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FULL BREATH EXERCISES / 360° BREATHING

You can do this type of breathing anywhere – sitting down, reclining, in a car, standing on line, walking about. However, if you are new to this breathing, it’s best that you consciously pay attention to the steps until they become second nature. You may find eventually that in a stressful situation, you will go to this full breath to relax. But at first, it’s best to stop other activities to take this breath break.

Position your body

Sit in a chair, cross-legged on a cushion, or (best for this beginning practice), lying down, arms at the side, palms facing up feet uncrossed. This is called the Corpse or Shavasana pose (shavas meaning corpse in sanskrit).

If this is new to you, you may want to start the breath with your eyes closed, in order to shut out visual distractions and focus just on the movement of air in your body. Eventually you will want to open your eyes, aware of your environment to allow this type of breath to integrate into your waking, walking, working life. Integration accentuates the yogic background of this breath, as yoga means “union” and the ability to be in union with oneself, the Divine (however you term that), and the external world.

Three parts of the full yogic breath:

1) Abdominal breathing

Observe your natural breath. You will notice that as you inhale the abdomen rises and then falls with exhalation. Watch this for a few moments to check this flow, then deepen, lengthen and extend these movements.

  • place one hand on abdomen below the navel

  • start with the exhale and completely void all air from your lungs, exhaling through the mouth. Using your hand, gently push the last bit of air out of your lungs and body.

  • Inhale through the nose, lifting your abdomen (which will lift your hand) to its utmost position. Only breathe into the abdomen, the chest is not involved yet.

  • Continue with this for a few breath cycles or so and then stop.

2) Middle Chest breathing

Again observe your normal breath, this time focusing your attention on the middle chest, the ribcage area. You will notice this part of the chest moving slightly up at inhalation and down with exhalation. Again observe this pattern for a few moments. Now again, begin to deepen, lengthen and extend your breath.

  • cross your arms over your chest and place hands around ribcage

  • again, starting with the extended exhale, relax and contract the ribcage, emptying out the chest and lungs completely. Use your hands gently to release extra air.

  • inhale, expanding the ribcage to its limit

  • In this step, keep the abdomen still, moving only the middle chest. Do this for a few breath cycles and then stop

3) Upper Chest breathing

  • place one hand on upper chest

  • again, starting with the extended exhale, relax and contract the upper chest, emptying out the lungs completely.

  • inhale, expanding the upper chest to its limitIn this step, keep the abdomen and the ribcage still, moving only the upper chest. This is a shallow breath, but the purpose of it is to familiarize yourself with the various degrees of breathing. Don’t worry about “getting it right”, just focus on the intention of breathing into the upper chest only. Do this for a few breath cycles and then stop.

IMPORTANT NOTE: All of the above steps should be done in a relaxed,with no straining. This is free-flowing, effortless, wu wei (action through inaction) method of breathing. At first this breath may be mechanical, filled with bumps, pauses and uneven movement. Stay with it, as you visualize a wave like pattern expanding and contracting. You are aspiring to minimum effort with maximum rewards.

FULL YOGIC BREATH

This is a continued movement of the three parts above:

  • Slowly exhaling, relax and contract abdomen, then ribcage, then raise upper chest.

  • Slowly inhaling, expand abdomen, then ribcage, then raise upper chest

  • The full breath is one continuous flow of air, qi, oxygen and movement. Repeat slowly, steadily, consciously.

360 DEGREE BREATHING

This is a simple, but powerful, extension of the Full Yogic Breaths, above.

  • As all three areas are expanding (Abdomen, Middle Chest, Upper Chest), pay attention to the pleura of the lung which continue down the back of the spine to our low back. Feel them inflate with air, like balloons expanding.

  • Imagine every part of your body expanding as well: the head, neck and shoulders, arms and hands, chest, pelvis, legs and feet.

  • On a cellular level, imagine every cell expanding as well, filling with oxygen.

In Chinese medicine, our first breath connects us to Heavenly Qi Energy and continues until we take our last breath. Qi flows through our body in inner pathways called meridians. By controlling our breath and ensuring that every part of our body expands, oxygen, qi and blood move effortlessly and continuously. Blockages which result in pain – on a body, mind and spirit level – can be moved by this free flow.