Tripartite Breath

Tripartite Breath
Many of us think of breathing as something that occurs in the upper chest, but this is anatomically incorrect. In truth, respiration occurs throughout the torso. It begins with a contraction in two sets of muscles: the diaphragm, located underneath the lungs, and the intercostals, found at the sides of the ribcage. When these muscles tighten, space is created in the thoracic cavity. This in turn changes the pressure around the lungs, which causes them to expand. Releasing the diaphragm and intercostals allows the process to reverse, which then causes exhalation. While this progression usually happens automatically, we can take the time to study and improve the ways in which we breathe. The easiest way to do this? Make sure that we are using the entire area, rather than just the upper chest.

For many students of yoga, the first breathing exercise learned is the Three Part Breath, known in Sanskrit as Dirga Swasam Pranayama. This relatively simple exercise encourages deeper movement of the chest muscles, acting as a counterpoint to the endless hours Westerners spend sitting, crossing their arms over their chest, and slumping forward at the keyboard (all of which restricts the motions associated with breathing.) You can practice the Three Part Breath from any position, in any place or time; it will help counteract anxiety and panic and further relaxation. Because of this, it’s a great technique to have in your repertoire. Feeling crazy at work? Head to a bathroom stall and take five minutes with Dirga Swasam Pranayama. You’ll be revitalized.

The mechanics of Three Part Breath are simple. Start by mentally dividing your torso into three horizontal bands. The first reaches up to your belly button and engages the diaphragm. The second area includes the intercostals around the ribcage. Finally, the third section involves your upper chest. Got it? Get into a stable position that you can hold for a few minutes, whether it b Sukhasana or perched on the rim of the toilet inside the stall. Then take a regular inhalation and exhalation. Follow that by directing your breath into each of the three bands. On an inhale, you’ll feel the breath in the belly first, followed by the ribcage, and lastly by the chest. On an exhale, you’ll reverse the process, exhaling from the chest first, then the ribcage, and finally by the belly. Repeat these inhalations and exhalations, keeping the rest of your body still. You get bonus points if you also slow down your breathing so that you are not panting but rather taking the time to ensure that each in-breath and out-breath is full and complete.

There is no need to force the breath here. Simply allow your body to fall into the tripartite rhythm, and release the desire to control the motions. By bringing your mind to the task, you are creating an instance of yoga: the joining of the body and the spirit. When you’re ready, take a regular inhale and exhale to release the cycle, and move on with your next indicated task.

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