Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pranayama: Three-Part Breathing May 31, 2011

Filed under: breath — R. H. Ward @ 9:49 pm
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A few days ago I posted about diaphragmatic breathing. The next breathing technique I have to practice this month is called three-part breathing. Three-part breathing works to completely fill and then completely empty the lungs, which is beneficial for removing toxins from the body. Because the three-part breath is so slow and deep, it’s also a helpful technique to learn for combating anxiety, anger, or stress.

Three-part breathing uses a long, deep inhale to fill the lungs to capacity. First, you activate the diaphragm to fill the bottom of the lungs (i.e., a diaphragmatic breath), then you continue to inhale, using the chest muscles to fill the ribcage, and finally the top of the chest rises as the lungs are completely filled with air. So the three-part breath consists, in order, of the diaphragmatic breath, the chest or thoracic breath, and the shallow or clavicular breath. Externally, the three-part breath can be observed as each section of the lungs fills up: first the belly puffs out, then the sides of the ribcage expand, and finally the top of the chest and even the shoulders rise as the lungs fill to the top.

On the inhale, we fill the lungs from bottom to top; exhaling, we empty the lungs in reverse order, from top to bottom: first the chest and shoulders drop, then the ribs contract, and finally the belly sucks in as the last bit of air is released from the lungs. (Note that all inhalation and exhalation should be through the nose, not the mouth.)

To try practicing three-part breathing at home, first work on isolating the three distinct movements and get familiar with what each movement feels like. Place your hand on your belly, then ribs, then chest, to feel how they rise and fall. Then try putting all three movements together in order. It will feel unnatural and strange at first, but with a little practice, breathing this way will feel more and more natural. I’ve only been practicing this technique for a little over a week and already I find myself breathing this way unconsciously. It’s a good calming breath for when I feel stressed or upset, and it’s also good to use when oxygen seems scarce (like on a crowded train car!).