Breathing is a remarkable thing. It’s the rhythm of life, and yet it’s easy to forget it’s even happening. For those who know how to listen, breathing can function as a quick-result wellness check. Shallow, deep, labored, even, rapid, slow…every pattern signifies a different state of being.
I’d like to share two special breathing patterns with you today. Exercises like this require concentration and a deliberate use of certain muscles and rhythms. Each exercise sends a different signal to the body: the Long Deep Breath soothes your system, while the Breath of Fire launches it into a high-energy state. Both breaths can be incredibly useful as stress management tools, energy boosters, and simple methods for getting more in touch with your body.
In both cases, please read through the directions thoroughly before practicing them. And if these breaths look like something that might upset your system, by all means skip them! But take time to think about the act of breathing more often. To learn more about the physiology behind these breathing exercises, I recommend Kundalini.org’s summary.
The Long Deep Breath
Lie flat, or sit on the floor cross-legged, or sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
Lengthen the spine.
Take a breath in through your nose, slowly and consciously.
Move your belly outward as you inhale. This motion will automatically draw the diaphragm down, providing deep breathing instead of shallow breathing. (Your diaphragm is a powerful wall of muscle, and as it moves down, it stretches the bottom of your lungs with it, thereby pulling air into the bottom of your lungs like a bellow.)
Allow your bottom ribs to expand first, and then expand the upper ribs to get the deepest breath possible. This may sound simple, but it can be quite challenging!
Exhale by slowly bringing your belly towards your spine. This pushes your diaphragm up, and forces air out.
Repeat with an inhale, creating a slow, deliberate push-pull cycle.
Perform the Long Deep Breath 5-6 times and then return to normal breathing. Close your eyes and notice the shifts in the mind, body and spirit.
Don’t force the process and be patient with your progress. Just like any muscle you will get stronger as your practice develops and you will have more ability to breathe deeply.
For visual learners, this video from Expert Village will be helpful.
The Breath of Fire
Do not perform the breath of fire if you are in the first three days of menstruation or pregnant.
Sit on the floor cross-legged with your spine straight. Touch your forefingers to your thumbs, extend your other fingers, and rest them palm-up on your knees with your arms straight. Close your eyes.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, stretching your belly as you inhale, as with the Long Deep Breath. When the lungs are completely expanded, immediately pull your core muscles in, spine arches, palms pressing against your legs, to force the air out of your lungs.
Just as quickly, fill your lungs again. You want to achieve a rapid in-out motion for the air, with your diaphragm and core muscles doing the work. Think of your lungs functioning like bellows for a furnace. Keep going faster until you achieve a natural, even rhythm.
Perform the Breath of Fire for one minute.
Don’t be afraid of being noisy! This is a wildly active breathing exercise.
Conclude with six slow, deep breaths. Lengthen your spine and clench your core muscles.
If you’d like to see it performed, watch this video from Wahe Guru Yoga.