How We Breathe

Most people use only a fraction of their potential lung capacity when breathing. They breathe shallowly, barely expanding the rib cage. Their shoulders are hunched; they have painful tension in the upper part of the back and neck, and they suffer from lack of oxygen.

These people become tired easily and don't know why. Usually these people are not using their diaphragms properly, breathing with only the top or middle of the lungs. There are three basic types of breathing.

Clavicular breathing is the most shallow and worst possible type. The shoulders and collarbone are raised while the abdomen is contracted during inhalation. Maximum effort is made, but a minimum amount of air is obtained. Careful breath control, with the emphasis on exhale, aids relaxation.

Most of us are only half-breathers. We breathe in because we can't help it, but we fail to breathe out completely. The result is that we sigh a lot, a sign of our need to exhale. The sigh is nature's way of deflating the lungs when we have neglected the breathing apparatus long enough. Normally, we breathe without apparent effort -about eighteen times a minute, 1,080 times an hour, 25,290 times a day. The more air exhaled, the more we can breathe in.

Controlling the mind is not possible without controlling the prana, as the two are intimately connected. We can easily see this connection if we observe the breath of a person engaged in deep thinking or meditation. The breathing will be slow or, in some cases, suspended altogether. Alternatively, when the mind is affected by negative emotions, it will be seen that the breathing becomes irregular and unsteady. These observations strongly indicate the interdependence and interaction of prana and mind.

Real breath control means controlling the way we exhale, not the way we inhale. Energy is best renewed by the orderly release of breath, not by strenuously pumping the lungs full of air.

Breath is life. We can live for days without food or water, but deprive us of breath and we die in minutes. In view of this, it is astonishing how little attention we pay in normal life to the importance of breathing correctly. To a yogi there are two main functions of proper breathing: to bring more oxygen to the blood and thus to the brain; and to control prana or vital energy (see p. 68), leading to control of the mind. Pranayama - the science of breath control - consists of a series of exercises especially intended to meet these needs and keep the body in vibrant health. There are three basic types of breathing - clavicular (shallow), intercostal (middle) and abdominal breathing (deep). A full yogic breath combines all three, beginning with a deep breath and continuing the inhalation through the intercostal and clavicular areas. Most people have forgotten how to breathe properly. They breathe shallowly, through the mouth and make little or no use of the diaphragm - either lifting the shoulders or contracting the abdomen when they inhale. In this way, only a small amount of oxygen is taken in and only the top of the lungs used, resulting in lack of vitality and low resistance to disease. The practice of yoga demands that you reverse these habits. Breathing correctly means breathing through the nose, keeping the mouth closed, and involves a full inhalation and exhalation which bring the whole of your lungs into play. When you exhale, the abdomen contracts and the diaphragm moves up, massaging the heart, when you inhale, the abdomen expands and the diaphragm moves down, massaging the abdominal organs Just as there are three stages for an asana p. 29). so in pranayama there are three parts to each breath ~ inhalation, retention, and exhalation. People often think of inhalation as the most essential stage of breathing but in fact it is exhalation that holds the key. For the more stale air you exhale, the more fresh air you can inhale (see _p. 183). The yogic breathing exercises lay special emphasis on a prolonged retention and exhalation —indeed in some exercises the outbreath Is twice as long as the inbreath, and the retention four times as long.