungs by engaging the diaphragm. The belly will extend as you begin the inhale.
- The second motion is the widening of the rib cage to fill the middle lungs. This widening is in all directions.
- The final motion of the inhale is a light raising of the shoulders and collar bones in order to fill the upper lobe.
- During the 3rd part of the inhale, the abdomen will draw in slightly to support the lifting of the rib cage and gently forces a little more air into the uppermost reaches of the lungs.
- Retain the breath for a few seconds.
- The exhale moves in the same direction. Keeping the chest in it’s elevated position, draw in the abdomen, then narrow the rib cage, and finally lower the chest and shoulders.
While the instruction for the complete breath appear to be 3 distinct motions the breath is intended to happen in a smooth, seamless manner. At first, breaking it down into three parts and then putting them together can help teach the breathing musculature their individual parts. But then you want to smoothly integrate the three parts.
Practice, practice, practice. And when you have this down you can move on to the more weird, interesting and esoteric deep breathing exercises.