Nothing is as important as our breath and the way we breathe. It is magical and that is why Yoga stresses on Pranayama and integrates breathing with movement. Yet many of us pay scant attention to our breath.There are three types of breathing, according to Yoga Vasistha by Patanjali Maharshi, the authentic text that all Yoga practitioners swear by.
The first one is the “upper” or “shallow” or the Clavicular breathing in which we use the shoulder blades and collar bone to inhale the shallowest breath. Though maximum effort is taken, minimum air is obtained. So it hardly sends in the required oxygen to the circulatory system and thus we are in permanent oxygen debt. The result is stress, strain and the resulting fatigue. It makes us feel breathless like when we climb up a flight of steps.
The “middle” or “chest” or the Intercostal breathing, the second kind, is mostly the everyday kind of breathing we do. In this kind of breathing we expand the Intercostal muscles which in turn move the rib cage. Though better than the first kind, this too is not enough to give us ample supply of vital oxygen. However, it keeps us alive and functioning. Each time our blood oxygen levels are low, we take in an extra breath to compensate.
The “lower” or “abdominal” or the Diaphragmatic breathing, the third kind is the most desirable, cleansing breath of all. Deep abdominal breathing is the most ideal because it brings air into the lower parts of the lungs. It helps us breathe deeply and slowly, pushing down the diaphragm. A breeze is not able to blow away the accumulated dust in the nooks and corners of a room. However a strong gush of wind can accomplish this. Similarly, through abdominal breathing all the dust, bacteria and carbon dioxide that remains in the lower part of the lungs are pushed out – hence the cleansing effect. When you breathe this way your belly will expand and contract like a balloon. When you blow air in, the balloon expands and when you release the air, it contracts.
We need to consciously breathe deeply so that our energy barometer shows the vibrancy and vitality of our life. And as we deepen the quality of our breath, we deepen the quality of our life as well. Exhalation is much more important than inhalation as it enables proper elimination of carbon dioxide from the blood into the lungs and from the lungs into the atmosphere. Let’s start observing our breath. How is it – strained, shallow, short, sluggish, rhythmic, gentle or slow? Let’s learn the difference between it all – for each has its place!