A continuation of last week’s introduction to “belly breathing”, applying the four-part yogic breath to your mediation and asana practice is a fantastic way to journey deeper into the inner-body. Once you have connected with your belly-breath, you may choose to incorporate this more-advanced breathing technique.
Best performed in stationary positions or used as part of your mediation practice, four-part yogic breathing builds on the foundations of belly breathing. As the name suggests, your inhalation will now be broken down into four areas, inviting conscious breath into parts of your lungs that are often unused. The four areas involved are the lower abdominal, upper abdominal, side ribs, and upper back.
Begin by taking a sip of air into your lower abdominal, a tiny portion of air is all that is needed to fill this space. As you feel the lower abdominal expand, let the air fill your upper abdominal. You’re halfway there. Keeping the inhalation constant, allow your side ribs to expand; the ribcage will widen and swell horizontally. Finally, still with the same breath, feel the upper back broaden as oxygen fills the top of your lungs and you reach respiratory capacity.
If implementing a kumbhaka (breath retention) practice, hold your breath at the top for a count of four. Now reverse the process. Exhale slowly and steadily, first releasing air from your upper back, then side ribs, followed by the upper abdominal, and finishing with the emptying of your lower abdominal. Once the exhalation is complete, you may add an optional count of four before beginning your next inhalation. This is a complete four-part breath technique: four areas of breathing with four sections comprised of aerobic respiration and retention.
The four-part breathing method improves your quality of breath and the quality of your practice. You will breathe more deeply, and more naturally, as this technique becomes second nature.
My teacher reconstructed the way I approached yoga, from a student and instructor perspective, when he said, “If I don’t get you into a meaningful breathing pattern by the end of class, I have failed as a yoga teacher.”
Be mindful of this the next time you take a yoga class. Is the teacher establishing a breath pattern, or simply moving you through postures?
The difference, it turns out, makes all the difference in the world.