Yogic breathing, in its simplest form, is a focused and controlled way of breathing that helps to expand lung capacity, increase oxygen circulation, and improve a person's overall sense of physical and spiritual well-being. There are three basic steps to beginning yogic breathing; abdominal or lower breathing, chest or upper breathing, and a full yogic breath. By themselves, these simple breathing exercises can have many positive benefits, including lowering stress levels, improving sleep, increasing lung capacity, and raising energy levels. They are also the first step in learning the more advanced breathing techniques of yoga, often called pranayama.
To begin yogic breathing, the person should lie down with his head, neck, and spine in a straight line, feeling loose and relaxed. He should close his eyes and release the tension in the muscles of his face, head, neck, and shoulders. Then he should take a few moments to observe his normal breathing and calm his mind. The person should try to let go of any distracting thoughts and simply focus his attention on his breathing.
Next, he should bring his attention to his navel for the lower breathing exercises. Inhaling through the nose, he should fill the lower part of his belly with air. It may be helpful to place the hands on the abdomen, so that the person can feel the rising and falling motion as he practices. He should fill the abdomen to full capacity, and then exhale slowly through the nose. Emptying the belly completely on each exhale, he should repeat the process for a few breaths.
For chest or thoracic breathing, the upper part of the lungs are the focus of concentration. He should breathe in deeply through the nose, opening the chest and ribcage as the person fills his lungs. The person should keep the abdomen still and focus on feeling the chest and ribcage rise with each breath. Exhaling slowly through the nose, he should allow his chest to sink into the floor and empty the lungs completely. The person should practice chest breathing for a few breaths, keeping the rest of the body relaxed.
For a full yogic breath, the person will combine abdominal and chest breathing in one smooth, continuous motion. Inhaling through his nose, the person should start by filling the abdomen. As part of the same inhalation, the ribs and chest should then be expanded, filling the lungs in an upward motion.
The breath is released in reverse order, emptying the chest first, then the ribcage, then the abdomen. The body should be allowed to sink back down as the lungs are emptied completely. The full yogic breath should be repeated several times; the person should focus on keeping the motion of the breath smooth and relaxed.
Yogic breathing techniques have many benefits as a person continues to practice them. Simply focusing on breathing and calming the mind will reduce a person's stress levels and lower blood pressure. Deep, focused breathing delivers more oxygen to the lungs and cells, and it increases lung capacity over time. Yogic breathing is also an excellent way to prepare the mind and body for meditation, as well as for more advanced yoga exercises.