contd. from @ Breath Series # 01
Imagine you are out on a long road trip, driving through an unpredictable terrain. You are enjoying the adventure when the unfortunate happens; your car breaks down. Suddenly everything comes to a standstill, as you are in the middle of nowhere and practically you know not a thing about the car (other than just driving it). What a fix! I would like to believe that people who set out on such off bound adventures, have a good sync with the very pulse of their machine. And that exactly is the point.
Our body is similar; a vehicle carrying us (the soul) on the journey of a lifetime. It will not do any harm to know a little about how it functions, so that we can maneuver it skillfully and practically take our well being in our own hands, to some extent.
So, before moving further into any breathing practice, here is sharing a basic understanding of mechanism of breathing, the lungs and the muscles engaged in breathing [taking advantage of Human Anatomy and Physiology]. It may help us appreciate the ‘whys and hows’ of the chosen practices, rather than just performing them mechanically. Being aware may even lead us into marveling at this flawless design of Nature.
MECHANISM OF BREATHING
- Our LUNGS are like two expandable, light weight bags (or like balloons) in the chest cavity.
- Below the lungs is located the DIAPHRAGM, a large dome-shaped muscle (major one for breathing) that separates the chest and abdomen cavities.
- When the diaphragm contracts, it moves down, the lungs get space to expand, their volume increases, so air pressure inside them drops (compared to atmospheric pressure), and air gushes in. This we know as INHALATION. [wow😊, Nature’s design you see]
- Next, the diaphragm relaxes and moves up to its original dome shaped position, so lungs get pressed, volume decreases, air pressure increases inside them, air gushes out. This is EXHALATION.
- Other major muscle involved in breathing are the INTERCOSTAL muscles (between the ribs). They help to expand and shrink (while breathing in and out respectively) the size of the chest cavity and hence the lungs.
- Additionally, the neck and the abdominal muscles are also involved in breathing.
- What is notable is that the mechanism of breathing is caused by a rhythmic and continual play (contraction and relaxation) of the muscles, which is involuntarily controlled by specific brain centers.
- However, we can also voluntarily (at will) enhance the muscle movements to optimize lung capacity, which means better oxygenation and better energy generation for body’s healthy functioning.
- Muscles: Use them or lose them. If we don’t use them, they become weak. Here, it means weak (shallow) breathing. However, muscles have memory. Whatever we lose, we can gain back again, through practice.
PRACTICE II: SECTIONAL BREATHING
This involves three different levels of breathing, namely Abdominal, Thoracic and Clavicular Breathing which relatively fills the lower, middle, upper parts of the lungs respectively. A fuller and deeper breath means that the air intake reaches down till the lowest part of the lung and optimum O2 – Co2 exchange happens.
In Sectional breathing, we develop control over muscle movements in specific areas, causing expansion of localized areas of the lungs. This practice can be considered as preparatory for Deep Breathing and Pranayama practices.
It is akin to learning how to drive. Ideally, first one learns the car controls (the ABC), then gets an exclusive hang of each one of them, improve (refine) on their coordination in controlled conditions and then goes on to drive in a real time situation.
II. A) ABDOMINAL (OR BELLY) BREATHING
PRACTICE: [with cues for better ease]
- Inhalation – abdomen goes out [push navel away, away, away from the spine]
- Exhalation – abdomen goes in [pull navel in, in, in towards the spine]
# Here, not that the air fills into the belly, rather optimum lung capacity is utilized as air reaches till the Base (lower section) of the lungs, which otherwise remains unused due to habitual shallow breathing. You may ask WHAT👇 is the link between the belly and the lungs?
# As abdomen (ok, call it belly) goes out, the contracted diaphragm gets good room to move down, so more space for lungs to expand. That’s the connection.
# Utilizing more lung capacity means more oxygenation, better energy and smoother physiological functions. [very beneficial in strenuous activities, running, climbing etc. as extra oxygen demand is better met with. Also, the engaged core muscles give better stability to the body]
# Breathing is the deepest here and with least effort because the range and ease of movement of abdomen muscles is much better (as compared to that of chest or clavicle).
# Deeper breathing slows down the breathing rate and helps one remain calm.
II. B) THORACIC (OR CHEST) BREATHING
- Sit in an cross legged posture with erect spine.
- Place one palm on the chest – notice and allow full back & forth movement of the chest wall.
- Similarly, place the palms on the rib cage, below the chest. With every breath, notice and allow full lateral expansion of the chest.
- If the movement is not too noticeable, then simple chest expansion exercises/ upper body stretches bring noticeable results.
# In this type, the contraction of the intercostals muscles causes the rib cage expansion in all directions, allowing lungs to expand (specially the middle part) and shrink back.
# Here, breathing is shallower and takes more efforts (than abdominal type). [Visualise someone gasping for breath even with slightly intense activity.]
II. C) CLAVICULAR BREATHING
- When the rib cage expands, there is a slight (almost unnoticeable, yet you may try consciously) lifting of the clavicle (or collarbone), causing air to fill in the Apex (upper part) of the lungs.
- Regular neck exercises also helps the muscles around collarbone stretch better.
# This type is almost fused with Chest breathing, due to very restricted movement of the collarbone.
# This is the shallowest level of breathing with lots of effort and least results. [Visualize someone suffering with asthma, the throat pit going deeper while having to make efforts to breathe].
# Least utilization of lung capacity, so least oxygenation and energy generation to meet body’s normal functioning.
As now we are aware of the localised muscle controls through Sectional Breathing, we can move on to the next step – Deep Breathing / Full Yogic Breathing and more, in the next post.
Happy Breathing and stay tuned. 🌈🌞
P.S. Caution – Please be at ease with breathing practices; w/o going out of the way to make the breath longer, deeper, slower or hold it at all (may effect nervous system; also lung tissues are quite sensitive). Longer and deeper breathing HAPPENS over time, as a result of effortless and controlled muscle movement.
I hope this post was worth your time. Still, if it stressed you out [the Anatomy & Physiology part, I know.😅 But believe me, it helps] then just put it aside, BREATHE and let go. 🧖🙏