Yogic Breath: The Life of Breath

By Dani Brown

In the yogic tradition, the breath is the bridge between the body and the mind, for atop the breath rides Prana, or the vital energy of life that fills the universe. Prana, like the Chinese word, Chi, describes the very essence of all that exists, the life force or primordial energy of everyone and everything. What many do not know is that this infinite power is at our fingertips and all we need in order to access it is our breath.

A vital life function, everybody breathes. Although fully capable of influencing the way we breathe, breathing is an automatic response to which we typically pay no attention. In doing so, we are choosing to allow life’s stresses, bad posture (slouching), societal demands (“suck in your gut”), as well as personal mistreatments (smoking) to reduce the capacity of our lungs and shorten the depth of breath, not just momentarily, but habitually. Let’s look closer at the three habitual breathing patterns:

Abdominal breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing) is the breath of a newborn baby. The stomach gently moves up and down as the breath draws in and out. Abdominal breathing is the best method of the three for it brings air into the lowest, largest part of the lungs. Sedentary people who bend forward while they write, read, or work on the computer tend to slump into low abdominal breathing. Also the typical breath of sleep, abdominal breathing can work satisfactorily until one becomes even slightly physically active.

Thoracic breathing involves raising the ribs by expanding the thoracic cage using the intercostal, or rib muscles. Depending on muscular action through the chest and shoulder, this breathing pattern results in significantly less room for the lungs to expand as well as more work for the body which has to increase the rate of breathing in order to maintain its chemical functions. People who habitually breathe this way are likely to experience a sense of anxiety, panic attacks, hyperventilation, and even an increased risk of heart attacks.

Clavicular breathing takes place in the upper