Tutorial: 3-Part Breath

Dirga Pranayam, or three-part deep breathing, is the foundation of all the yogic breathing techniques. This breathing exercise mobilizing your life force energy (prana) to cleanse and balance.

The three-part breath is deep and full breathing and helps dispel anxiety and create a sense of calm (via vagal nerve). The purpose this three-part breath is unlearn patterns of taking in slow sips of breath (shallow breathing!) and mouth breathing, which can create tension in your body and anxiety in your mind. Three-part breath also brings smoothness to the breath & improves breath holding for singers, divers, etc.

dirga pranayama

dirga pranayama

A typical visual is to think of filling your lungs up like a glass of water from the bottom up. First you inhale expanding the belly, then let the air raise upwards expanding the ribs, and finally filling (puffing out) the chest. BUT, from an anatomical perspective, air never rises into the chest. Air only goes in and out from the lungs, moving from the bronchial tree. As you inhale, air enters from the top downward, branches left and right, then fans out from center to periphery. An exhale follows the exact opposite pattern.

the bronchial tree (academic.kellogg.edu)

So, anatomically, when we “inhale into our bellies“, the abdominal expansion is caused by the contracting/descending diaphragm which pushes forward on the abdomen and causes the forward displacement of the organs (really, the abdomen bulges forward).

The diaphragm is connected to the lower ribcage. When we “inhale into our ribs“, the contraction of the diaphragm creates the side-to-side expansion.

Finally, when we “inhale into the chest“, the contraction of the diaphragm creates a front-to-back expansion (and a slight upwards lift) in the sternum (where ribs meets chest).

…. So, thanks for letting me geek out a little with my anatomy…

Thing about lengthening out the inhales and exhales to counts of 6… and then try elongating the exhales to counts of 12 (with inhales still at 6).

As you practice dirgha pranayam, I encourage students to note sensations, emotions, and thoughts that come up … to help tap into the more subtle aspects of the practice.

So, what are you waiting for? Try deepening your breath first thing in the morning, or before bed and see how it feels! much love.

PS. Want more? Check out Breath through your Nose and A Pranayama a Day…

16 thoughts on “Tutorial: 3-Part Breath

  1. This is great information for runners as well. Typically, runners have a habit of shortening and speeding up the breath, which tends to rob your body and muscles of much-needed oxygen. This practice tends to hasten fatigue and muscle soreness during the course of the run. As a rough rule of thumb, I try to do about 5 really deep yogic breaths like this about every 2 miles. You’d be surprised at how it increases your energy level and wards off fatigue!

    • Thanks! It takes more focus to change a bad habit than it does to create it! But it feels pretty wonderful to take a deep full breath… revitalizes the body and soul! So expand those lungs and take care 🙂

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