Directional breathing is a more subtle refinement of locational breathing. This is actually a recurring theme in Yoga – a gradual transition from gross to subtle. If you feel well rooted in locational breathing (inhale=chest, exhale=abdomen)then you may want to explore directional breathing, if not is may lead to unnecessary aggravation. So please proceed with care. This transition will require an increased level of attention, awareness and practice.
Range of Movement in Breathing
If you haven’t already done so then please have a look at this brief explanation of the anatomy of the torso – where breathing takes place.
What is of interesting to note in the context of breathing is that the skeletal structure limits the range of motion of breathing. There is relatively less potential motion range in the chest (and it takes considerable conscious effort to do so) and there is relatively more potential motion range in the abdominal area. This is why the movement of natural breathing is more likely to appear in the abdominal area then in the chest.
Directional breathing is about applying a conscious effort to movement that takes place when breathing.
As with locational breathing it is usually more accessible to start exploring with the exhale. The idea here is to gradually and in sequence activate muscles that partake in exhaling. The following diagram reads from left-to-right. The exhale begins with the lower abdominal muscles, moves up to the mid-abdominal area, through the breathing diaphragm and then, only at the end of the exhale there is movement in the chest.
You can practice this by revisiting the practices we used for locational breathing. Resume your familiar locational breathing and this time as you exhale try to exact more elaborate separation and control and to experience this gradual activation of muscles. Again, it can be useful to place your hands on your body – one on the abdomen, the other on your chest. Use them to really make sure that when you being to exhale, your chest doesn’t immediately collapse – it should remain active and expanded until after the lower muscles have been engaged.
For future reference we will refer to directional exhaling as an upward movement – it begins in the lower abdomen and travels upwards towards the chest.
Inhaling is a reversed gradual process. Inhale begins in the chest area (watch out for the abdomen – it tends to pop out, you need to develop refined muscular control to really keep the abdominal area steady while the chest begins to expand).
Once you have a good sense of directional exhaling you can introduce directional inhaling. Over the time your breathing will develop into a subtle and precise wave movement up and down your torso.
For future reference we will refer to directional inhaling as an downward movement – it begins in the chest and gradually travels down towards the abdominal region.
Take time to gradually build directional breathing. Let your mind assimilate the idea. Let your body experience and assimilate new sensations. Let your mind connect to the new physical sensations. It takes time to develop this muscular control, it takes time to build a sustainable effort. If you rush through it, you may find yourself forming misapprehension instead of clarity. Please remember this is a subtle form of practice.
As you develop this and bind it into your asana practice you will discover more and more subtle aspects of practice.