The Complete Breath or Full Yogic Breath
The full yogic breath is the most basic and fundamental of all breathing methods. It is the one method that should be consciously practiced on a regular basis. The basic instructions are as follows:
1. Stand or sit upright. Inhale through the nose, and expand the diaphragm by pushing the lower belly outward and filling the lower part of the lungs; then expand the central area (around the solar plexus) pushing out the lower portion of the ribs and chest (which naturally lifts the rib cage); then draw in the lower part of the abdomen (slightly) and fill the upper portion of the chest (and collar-bone area). Although the movement is outlined in three parts it should be one continuous flow.
2. Hold the breath for a few seconds.
3. Exhale naturally (through the nose) by allowing all three areas to release at the same time or by reversing the movement of the inhale—exhaling first through the upper region, then the middle, then the lower. You may want to pull in the abdomen slightly, at the end of the breath, to expel all the air from the lungs (and to make your exhalation more complete).
Abdomen-Throat Breathing (ATB)
Another yogic breathing method is abdomen-throat breathing, technically known as ujjayi pranayama. (In Body, Mind, and Sport, John Douillard calls this “Darth Vader breathing.”) This method is used to help calm the body and the mind. A slight contraction in the throat, along with a rhythmic style of breathing, creates a definite noise as the air flows through a restricted throat passage—sounding a bit like the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.
To do this kind of breathing, inhale as you normally would, through the nose. This does not have to be a deep breath but just a normal breath. Now constrict the throat passage, almost as if you are about to swallow something, and breath in slowly. The breath passing through the constricted throat passage should make a sound, perhaps like the sound of water passing through a pipe—or the sound of Darth Vader’s breath. In normal breathing you feel the air coming in through the nose; in this type of breathing you feel the breath moving through the throat area. One virtue of this kind of breathing is that it cannot be accomplished without direct engagement of the abdomen muscles. Douillard writes: “If you are doing the Darth Vader breathing correctly, you will find it impossible to make that sound without slightly contracting your stomach muscles.” (Please note that this kind of breathing is good for engaging the abdomen, but due to the throat contraction, it is not good for singers; singers want to expand the throat area and make no noise on the inhalation and exhalation.)
Once you are able to do this type of breathing with a normal breath move to a full inhale and exhale, consciously expanding the lower abdominal region. Just like the full yogic breath, you can complete the exhalation with a slight abdominal contraction (to insure that all the air is fully expelled from the lungs).
Retraining Your Subconscious Mind
We want to retrain our subconscious mind, and shift from our habitual shallow-breath to a deeper, fuller breath. One way to do this is to breath as you normally do but when you get to the end of the in-breath, consciously breath in more air, and when you get to the out-breath consciously breath out more air.