Feeling anxious, stressed, or even just a little short of breath? Practice this simple technique and breathe your way to a more grounded and relaxed state of awareness.
How is your breath right now? Is it deep or shallow? Long or short? Labored or at ease?
On average, we take 16 breaths per minute, each one a little different from the last. Of these 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths per day, how many are you aware of? Chances are, very few.
Thankfully, breathing is a mechanism that takes no thought. Our bodies breathe life into us every moment, requiring neither awareness nor effort. And yet, connecting mind and breath incites profound change – both physiologically and mentally.
Ineffective Breathing vs. Diaphragmatic Breath
Ineffective breathing is endemic to the modern world, compounded by poor posture and the stresses and strains of contemporary living. Many people get into the habit of shallow chest breathing, in which very little air reaches the lower chest. As a result, the blood vessels do not receive enough oxygen, creating strain on the heart and lungs.
Dirgha Pranayama is a diaphragmatic breath that uses the abdomen and diaphragm, and chest to allow a deeper inhale and a more complete exhale. When the lungs have space to expand to their total capacity, oxygen supply is increased, allowing more tasty nourishment to reach your hungry cells.
In addition to improving respiration, the diaphragmatic movement involved in Three-Part-Breath also strengthens the diaphragm and surrounding abdominal muscles. With regular practice, the development of muscle memory will enable you to take fuller, more complete breaths, even when your body is on auto-pilot.
Calming the Nervous System and the Mind
Several studies have shown that pranayama breathing exercises not only improve lung and cardiovascular function but that there is a direct relationship between breath rate and autonomic nervous system state; whether or not our body is in fight-or-flight or rest-and-digest mode can be determined in part by our breath. Three-Part-Breath kick-starts the parasympathetic nervous system and relaxation response, which helps lower heart rate, facilitate digestion and relax the muscles.
Just as it calms the nervous system, Dirgha Pranayama is particularly effective at calming the mind. It's widely known that our breath changes in response to emotion. Have you ever had the sudden realization that you were holding your breath at work or when you were performing a challenging task? How about those shallow and rapid breaths that accompany anxiety or long gasps inhaled in shock? We have felt how our breath changes when our feelings change.
The deep, rhythmic motion and focus required for Three-Part-Breath is meditation in its simplest form. The mind is navigated away from preoccupations with the past and worries about the future, concentrating only on the present moment, the present breath, and the feeling of it coming and going in the body.
How to Do 3 Part Breath
Here's how to do it.
Part One: Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand softly as the breath moves into your lungs. Then exhale through your nose, tightening your abdominal muscles and drawing your belly button to the spine, allowing as much air as possible to escape from your lungs.
Part Two: Much the same, with an added step. Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand, and then allow the breath to expand your rib cage as well. When you exhale through the nose, squeeze the air out of your rib cage and belly until they're empty.
Part Three: Take it a step farther. Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand as the breath moves into your lungs and rib cage, and then invite the breath into your upper chest, to your pectoral muscles and clavicle. Then exhale fully.
Tip: If you wish, you can place your hands on your body to mindfully connect to each spot in your body as you breathe and increase the felt sensation of the breath. For part one, place your hands on your belly. Part 2, place your hands on the side of your ribs, and for part 3, place one hand over your abdomen and one over your heart.