Namasté. You are probably aware that yoga pays very special attention to the breath. It is considered that the breath is the link between body and mind. The first three angas (limbs) of yoga are concerned with the outer world. Then comes pranayama, acting as a link from the outer to the inner realms.
Of course, we are all breathing, right now. But some of us are breathing more efficiently than others. Efficient breathing is slow and deep. Slow and deep breathing is very relaxing to mind and body. When we are well hydrated and have a good supply of oxygen in our blood, our muscles relax. When our bellies are relaxed and the diaphragm can descend into the abdomen, we feel relaxed. Deep breathing is one of the easiest and most effective health remedies that I have ever come across. And best of all, it’s free! (Of course, you may decide to part with your cash in order to learn pranayama from a qualified teacher, but the basic principles are gratis.) Why not surf over to breathing.com and take their breathing tests? The results may prove interesting.
There are three basic forms of breathing: chest, belly and paradoxical. In chest breathing, the lungs and chest expand due to the action of the intercostal muscles, not the diaphragm. This is an inefficient, and very common form of breathing and results in the higher rate of breathing (more breaths are needed to bring in oxygen). Belly breathing is the correct form of breathing – the diaphragm pulls down, the lungs expand both their lower and upper lobes and a full, deep breath is taken. Paradoxical breathing is interesting because it seems to be associated with states of nervous anxiety. The abdominal muscles are rigid, preventing the diaphragm from descending. Therefore, although the lungs are inflating, the chest muscles are needed to expand the thorax because the diaphragm is pulling up. It is called paradoxical because the normal movements of breathing (inflate abdomen on inhale, deflate on exhale) are reversed. Odd, eh?