The trick in yogic breathing exercises is to discover your own natural breathing pattern and to expand on that. You don’t want to superimpose anything artificial on this pattern or to force it to change its organic flow. This will only cause further imbalance and upset the nervous system. In breathing, less is more. Less interference, less visualization, less thinking. It’s all about watching and yielding, letting nature take its own course. In this way, the breathing slows down naturally, the relaxation response is turned on, more prana is absorbed by the body and more stale air is released.

To breathe properly, it is crucial that the lower ribs can open fully. For most of us this is not the case as the rib cage and diaphragm are usually constricted by tension and poor posture. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that is attached to the inside of the lower ribs. When we inhale, this muscle contracts and moves downwards. The ribs can then move out to the sides and slightly upwards thus allowing the lungs to fill up completely. When we exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards, the ribs move in and slightly downwards causing the lungs to contract and empty themselves of stale air. In this way we can see how integral the rib cage is to breathing. If it is not fully opened, we have two problems: (1) the lungs cannot take in enough oxygen to sustain our cells fully and (2) the lungs cannot dispose of their waste efficiently. In short, we live below par.

In the following exercise you focus on the movement of the rib cage in the breathing process. This helps you reeducate the ribs as to their proper function.

  •  Lie on the back with the knees bent and hip-width apart. Clasp your hands behind your head and lift it up off the floor. Slide your clasped hands slowly over the back of your head. When the hands reach the crown of the head, replace the back of the head carefully on the floor.
  • Place your finger tips flat against your lower ribs with the thumbs uppermost.
  • Look up at the ceiling and open your eyes as wide as possible. Then looking at the tip of the nose, slowly draw your eyelids down over your eyes.
  • Inhaling, lift the right shoulder off the floor. Broaden it out to the side as far as possible. Exhale, and replace it back down on the floor again. Repeat with the left shoulder.
  • Inhale through the nose, and then exhale through the mouth with a nice long sigh.
  • Go back to breathing in and out through the nose. Each time you exhale, allow the back, particularly, the skin on the back to soften and settle into the floor.
  • Soften and relax the skin on the face, on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet.
  • Begin to observe your breathing. Notice the air entering the nostrils and travel up the nose as you inhale. Next, notice the slight pause at the end of the in-breath. Then watch the air as it moves back down the nose on exhalation and out through the nostrils again, followed once more by a slight pause. Witness this process for a few moments.
  • Now, begin to observe the movement of the ribs beneath your fingers. As you inhale, notice how the ribs move out to the sides and slightly upwards. As you exhale, see how the ribs move back in again and slightly downwards.
  • During the next few breaths, as you inhale, feel that the ribs and the diaphragm are very active and alert – dynamically engaged in the breathing process. On exhalation, allow the ribs to soften and relax.
  • Continue breathing in this way for a few minutes. The lie quietly for a few moments to absorb the revitalizing effects of diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Then, stretch the legs out in front of you and the arms behind you. Inhaling, stretch the entire right side of the body. Exhaling, allow it to release. Repeat on left. Repeat on both sides again.
  • Roll over on to one side and keeping your nose pointed down towards the chest, come back up to sitting.