This blog includes reflections, creative work and resources. It is a glimpse of one person's journey within the realm of inquiry, experience with the human body and spirit. Look for ideas rather than answers. No claims are made. Perfection is not implied. I write as inspired to do so. Take what works for you, leave the rest. If you share anything from this blog, either verbally or in writing, please do your best to give credit where credit is due. Thank you for visiting.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Breathing Basics

Healthy breathing is, well, healthy!  In addition to the physical benefits of good respiration, resting the mind on the breath provides a point of concentration, opening one to meditative experience.  I often say the breath is a portable meditation tool.  It's always with us! 

The information below comes from some of my answers to the Barratt Breathworks Level 1 written exam from June 2001.  It is a simple outline the basics of healthy, natural breathing.  I will eventually create an audio guide as body and breath education.  But, for starters, this Monday morning we will explore the lessons in class.

Primary Muscles of Respiration:
4 layers of abdominal muscles

Secondary Muscles of Respiration:
sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
pectoralis minor
upper trapezius

The basic movements of the central, pelvic and vocal diaphragms during inhalation and exhalation:

The central diaphragm drops on the inhalation, moving the internal organs and creating a greater amount of space in the chest.  With greater pressure outside the body, air moves into the lungs to balance out this pressure.  With the exhalation the central diaphragm relaxes and billow back up into the chest, pushing the air out of the lungs.

The pelvic diaphragm and the vocal diaphragm play a secondary role in respiration and are less known for their role in breathing.  Each supports the central diaphragm by allowing it to function effectively.  The pelvic diaphragm drops and broadens on the inhalation.  It retracts and narrow on exhalation.  The vocal diaphragm lifts up on the inhalation and drops with the exhalation.  

The three phases of optimal breathing in sequential order:
1. abdominal   2. thoracic   3. clavicular

A review of the Yogi Complete Breath, the movements of the breath and the body during this form of breathing:

The Yogi Complete Breath is the way we are designed to breath, engaging all three breathing spaces:  low, middle and high spaces in the respiratory cycle.  Diaphragmatic in nature, it is integrative, fundamental to the core and foundational in pranayama practice.  It is not a technique, although it is sometimes used in conjunction with yogic breath techniques.  Breathwork is a process of dismantling and freeing the innate breath, clearing the interference of a natural process leading to full expression of the Yogi Complete Breath.  It is a deep full breath beginning in the belly, which rounds gently.  Moving into the lower ribcage and sternum, this area expands in the front, the sides and back.  As the breath moves the belly draws in slightly guiding the breath through the middle breathing space into the upper breathing space.  There is a sense of fullness without strain.  The inhalation connects with the exhalation.  There is no pause between the in-breath and out-breath.  With the exhalation there is a sense of complete emptying, the chest drops followed by the middle and then lower breathing spaces.  There is a pause at the end of the exhalation.  The inhalation rises gently from the pause. 

The basic movements of the breath through the abdomen, central diaphragm, intercostals during inhalation and exhalation in unrestricted breathing:

Note what is described below is unrestricted breathing.  If your experience does not relate at all or in part, relax!  This is why you are learning and practicing!  This said, let's explore the optimal. 

One should move towards allowing the breath to emanate from the particular area of the body rather than forcing a mechanical movement.  The breath will swirl-in and fill space.  The movement of the breath is different from movement of the body.  If areas of restriction are sensed, rest with the feeling rather than judging or resisting.  In this way, there will be no strain in the breath or body, particularly in the areas perhaps not fully engaged in the act of and opening-to breathing. 

Abdomen  A hand can be placed on the abdomen initially to gain a greater awareness.  In unrestricted breathing the breath should be sensed and felt in the abdomen when the hand is taken away.  If awareness is lost, return the hand to the abdomen.  The breath should rise and gently fall in this area without a feeling of effort.  It will feel familiar, natural.  The back and sides of the body will softly expand with the inhalation and retract gently on exhalation.

Diaphragm  The breath at the diaphragm will be sensed at the lower ribs, where they join the waist.  Again, the breath should rise and gently fall in this area without a feeling of effort.  With unrestricted breathing it will feel familiar, natural.  The back, sides and front of the body will expand as the inhalation carries the breath in to fill the space.  A gentle retraction, tightening of the abdominal muscles yet a letting go in the upper body comes with the exhalation.  It will feel natural and easy to breath in this area in unrestricted breathing.

Intercostals  Intercostal movement of the breath is felt around the upper ribs, front, sides and back.  With inhalation, the spaces between the ribs will expand as the breath enters and fills the space.  Exhalation brings a slight and gentle retraction.  Breathing here should feel effortless.  Chest breathers will experience ease and a natural feeling breathing in this space.  Chest breathing serves us well in aerobic activity but can be somewhat anxiety producing if it a habit.  

On a personal note, prior to meeting Kathleen Barratt and being guided by her, I did not understand breathwork and what is had to offer.  Fortunately I had "a little asana under my belt" so there was at least an elementary understanding of synthesizing physical and mental awareness.  The more yang pranayama practices in yoga class served to only heap more tension onto and into my body.  Breathwork was the gentle unraveling I needed.  In time I could approach more structured pranayama.  More importantly however, breath awareness became and is a tool for my gauging experience in present time: be it anxiety, recognizing an intuitive sense, self-assessing being off physically and making adjustments accordingly.   

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