Learning The Dirgha Breath

If you have ever taken a yoga class, chances are you experienced Dirgha breathing, the fundamental breathing technique for all Pranayama (or Yogic Breathing).  You may also have heard the Dirgha breath referred to as the “Three-Part Breath”, the “Full Yogic Breath,” or the “Complete Yogic Breath.”

When we practice the Dirgha breath, we consciously breathe into each of the separate areas of the lungs; therefore, we take in more air than normal and invigorate the body. It just feels good.  Almost without fail when practicing, I think to myself “This is amazing. Why don’t I breathe like this all the time?”

Besides making us feel better, there are many tangible benefits to utilizing Dirgha breathing including:

  • Calming the mind
  • Improving focus
  • Releasing tension in the chest and abdomen
  • Providing a gentle massage to the abdominal organs
  • Improving digestion
  • Facilitating a deeper experience of postures and increasing holding time
  • Enhancing the mind-body connection

Now that we know how good it is for you, what exactly is it?

Dirgha pranayama is performed with long, slow, complete breaths that bring the breath into the three regions of the lungs. The contraction and downward movement of the diaphragm that results pushes the abdomen out; this is sometimes referred to as belly breathing, even though no air actually enters the belly. Like many of you, before yoga, I was always trying to keep my belly pulled in tight and NOT letting it expand as I breathed; I had to shift my thinking and unlearn this tendency when I first tried this technique.  This may be the same for you too.

The Dirgha breath is simple to do. Dirgha breathing can be performed almost anywhere at any time, and the results are immediate. It is especially helpful during your yoga practice while holding a pose, meditating, or at any point in your day when you need to center, refocus and calm the mind.

Here are the basics to get started (or improve) your Dirgha breathing practice:

1. Sit in a comfortable seat, with your spine long, abdomen relaxed, hands resting gently on your knees.

2. Close your mouth and focus on relaxing your face and jaw as you inhale and exhale through your nose.

3. Place your palms on your belly and breathe into your lower lungs, feeling the diaphragm drop and the belly expand into your palms as you inhale, then feel the belly button retreat toward the spine as you exhale. Repeat several times.

4. Move your palms to the sides of your torso and breathe into belly again and then up into the chest, feeling the rib cage expand front, back, and out either side. Repeat several times.

5. Next, place your fingertips just below your collarbones. Breathe into the belly, then ribs and finally into upper part of your chest.  Feel your hands lifting, almost as if the outside edges of your collarbones are rising slightly into a smile.  Repeat several times.

6. Combine all three in-breaths to make a complete and full upward inhalation from the belly, up to ribs, and finally into the chest.

7.  Exhale completely in a downward motion from chest, ribs, down to the belly, gently contracting the abdomen to squeeze out any residual air.

8. Repeat this cycle several times, moving your hands to the three parts of the body. Focus on filling (upward motion) and emptying (downward motion) the lungs completely.

9. Rest your hands on your lap and continue this breathing pattern for several minutes.

10. Release the breath practice. Sit quietly and notice the effects.

You don’t have to be sitting on a yoga mat to gain the benefits of this breathing technique. Look to incorporate a few rounds of the Dirgha breath into your day, and enjoy the calming, healing effects this simple technique has on your body and mind.

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