1. Abdominal Breathing (a.k.a., breathing into your diaphragm)
The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that sits at the bottom of the ribcage, and it separates the lungs from the abdominal organs. Breathing into the diaphragm is the most efficient type of breathing and the largest portion of our lung capacity. When the diaphragm is functioning properly, it looks and feels as though we're breathing into our belly, because the diaphragm pushes the organs in the abdomen down and out (this movement also helps oxygenate the blood and gently massage the abdominal organs to improve their function!).
To do: Lie on your back and relax your body. Place your right hand on your abdomen, and your left hand on your chest. Take a deep breath, and try to send the breath into your right hand only, so that the belly rises and expands as much as possible. Try to keep the left hand still, minimizing the movement in the ribcage. Then exhale, and feel the belly fall back toward the spine, so your right hand comes closer to the floor. Continue this for a few minutes.
2. Thoracic Breathing (a.k.a., breathing into your ribcage)
Thoracic breathing expands and contracts the middle lobes of the lungs, the second most efficient area of lung capacity. We tend to breathe like this when we're doing something that requires a good deal of exertion (think of how you breathe after running), as it helps the body obtain more oxygen. However, we should reserve this type of breathing for physically stressful situations so we avoid keeping our nervous system in this excited state. After the situation has passed, returning to abdominal breathing will help to calm the nervous system.
To do: Either sit comfortably or lie on your back and relax. Place your right hand on your abdomen, and your left hand on your chest. Keeping the right hand/belly still, take a deep breath and feel the entire ribcage lift up and out, expanding as much as possible. Exhale and relax the chest muscles, feeling the ribcage gently contract to press the air out. Continue for a few minutes.
3. Clavicular Breathing (a.k.a., breathing into your collarbones)
Clavicular breathing is really an extension of thoracic breathing, and it happens when the entire ribcage is completely expanded. In order to top off the lungs, the collarbones and upper ribs lift. This type of breathing is generally only used during extreme physical exertion (and it's how one breathes when having an asthma attack).
To Do: Lie on your back and relax. Practice thoracic breathing for a few minutes. After fully expanding the ribcage on an inhale, see if you can inhale a little bit more until you feel the upper chest, ribs, and collarbones lift. Then begin exhaling slowly by first relaxing the neck and collarbones, then the ribcage. Continue for a few more breaths and notice how this type of breathing affects your body.
4. Full Yogic Breathing
Now that you've felt the breath moving into the 3 main areas of the lungs, we're going to string them all together. This practice increases lung capacity and helps to deepen the natural breath. Practicing full yogic breathing is both energizing and calming, however it is not meant to be practiced continually throughout the day...we don't want you to hyperventilate.
To Do: Either sit comfortably or lie on your back and relax. Begin to inhale slowly enough that the breath is almost inaudible, and fill the abdomen. When the abdomen is fully expanded, allow the breath to continue its expansion into the thoracic region, filling the ribcage. When the ribcage is fully expanded, inhale a little bit more until you feel the chest and collarbones lift. The entire inhale should be one long, continuous movement, and try to keep the body relaxed. Now, hold the breath for just a moment, and then very slowly begin to exhale from the top of the lungs by allowing the neck and shoulders to relax. Continue exhaling slowly, relaxing the ribs. Finally, as you complete the exhale, feel the abdomen gently pulling back toward the spine. Empty the lungs as much as possible without straining. This completes one full yogic breath. Practice this full breath 5-10 times in the beginning, and gradually work up to 5 minutes.