It is one of the most common activities around the world, and I can confidently say we have all done, are doing it, and probably will keep doing it for some time to come: breathe. Many different (interestingly enough, mostly Eastern) traditions have devoted considerable time of study to breathing, how it affects us, and what are the best ways to utilize it. “In-then-out” seems to be quite straightforward, yet the subtleties are actually quite amazing, and once you start to learn about them, things do change….
Recently I came across a book written in the late 60s about Hindu-Yogi breathing techniques. Basically, they don’t like mouth breathing. I say “don’t like”, when really the chapters very quickly culminate with calling it the “disgusting habit of mouth breathing”. They firmly believe that breathing through the mouth lets in all sorts of disease and sickness, and is at the root of many many problems in the Western society. So, the first task is to become aware of your breathing, and breath through your nose.
So far, so good. Now, I am breathing through my nose. Excellent…was that it?! NO! That is just the beginning of a oxygenated wonderland of ideas. Next is the idea of the “complete breath”. Now why would they call it that? Well, if you watch enough people and pay some attention to yourself, you will notice that there are several different ways people generally manage their intake of oxygen. Some breath very high in their chest, some breath mostly in the area of the solar plexus, and then there are people who breath using the abdomen (NLPers out there should find this to be familiar territory so far….VAK ring any bells?). While we are usually taught to use “belly breathing”, as the best form, when you think about it, it actually does not fill up your entire lungs. It does make use of the most space from all three types, but try it out and notice if there is space left….
This is where the idea of a complete breath comes in: it combines all three of the aforementioned ways of breathing, to pump your lungs all the way up with oxygen. Interested?
Here is how it works:
- Breathing in through your nose, first fill the bottom of your lungs, using your diaphragm (as it goes down, it pushes your abdomen out and tada…).
- Next, by pushing out the flying ribs, chest and breast-bone, fill the middle part of your lungs
- Then, by lifting your chest and slightly pulling in your abdomen, fill the upper part of your lungs with air.
- Hold this for a few seconds, then release (through the nose), first the abdomen while keeping your chest in the same place. Once the air is completely exhaled, relax your chest
Now, at the beginning this seems like quite a weird motion, and will take some practice until you get it right. This then forms the basis for a whole host of breathing and breath exercises that are fabulous and very interesting as well. From strengthening lungs and muscles to energizing yourself, the sky really seems to be the limit.
At first, I was a touch skeptical about all this. It seemed like an interesting exercise, but really, I know singers and individuals who train their voices, breath a lot through their mouth and stomach. Yet, after a couple of weeks of continuously practicing, I do have to say, this stuff is amazing. I can only heartily recommend it to everyone, at least giving it a shot and noticing the effects it has. As with anything, sooner or later it becomes second nature, and your natural breathing switches to using a (smaller) form of this complete breath!
“In-and-out”…well, I am only just beginning my journey into the art of breathing right, and next up for me is the “rhythmic breath”. It sounds as interesting as the effects are, and I shall let you know how things are progressing from there….