DIRGA PRANAYAMA: The Three-Part Yogic Breath Explained
Dirga Pranayama is the Sanskrit name for the complete, three-part yogic breath. It's a simple deep breathing technique that requires little training, no difficult positions, and provides immediate benefits such as reduced anxiety and stress, increased relaxation and sense of calmness. This technique is often used at the start of a yoga or meditation session to help you settle into the practice, to focus, be more grounded and present. But it can be done anywhere, any time.
The three parts of breathing that occur in sequence are as follows:
- diaphragmatic breathing (lower lungs) = inhalation by extending the diaphragmatic floor downward, this deep breathing is characterized by an expansion of the abdomen rather than the chest
- thoracic breathing (mid lungs) = extending the walls of the chest outward, bringing air into the lungs using the intercostal muscles, so the ribs seem to expand
- clavicular breathing (upper lungs) = uses the upper lobes of the lungs and occurs when the upper ribs and collar bones are pulled upwards by the muscles of the neck, throat and sternum (this type of breathing is only significant when the maximum amount of air is needed such as during vigorous exercise)
By breathing into all three parts in a conscious and coordinated manner, we are breathing to our maximum capacity. This is the complete, three-part yogic breath: Dirga Pranayama.
PRACTICE DIRGA PRANAYAMA
- Sit comfortably, either in a cross legged position on a cushion or on a straight back chair, with your spine tall and straight but not tense. Gently close your eyes.
- Begin by isolating each part of the breath, repeat each step 10 to 15 times, really noticing how it feels under your hands and in your body:
- place both hands on your belly just above your navel. Feel it expand as you breath into your lower lungs.
- Next move your hands up to either side of your rib case. Feel your rib case expand out to the sides as you breath into your mid lungs.
- Lastly, place your hands on your clavicle bones, those horizontal bones that connect your shoulders to your sternum. Feel them raise slightly as you breath into the very top of your lungs - this will be subtle - you may feel it in your throat.
- Now lets put them all together, breathing like this 10 to 15 times or as long as you can comfortably and without forcing it:
- Keep one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.
- Inhale deeply and completely into your belly, then up into your lower chest, and into your upper chest. You will feel like your are filling your torso from the bottom up.
- Exhale and release the breath from the top of your lungs down through the mid lungs and out your belly
- Return to your normal breathing, noticing how it feels now as you inhale and exhale. Slowly open your eyes and come back into your surroundings.
Now you are ready to begin a yoga or meditation session, or just continue your day with a more peaceful and joyous state of mind.
If you'd like to learn more about your breath and how to better connect with it, you may be interested in this post, INHALE/EXHALE/REPEAT... How to breathe efficiently.
Notes: Best not to try dirga pranayama if you have asthma or other breathing-related difficulties. If you experience dizziness, simply return to your natural breathing.