Very often, during a yoga class we hear the instruction “take a deep breath”. In our daily life also, when we experience moments of stress and anxiety, we again hear people recommending us to “take deep breaths”. But what does this really mean? …

First we will need to consider the process of breathing.

If we look a little more closely at the mechanism of breathing, we notice that it is actually exhalation that actually causes inhalation. During an inhalation, the diaphragm, the large muscle that separates the chest cavity and lungs from the abdominal area, contracts downwards, effectively creating a vacuum in the lungs. It is this void that inhalation comes to fill, because as a Latin proverb says, “nature abhors voids.” In other words, the deeper we exhale, the deeper we can inhale

In order to “take” a deep breath, it is important that there is space inside you, which means that you will first need to empty the lungs, that is, exhale deeply. Most people, however, breathe mainly from the chest and this limits the range of motion of the lungs during breathing.

This lack of body movement does not allow the lungs to breathe out enough, it does give us enough air to survive, but the process of breathing is limited and not as beneficial as it could be.

Usually, we don’t pay enough attention to exhalation, because in our minds we have associated the breathing process mainly with inhalation. From another point of view, inhaling is associated with “taking” and exhaling with “giving”. Does the deficit way many people breathe today reflect their psychological state and deeper needs? That is, they focus mainly on their need to “take” (inhale) rather than how to “give” (exhale).

How can we change this?

Since as we have seen exhalation is the key to a deep breath, the question that arises is how to cultivate a deeper exhalation?

Quite simply, we need to increase the range of motion of the diaphragm to exhale deeply, so that a richer inhalation follows.

One way to accomplish this is to release the built-up tension from the diaphragm that may materialize as a knot or tightness in the abdomen and become more aware of its movement.

You can rest your palms on the navel area to feel more of the movement that happens in the body when you breathe. Notice that even if the movement is small and brief, then you can use the following technique to help you become more aware of the breathing process and improve the way you breathe.

Diaphragm Release Technique.

Lie on your back on the ground, place one palm loosely on the side of the chest and the other on the abdomen at the level of the navel. Take a deep inhale and exhale deeply, relax your shoulders, shoulder blades and entire back to release tension.

Then take a slow inhale and notice the navel rising up. When you finish inhaling, take a very short pause for 1-2 seconds. Then continue with a slow exhalation, letting the navel drop back down.

Pause again and repeat, paying attention to the movement that occurs in your diaphragm and navel. When the navel moves more and the chest less, then you breathe deeply and the diaphragm works in its full range, without tension.

It may seem difficult at first if for a long time you have been used to breathing incorrectly by restricting body movement. This technique may still be a completely new sensation for you, but with frequent repetition you can master the full exhalation using the diaphragm, quite naturally and effortlessly.

Also notice if deep exhalation helps your body to calm down, your heart rate slows down and how it allows you to take really rich and beneficial breaths.

I would also suggest to those practicing yoga to pay more attention to exhalation during asanas, appreciating its important role when we need to “take a deep breath”. Remember that exhalation is as important as inhalation because without the former there cannot be the latter.

In the end you will find that this creates an inner balance and peace for you. At first it is the body that breathes harmoniously and balanced, but soon the mind also follows the constant calmness of the body. Something we all need in this fast paced and stressful life we live:

“When the breath is unsteady, the mind wanders,

but when the breath is steady and calm, so is the mind.”

~ Hatha Yoga Pradipika ~

Have fun with love!

Christos Krishna