The Mechanics of Yogic Breathing

Most people are either shallow chest breathers or shallow belly breathers. Yogic breathing incorporates a complete breath that expands both the chest and the abdomen on inhalation either from the chest down or the abdomen up. Both are valid techniques. (Figures 5-2 and 5-3 later in the chapter show you each of these techniques.)

^ Yogic breathing involves breathing much more deeply than usual, which in turn brings more oxygen into your system. Don't be surprised if you feel a ir^ll little lightheaded or even dizzy in the beginning. If this situation happens during your Yoga practice, just rest for a few minutes or lie down until you feel like proceeding. Remind yourself that you don't need to rush.

Some Yoga practitioners think that you can breathe into parts of the body other than the lungs. Not so. You inhale the breath through either your nose or mouth, and it then expands into the lungs. You may perceive that the breath is moving up and down throughout the body, but you're actually feeling muscle contraction. Any suggestion of an up or down movement of the breath is due entirely to the sequence of your muscular control and the flow of your attention.

In both chest and abdominal breathing, the abdomen draws in on exhalation. From a mechanical standpoint, Yogic breathing moves the spine and works the muscles and organs of respiration, which primarily include the diaphragm, intercostal (between the ribs) and abdominal muscles, and the lungs and heart. The diaphragm pulls down when it contracts, which creates more space for the lungs during inhalation. The chest noticeably widens. When the diaphragm relaxes it moves back into its upward curve, forcing the air out of the lungs.

The diaphragm is a vaulted muscle sheath that separates the lungs and heart from the stomach, liver, kidneys, and other abdominal organs. It's attached all around the lower border of the rib cage and, by a pair of powerful muscles, to the first through fourth lumbar vertebrae. The diaphragm and the chest muscles activate the lungs, which don't have muscles.

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