Deep Breathing Techniques,
Lesson 5 of 6
Over the last four articles, we’ve deconstructed deep breathing techniques to activate various parts of the body. If you’ve been practising, it’s now time to integrate everything into one whole, spherical breath for the most effective and powerful potential health benefits.
Photo by Em Morley Photography
Activating the Top of the Lungs
Most people only breathe into the middle-front of their lungs and therefore have a very restricted breathing capacity. That’s precisely why we’ve built up the progression, developing the ability breathe deeply by activating the bottom of the lungs and the sides and back of the body (see the first lesson in this five-part series to begin the deep breathing process). Now, we’ll turn our intent and focus to the very top of the lungs.
When you inflate the top of the lungs with air, you must do so in a smooth and continuous way since it drives blood up into the brain. You don’t want force it as any strain in the body whatsoever will be counterproductive. Again, always adhere to the Rule of Thirds and never exceed two-thirds of your ability in body or mind. And, when developing your skill in breathing to the top of your lungs, I highly recommend backing off to half or one-third of your maximum effort to ensure safest training practices.
Downward Motion Creates Upward Motion
The out-breath should be long and slow, fostering a sense of well-being and relaxation, which naturally drains blood out of the brain and into the body. When trying to open the top of the lungs, most people cut off their belly breathing. You don’t want to employ this methodology as it is in fact the downward pressure of the diaphragm that creates an upward pressure in the lungs. An ancient Chinese dictum states: The down causes the up.
So begin with a small breath, gently engaging the diaphragm and belly, and relax into the in- and out-breath. Next, increase the depth of your breath by descending the diaphragm just that bit more while simultaneously filling the lungs a bit more than before. The deeper you go into your belly, the higher you can go into your lungs.
Gradually deepen your breathing, so your body and nerves remain calm and relaxed, until the top of the lungs slowly begin to open and fill with air.
Spherical Breathing Practice
After you have the hang of opening the top of your lungs, you can begin looking to create a spherical breath. Again, you want to balance the up and down (of the diaphragm), but now you’ll activate all three planes of motion: up-down, front-back and left-right.
Start by breathing in and, as soon as you engage the diaphragm, inflate your body from the diaphragm out in all directions. You can think of opening your body in the same manner as you would blow up a balloon. Of course, the chest does not rise or expand forward, but the rest of your body expands outwards.
Again, start with a small and slow breath and make it bigger by increasing the internal-external expansion of your body. Rigidity and force will elicit the stress response, so take your time, move slowly and smoothly transition into progressively deeper breathing.
Contact Your Body with Your Mind
Your mind must contact all parts of your breath, including your belly, midriff, lower back, sides, middle and upper back, and top of the lungs. Keep your mind present to all parts during your breathing practice and look for balanced movement amongst all parts. If one piece is weak or lacking in some way, remain at that depth or size of the sphere and gradually encourage that part to increase. When the balance is redressed, then go back to focusing on increasing the sphere as a whole.
At some point, you will notice that you either have reached your maximum output, or as you try to increase the sphere, internal pressure will quickly rear its ugly head. This is a signal to back off as too much pressure will tighten the nerves. You can think of it as a safety mechanism and heed the warning, rather than as an obstacle that must be overcome with a push and win mentality.
All Breathing Techniques are about Fostering Relaxation
Regardless of the breathing technique you practice, keep your effort well under your maximum capacity (i.e. two-thirds of your ability). This will prevent damage and soften your body through releasing the nerves and slowly allowing the body to unfurl.
The out-breath in particular is capable of triggering deep relaxation if you exhale in a smooth, slow and continuous fashion. A well-executed out-breath can soften the nerves, release blood and energy out of the brain and allow your breathing to increase in depth and benefit.