Full Yogic Breathing
The Essential Technique of Yogic Pranayama- Full Yogic Breathing
There are a multitude of ways to share the pranayama practice of full yogic breathing and even smaller or larger ways that we can dissect this process to solicit different effects.
The first step is to find a pleasant or comfortable environment to practice, where the temperature is suitable and you are free from distraction. In general it is also useful to practice on an empty stomach. Get situated comfortably in a reclined or seated position. It is easiest to begin a full yogic breathing practice by first simply scanning your body from the toes to the top of the head. This will assist in stabilizing and possibly lengthening your resting breath. It also helps get the body situated even more comfortably, whether reclined or seated. Awareness is provided through biofeedback about any micro or macro adjustments we may need to make to find ourselves physically the most comfortable and relaxed we can be at that given moment.
The purpose of this exercise is vast and more thoroughly investigated in our asana or pranayama courses; but committing to a few minutes each day can offer significant benefits toward our physical and mental awareness and wellbeing.
Essentially, full yogic breathing entails a complete exhalation and a complete inhalation.
Initially, this practice is experienced quite differently for everybody. We actually get “better” at these phases of breathing over time. That said, there is no wrong or right way to breathe, simply different ways which solicit different effects on the physical structure of our body, our physiology and on our mind. When we practice any breathing technique, our intention should always be humble and gentle. Persuading the breath or our respiratory muscles without excess force physically or mentally. Observe and subtly shift your approach each round as you assess and learn. This subtlety of awareness is necessary throughout each breathing cycle and for each practice. It doesn’t matter how many times you have done it.
A complete yogic exhalation means releasing all the air from your lungs that you comfortably can without strain.
This eventually results in all the muscles of the abdominal wall engaging, drawing the navel inwards the spine. This manner of complete exhalation (rechaka in yogic terms) keeps the chest lifted throughout the exhalation, which helps to maintain an upright posture and move energy differently than in other forms of exhalation, such as when the chest may deflate first. Try it out for yourself and notice the subtle or not so subtle difference.
As you continue to practice focusing on the exhalation, attend to the smoothness of the exhalation at the beginning, middle and end of the breathing phase. Smooth out the edges, so there is no swiftness at the beginning and no gasping for air upon completion; just a gentle exchange of pressure as you patiently watch and wait for the air to be released.
Useful to note, in full yogic breathing we are only exhaling through the nostrils, not through the mouth. Only extend the length of your exhalation as feels natural and is within your capacity. This means no strain throughout the breath phase. No gasping for air, no stress physically or mentally during or after the practice.
As we gradually release the muscles previously engaged, our diaphragm gently draws downward, our ribs expand and we continue into the next breath phase, the inhalation, known in yogic terms as puraka.
According to yogic theory, a full inhalation is not accessible if rechaka — a complete exhalation — has not preceded it.
If you notice how much air often remains in the lungs after an exhalation during a resting breath throughout your daily life, it is easy to see how our inhalations may not fully ventilate our lungs with the same efficacy and vigor that this practice offers us to experience and consider.
When focusing on inhalation, as you begin, immediately bring your awareness to the base of your pelvis and allow the inhalation to begin from there and expand upward, through the region of the navel, region of the heart, to the upper lobes of the lungs around the collar bones. Fill your entire torso with the positive pressure of your breath. Do not allow any pressure to move beyond the collar bone into the face or head.
Of course we cannot literally breathe air into our pelvis or abdomen; however this focus allows the diaphragm to descend slowly and deeply.
Ideally during a seated complete inhalation, the lower abdomen, the area beneath the navel, remains firm, supports the torso and allows us to breathe into our lower ribcage. The upper abdomen remains soft, enabling the diaphragm to descend freely. This allows the length of the inhalation to extend, easily filling our lungs as much as possible without strain.
The emphasis on gentleness is very important. We should build up our capacity gradually without force.
On a physical level, there are likely areas of our lungs and respiratory muscles we underuse and through our practices we don’t want to injure ourselves, make ourselves sick or create new patterns of suffering in any way.
Pranayama is a lifelong practice that is transformative in powerful and subtle ways, it should be enjoyed and can be of immense service throughout the seasons of life when approached with an attitude of humility and dedicated focus.
You can practice each breath phase separately, emphasizing exhalation or inhalation, to assess the subtleties and get comfortable with each phase before bringing them together as one practice. Such a practice might look like this: Focus on Exhalation for 6 rounds; breath naturally for a minute or two until the breath reflects its resting countenance. Then, focus on inhalation for 6 rounds; breathe naturally and repeat for up to five minutes.
When uniting both phases, five minutes is a suitable goal, working up to ten or fifteen gradually. Before extending session length, it is recommended that you work on mastering the subtleties you have noticed about your patterns of breathing. Do both the inhalation and exhalation feel and sound smooth? Is the duration approximately equal? Are you feeling tense anywhere in your body, especially anywhere around the throat or in facial muscles? Is your posture comfortable? Do you feel mentally content during and after your practice?
After your session, it is always useful to hold space for your resting breath to occur. Refrain from any conscious breathing technique and observe your breath. Scan your body from your toes to the crown of your head. Then savasana, recline symmetrically with eyes closed for a few minutes.
To summarize a Full Yogic Breathing practice:
-Practice on an empty stomach
-Find a suitable place to practice, seated or reclined
-Commit to honoring your personal capacity for practice on this day
-Scan the body
-6 rounds focused exhalation, break; 6 rounds focused inhalation, break; or
-Build up to five minutes unifying concentration between both breath phases
-Scan the body
There are many subtleties and considerations to pranayama or yogic breathwork. The practice is a vast topic amidst the scaffolding of many other yogic practices. If you have any questions or are interested in investigating these topics of practice more thoroughly, please reach out and contact us through the website about individual consultations or review our online course offerings.