Long Deep Breathing

Long deep breathing is one of the most important foundational tools within the technology of Kundalini Yoga. This seemingly simple exercise promotes benefits across the physical, mental, and spiritual planes. Long deep breathing is often the first exercise taught to new students of Kundalini Yoga since it is such a fundamental component of yogic science.

What It Does

Physically, long deep breathing relaxes and calms the body due to its influence on the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the body that allows us to experience calm. This is mainly due to its stimulation of the vagus nerve, a key component of the parasympathetic nervous system, and how it’s activated by slow, deep breathing. This pranayama can also reduce and prevent the build-up of toxins in the lungs by encouraging the small air sacs (known as alveoli) to clear.

A growing body of evidence has shown that many kinds of breathing practices can aid in combating addictions, as well as supporting our capacity to manage stress or negative emotions. On a mental level, long deep breathing triggers the release of endorphins that help fight depression. Since it has a relaxing effect, this pranayama assists in breaking subconscious habit patterns and counteracting anxieties, insecurities, and fears. In turn, it allows for a stronger sense of clarity, cool-headedness, and patience. This may be related to the way in which long deep breathing helps to regulate the body's pH levels.

Scientific research has also begun to discover that mental health may be linked to pH imbalances within the body. Therefore, long deep breathing can allow us to handle stressful situations with more grace and composure.

The spiritual effects of long deep breathing are just as important as its physical and mental benefits; it increases the flow of prana and stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete. In yogic terms, this enhances the intuition. These shifts occur within the limbic system of the body to encourage the secretion of stress-reducing hormones.

The Practice

Sit straight on the floor, in a chair, or lie on the back (it is often helpful for beginners to start out on the back). Place one hand on the belly and the other on the chest to feel and connect with the movement of the diaphragm. Breathe through the nose.

Long deep breathing involves the full capacity of the lungs by utilizing all three of its chambers: abdominal or lower, chest or middle, and clavicular or upper. To begin, inhale with the Abdominal Breath by filling the abdomen. Then expand the chest to add the Chest Breath. Finish with the Clavicular Breath, lifting the upper ribs and clavicle. The exhale is the reverse: first the upper deflates, then the middle, and finally the abdomen pulls in and up as the Navel Point pulls back toward the spine. These three sectors come together to form one smooth, continuous motion. 

A good way to practice Long Deep Breathing is to first familiarize yourself with the three parts of the breath individually before putting them together.

Part 1: Abdominal Breath

Place one hand on the Navel Point and one on the center of the chest. Bring your attention to the Navel Point area. Take a slow deep breath by letting the belly relax and expand. The hand on your navel should raise up toward the ceiling if you are lying down, or outward if you are sitting up. As you exhale, gently pull the navel in and up toward the spine. Your hand should travel down or inward. With your other hand, monitor the chest to keep it still and relaxed. Focus on breathing entirely with the lower abdomen.

Very soon you will notice all the muscles involved in this motion.

Part 2: Chest Breath

Keep the diaphragm calm. Do not let the abdomen extend. Inhale slowly using the chest muscles. The chest expands by using the intercostal muscles between the ribs. Do this slowly and focus on the sensation of expansion. Exhale completely but do not use the abdomen. Compare the depth and volume of this breath with the isolated abdominal breath. If you place your hands on the top and bottom portion of the ribs, you can feel how the bottom ribs move more than the top ones. They are the “floating” ribs and are not as fixed to the sternum as the upper ones. Much of the contribution of the ribs and intercostal muscles comes from an expansion outward to the sides of the lower ribs.

Part 3: Clavicular Breath

Contract the navel in and keep the abdomen tight. Lift the chest without inhaling. Now inhale slowly by expanding the shoulders and the collarbone. Exhale as you keep the chest lifted.

Putting the Parts Together

Each section of the breath expansion is distinct. During this practice, it can help to imagine you’re filling a pitcher with water, where your body is the pitcher and the water is air. As you move through each part of the long deep breath, the water in the pitcher gradually increases. This happens in reverse on the exhale: the water is slowly poured out of the pitcher, or the air is gently exhaled from the clavicle, to the chest, to the abdomen.

Continue this exercise for 26 breaths, or 3–31 minutes.