Summary: This breathing technique is done with long, slow, deep breaths while focusing on the lower, mid, and upper portions of your chest. This allows for the fullest breathing possible and will improve respiration, circulation, and even digestion. The complete breath will soothe your frazzled nerves, clear your mind, and will replenish your life force.
Controlling the volume, duration, and frequency of the inhalation, the exhalation, and the pauses between each breath enhances prana, the energy that supports and sustains the life force. Breathing becomes slow and refined.
Yoga Sutra 2.50
How to practice the complete yogic breath / Dirgha breathing
Either come into a comfortable seated position with your spine erect or lie on your back. It is easier to learn this while lying on your back.
Breathing through your nose is optimal because it prepares the air for the lungs by filtering, warming, and moistening it. However, if your nose is blocked, breathe through your mouth to the degree that it is necessary.
Begin with a full exhalation to expel stale air and carbon dioxide and make room for a full, deep inhalation. A slow and complete exhalation also activates the relaxation response. When exhaling, allow the breath to flow out of the lungs in the most relaxed and natural way. Just before the end of the exhalation, contract the abdominal muscles slightly to squeeze more residual air out of the lungs and to empty them more completely.
Take time to fill your torso completely while inhaling. To do so, first, relax and release the abdomen. Feel the muscles in the abdominal region expand as the air comes in. Continue inhaling, while expanding the lower chest and ribs and then the upper chest until the collarbones rise slightly. Feel each section expanding naturally in a wave-like motion from the bottom to the top. If it is hard for you to feel this, watch it happen.
Continue breathing deeply while keeping the rest of your body relaxed. Let your breathing be smooth, even, and uninterrupted. After you are accustomed to breathing fully and completely, practice regulating your breath so your inhalation and your exhalation are equal in duration. In other words, breathe into the count of four and breathe out to the count of four (om one, om two, etc.). This is called a 1:1 ratio. When this is easy and natural for you, start lengthening the exhalation to activate the relaxation response. This is done by breathing into the count of four and breathing out to the count of eight. This is called a 1:2 ratio. Remember not to strain or struggle.
Practice the complete breath frequently throughout the day. Doing so will improve your lung capacity and will reward you with the gifts of mindfulness.
If you notice feeling lightheaded or dizzy, lessen your effort until these sensations pass, then try again. Your system is probably not used to this new ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide yet. If you feel the need to gasp for air while breathing, you are trying too hard. Let the air stream flow easily and fully.
Please note that it is important that your abdominal muscles expand and inflate while inhaling. This is due to the action of the respiratory diaphragm as it raises and lowers during breathing; therefore, there is no need to purposefully or mechanically use your abdominal muscles to inhale. Just watch a baby breathe and you will see this happen. This is the correct way to breathe and it will optimize all the benefits of respiration.
You are a reverse breather if you feel your belly pull in while inhaling and you are urged to make every effort to correct this faulty breathing pattern. Allowing the belly to expand rather than pull in when inhaling can change this pattern. Reverse breathers are prone to chronic tension in the upper body, especially around the jaw, neck, upper back, and shoulders. It can contribute to mental confusion, heartburn, indigestion, bloating, and gas.
Chest breathing, also called paradoxical breathing, occurs when you primarily breathe with your upper chest restricting the movement of the breath in the abdomen. This is a very inefficient way of breathing because it does not allow for full oxygenation. Chest breathing triggers the flight or fight response and this results in feeling on edge or anxious most of the time. Chest breathers are more prone to hypertension and heart disease. It also restricts the movement and circulation in your vital organs in the lower body and leads to chronic tension in the back, shoulders, and neck.
The solution for reverse and chest breathing is to practice breathing deeply and fully while consciously allowing the belly to move out on the inhalation and in on your exhalation. It will help if you lie on your back, place your hands on your belly, and practice natural abdominal breathing as described above.