by Jenny Campbell
If you have been practicing yoga for a while, there is a good chance you have heard the yoga cue to “breathe into your heart.” The verbal assist is meant to energize the inner body of the chest, as well as open the physiological body by making more space in the sternum, widening the collar bones, creating a sense of lightness, promoting good posture, and a developing a feeling of freedom in the upper body. While this verbal cue might sound abstract, it is actually an anatomically sound instruction. When we breathe in, the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle primarily responsible for the act of respiration) contracts downward, creating more space for air entering the body. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes upwards, assisting our bodies in the release of air. This not only allows for our full, deep yoga breathing, but the pumping action of the diaphragm also massages the heart. Therefore, we can literally breathe into our hearts!
Between the winter cold and daily stress, we could all use some self-care techniques in our back pocket. Practice this exercise anytime you need to connect with your breath and de-stress. This pranayama can be practiced in any pose with a long spine and a free abdomen, such as an upright seated position, savasana, or supta baddha konasana.
3-Part Breath (Dirga Swasam Pranayama)
Find your seated or supine pose and bring your attention to your breath. Allow the breath to be continuous as you initiate your inhale from the low belly, lift the breath into the rib cage/diaphragm, and then the chest. Once you reach the top of your inhale and your chest, take a long, continuous exhale, following the same path in reverse. If helpful, you can use your hands to guide your breath as you move up and down the torso.
Inhale: one long breath into the low belly, rib cage, chest
Exhale: one long breath out through the chest, rib cage, low belly
Repeat 5-10 rounds. You may slowly start to lengthen the breath as you feel ready.
- Teaches one to breath fully and deeply
- Can calm and ground the mind
- Can help to decrease stress and anxiety
- Can help one to focus on the present moment
*Proceed with caution with this and all breathing exercises, especially if you have a respiratory condition. As with all pranayama, stop if you feel light headed.