Yogic Three Part Breath

How to Practice Yogic Three Part Breath

A person can survive for weeks without food and days without water. A person can only survive for minutes without air. We know what happens when we stop breathing, yet most of us only think about the breath when we cannot catch it. In the yogic tradition we find numerous breathing practices, all designed to increase awareness and meditation. The practices are called pranayama. “Ayama means ‘stretch’ or ‘extend,’ and describes the action of pranayama. Prana refers to ‘that which is indefinitely everywhere.’”¹ The practices range from moderate to difficult and should be practiced with the aid of a trained professional.

So advanced are these practices that stories abound of yogis in India burying themselves. They were dug up 72 hours later and they were still alive! How did they do it? With pranayama. To be fair, it is now outlawed in India, because many have died in the attempt. You and I may not want to be buried alive, but it would be nice to have control over our breaths.

To practice pranayamas we must get in touch with the breath. This is done through the practice of dirgha, pronounced “deer-gah.”

Dirgha

Dirgha means “prolonged” or “elongated” leading to its English name “Yogic Three Part Breath.” However, this breath is not a pranayama practice; it is preparatory for all other pranayamas. Dirgha has many benefits:

  • Full breath
  • Decreases underbreathing
  • Increases the possibility of oxygen consumption and delivery
  • Calming and relaxing
  • Exercises the lungs, increasing availability for breath
  • Exercises the thoracic diaphragm
  • Makes a nice afternoon break
  • There are no contraindications

Practicing Dirgha

The great thing about this breath is that you can practice it right now, as you read along. Once you have learned the process, find a comfortable position on your back to practice as this position makes it easier.

  1. Soften the eyes and begin to sense your breath. Resist the urge to change anything. Instead become aware of the qualities of the breath. Is it shallow or deep? Is it slow or quick? Is it short or long? Where do you feel the most movement of breath? Where do you feel the least movement of breath?
  2. Bring one hand to your abdomen. On the inhale, feel the abdomen expand (like you have just eaten a really big meal). On the exhale, feel the abdomen release towards the spine. Experience this for your next 6 breaths.
  3. Bring your other hand to your heart. On the inhale, feel both the abdomen and the heart expand. On the exhale, feel the release through the heart and the abdomen — feeling a sense of hugging in towards the center of the. Experience this for your next 6 breaths.
  4. Bring your fingertips to your collar bones. On the inhale, the abdomen and heart continue to expand, but the collar bones begin to lift and move away from each other. This is a little more subtle, so you may not feel it in the beginning. On the exhale, the collar bones will settle as the heart and abdomen draw towards the body. Experience this for your next 6 breaths.
  5. To deepen your practice and the beneficial effects practice 5—10 minutes every day.

¹Desikachar, T.K.V. The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Inner Traditions International, Vermont: 1995. Page 54.