The Power of Breath

“Control over breath is control over life” — Swami Rama.


Working with the breath is a powerful tool that allows us to change the way the mind and nervous system operate. That is why breath training is the foundation of a yoga practice and is also an important part of inner healing. The breath holds the body and mind together and has a major impact on both. Exploring how the body actually breathes and how breathing is connected to the nervous system, mind, and emotions allows us greater access to regulating ourselves. Below are some breathing techniques to help bring about balance during unbalanced times…

Asana is meditation on the body, Pranayama is meditation on the breath and subtle energy currents within us. Through the breath we gain access to the mind directly- with the ultimate aim of transcending body and mind and experiencing the higher Self.

Deergha Swasam (3 part breathing) is the first Pranayama to start practicing and involves breathing sequentially into the three parts of the lungs:

1. the abdomen/diaphragm (lower section of the lungs),
2. the ribcage, and
3. the upper chest.

On the inhalation, first, send the air to the bottom of the lungs (fill the abdomen); then, fill up the ribcage; and finally, fill up the chest. Take your time cultivating a well-rounded, full bodied breath-front, back, side-to-side.

On the exhalation, first, relax the chest and let out the air naturally; then, relax the ribcage; and finally, pull in the belly to complete the exhale.

Begin with ease, and gradually, let the breath deepen.

Never breathe too deeply. Always keep the breath comfortably full.

At the top of the inhalation, the chest should lift up gently, NOT the shoulders. At the bottom of the exhalation, the abdomen should be all the way in.

Start with 5 minutes on your back. Then you can do 5 minutes on each side. Eventually work towards doing this comfortably seated…but stay on the ground until COMFORTABLY seated is an option.

In Deergha Swasam, we breathe slowly and deeply while envisioning that we are filling our lungs from bottom to top—first by expanding the abdomen, then the middle rib cage, and finally the upper chest. When exhaling, we envision the breath emptying in reverse, from top to bottom, pulling in the abdomen slightly at the end to empty the lungs completely.

Three-part deep breathing is the foundation of all the yogic breathing techniques. Studies have shown that you can take in and give out seven times as much air—that means seven times as much oxygen, seven times as much prana (life force/Chi)—in a three-part deep breath than in a shallow “normal” breath.

Deerga Swasam Pranayama is the best way to oxygenate and detoxify the cells of the body through the breath. Oxygen + Less Toxins = More Energy

According to yogis, we retain more energy on the exhalation. So the longer we comfortably exhale, the better. (One sure way to lengthen your exhale is to perform Ujjaii Breath (Darth Vadar/wind through the trees/ sound of the ocean) during the Three Part Breath.)

Naddi Sudi – Alternate Nostril Breath

Alternating the flow of breath in the nostrils balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It is a calming breath, particularly if awareness is kept on the flow of the breath.

Make a gentle fist of the right hand, extend the thumb, the ring finger and the pinky, the other fingers gently bent towards the palm (Vishnu mudra). Begin with an exhalation through the left nostril, once the lungs are empty inhale through the same nostril. Then exhale through the right nostril, once the lungs are empty inhale through the same nostril. Thus the pattern is to exhale then inhale and switch to the other nostril. Once this pattern is comfortable and sustainable for a few full breaths, then the flow of the breath should be made threadlike, very still and almost silent. As the pattern and threadlike quality become easier then the exhalation should be made to last longer than the inhalation.

The breath should be done with no sense of exertion-ideally incorporating Deergha Swasam. If the sinuses are congested and the breath is forced then the practice should be discontinued, or done in your imagination without blocking nostrils. Make sure that during the practice the posture is maintained, that the spine is erect, head centered, chin parallel to the floor, shoulders relaxed and chest open.

The rewards of diaphragmatic breathing are quite remarkable. You will find that you have a tool to maintain your equilibrium in situations where you used to become tense and uncomfortable. Your everyday level of internal tension will lessen, allowing you to move your body and concentrate your mind with greater ease. As you continue on the path of yoga, diaphragmatic breathing will serve as a foundation for you to branch out into the other limbs of yoga. And when fears seem overwhelming in the course of daily living, you will have an internal friend to comfort your mind. All in all, as you improve the quality of your breathing, you will improve the quality of your life.

Peace, its just a breath away…claim it.