Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is practised by enhancing the action of the diaphragm and minimising the action of the ribcage.The diaphragm is a domed sheet of muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal cavity and, when functioning correctly, promotes the most efficient type of breathing. It is the effect of the diaphragm rather than the diaphragm itself that is experienced as the stomach rises and falls, but sensitivity will come with practice. During inhalation the diaphragm moves downward, pushing the abdominal contents downward and outward. During exhalation the diaphragm moves upward and the abdominal contents move inward. 

Movement of the diaphragm signifies that the lower lobes of the lungs are being utilized. The proper use of the diaphragm causes equal expansion of the alveoli, improves lymphatic drainage from basal parts of the lungs, massages the liver, stomach, intestines and other organs that lie immediately beneath it, exerts a positive effect on the cardiac functions and coronary supply, and improves oxygenation of the blood and circulation. 

Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. However, due to tension, poor posture, restrictive clothing and lack of training, it is often forgotten. 

Once this technique again becomes a part of daily life and correct breathing is restored, there will be a great improvement in the state of physical and mental wellbeing

Abdominal (or diaphragmatic) breathing 

Lie in shavasana and relax the whole body. 

Place the right hand on the abdomen just above the navel and the left hand over the centre of the chest. 

Observe the spontaneous breath without controlling it in any way. Let it be absolutely natural. 

To practise abdominal breathing, feel as though you are drawing the energy and breath in and out directly through the navel. 

The right hand will move up with inhalation and down with exhalation. The left hand remains almost still. 

Let the abdomen relax. Do not try to force the movement in any way. 

Do not expand the chest or move the shoulders. 

Feel the abdomen expanding and contracting. 

Continue breathing slowly and deeply.

Inhale while expanding the abdomen as much as is comfortable, without expanding the ribcage. 

At the end of the inhalation, the diaphragm will be compressing the abdomen and the navel will be at its highest point. 

On exhalation, the diaphragm moves upward and the abdomen moves downward. At the end of the exhalation, the abdomen will be contracted and the navel compressed towards the spine. 

Continue for a few minutes. 

Relax any effort and once again watch the spontaneous breathing pattern. 

Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as a whole. 

Be aware of the surroundings and gently open the eyes.

General notes for the Pranayama practitioner

In the traditional texts, there are innumerable rules and regulations pertaining to pranayama. The main points are to exercise moderation, balance and common sense with regard to inner and outer thinking and living. However, for those who seriously wish to take up the advanced practices of pranayama, the guidance of a guru or competent teacher is essential. 

Contra-indications: Pranayama should not be practised during illness, although simple techniques such as breath awareness and abdominal breathing in shavasana may be performed. Carefully observe the contra-indications given for individual practices. 

Time of practice: The best time to practise pranayama is at dawn, when the body is fresh and the mind has very few impressions. If this is not possible, another good time is just after sunset. Tranquillizing pranayamas may be performed before sleep. Try to practise regularly at the same time and place each day. Regularity in practice increases strength and willpower as well as acclimatizing the body and mind to the increased pranic force. Do not be in a hurry; slow, steady progress is essential. 

Bathing: Take a bath or shower before commencing the practice, or at least wash the hands, face and feet. Do not take a bath for at least half an hour after the practice to allow the body temperature to normalize. 

Clothes: Loose, comfortable clothing made of natural fibres should be worn during the practice. The body may be covered with a sheet or blanket when it is cold or to keep insects away. 

Empty stomach: Practise before eating in the morning or wait at least three to four hours after meals before starting pranayama. Food in the stomach places pressure on the diaphragm and lungs, making full, deep respiration difficult. 

Diet: A balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals is suitable for most pranayama practices. A combination of grains, pulses, fresh fruit and vegetables, with some milk products if necessary, is recommended. 

When commencing pranayama practice, constipation and a reduction in the quantity of urine may be experienced. In the case of dry motions, stop taking salt and spices, and drink plenty of water. In the case of loose motions, stop the practices for a few days and go on a diet of rice and curd or yoghurt. 

The more advanced stages of pranayama require a change in diet and a guru should be consulted for guidance on this. 

Place of practice: Practise in a quiet, clean and pleasant room, which is well ventilated but not draughty. Generally, avoid practising in direct sunlight as the body will become overheated, except at dawn when the soft rays of the early morning sun are beneficial. Practising in a draught or wind, in air-conditioning or under a fan may upset the body temperature and cause chills. 

Breathing: Always breathe through the nose and not the mouth unless specifically instructed otherwise. Both nostrils must be clear and flowing freely. Mucous blockages may be removed through the practice of neti or kapalbhati. If the flow of breath in the nostrils is unequal, it may be balanced by practising padadhirasana as a breath balancing technique. 

Sequence: Pranayama should be performed after shatkarmas and asanas, and before meditation practice. Nadi shodhana pranayama should be practised in each pranayama session as its balancing and purifying effects form the basis for successful pranayama. After practising pranayama, one may lie down in shavasana for a few minutes. 

Sitting position: A comfortable, sustainable meditation posture is necessary to enable efficient breathing and body steadiness during the practice. Siddha/siddha yoni asana or padmasana are the best postures for pranayama. The body should be as relaxed as possible throughout the practice with the spine, neck and head erect. Sit on a folded blanket or cloth of natural fibre to ensure the maximum conduction of energy during the practice. Those who cannot sit in a meditation posture may sit against a wall with the legs outstretched or in a chair which has a straight back. 

Avoid strain: With all pranayama practices, it is important to remember that the instruction not to strain, not to try to increase your capacity too fast, applies just as it does to asana practice. If one is advised to practise a pranayama technique until it is mastered, and it can be practised without any strain or discomfort, it is wise to follow that instruction before moving on to a more advanced practice or ratio. Furthermore, breath retention should only be practised for as long as is comfortable. The lungs are very delicate organs and any misuse can easily cause them injury. Not only the physical body, but also the mental and emotional aspects of the personality need time to adjust. Never strain in any way. 

Side effects: Various symptoms may manifest in normally healthy people. These are caused by the process of purification and the expulsion of toxins. Sensations of itching, tingling, heat or cold, and feelings of lightness or heaviness may occur. Such experiences are generally temporary, but if they persist, check with a competent teacher. Energy levels may increase or fluctuate; interests may change. If such changes cause difficulty in lifestyle, decrease or stop the practice until a competent teacher or guru gives guidance.

Natural Breathing

This is a simple technique which introduces practitioners to their own respiratory system and breathing patterns. It is very relaxing and may be practised at any time. Awareness of the breathing process is itself sufficient to slow down the respiratory rate and establish a more relaxed rhythm. 

Natural breathing 

Sit in a comfortable meditation posture or lie in shavasana and relax the whole body. 

Observe the natural and spontaneous breathing process. 

Develop total awareness of the rhythmic flow of the breath. 

Feel the breath flowing in and out of the nose. 

Do not control the breath in any way. 

Notice that the breath is cool as it enters the nostrils and warm as it flows out. 

Observe this with the attitude of a detached witness. 

Feel the breath flowing in and out at the back of the mouth above the throat. 

Bring the awareness down to the region of the throat and feel the breath flowing in the throat. 

Bring the awareness down to the region of the chest and feel the breath flowing in the trachea and bronchial tubes. 

Next, feel the breath flowing in the lungs. 

Be aware of the lungs expanding and relaxing. 

Shift the attention to the ribcage and observe the expansion and relaxation of this area. 

Bring the awareness down to the abdomen. Feel the abdomen move upward on inhalation and downward on exhalation. 

Finally, become aware of the whole breathing process from the nostrils to the abdomen and continue observing it for some time. 

Bring the awareness back to observing the physical body as one unit and open the eyes.