The Upanishads and Vedas in yoga talk about the power your abdomen holds. The power center of the body, the navel chakra rests in the abdomen and is responsible for creative juices and the workings of the nervous, musculoskeletal, and respiratory systems, and even the system of life.
The diaphragm is located just below the lungs in the navel region and harnesses immense power when tapped. Diaphragmatic breathing, which yogis spend years after years to get the right, is a prerequisite of successful meditation and pranayama.
The Science Behind Abdominal Breathing
Breathing practices go way back into ancient times. Yogis then survived just on air and no food at all. This was possible only because they ‘ate’ prana vayu (life force air) and survived on the same.
The diaphragm is situated just above the abdomen. When inhalation takes place, the diaphragm muscle contracts and goes down, leading to a rising movement in the stomach. Vice versa happens when exhalation takes place and the stomach falls back in its place.
However, due to stress, hypertension, and many other reasons, we start to unconsciously practice chest breathing, i.e. the rising and falling of the chest instead of the stomach. This escalates stress, tensions, and anxiety further.
In order to build on diaphragmatic breathing and reduce stress, yogis have put greater emphasis on the breathing from abdomen.
The Fight-or-Flight or Relax Syndrome
Neurons, the impulse-transferring cells of the body, are highly sensitive to any external factors that affect us. Each time we eat, pressure is created on the abdomen which enables the neurons to send signals to our brain to digest and rest.
Things happen the other way around when we are in a dangerous situation. Blood is released from stomach to our upper and lower extremities, and neurons start sending signals to the brain, evoking the “fight-or-flight” response to stress.
When we breathe from the abdomen or continue to diaphragmatically breathe, the diaphragm creates pressure on the abdomen. This again allows the neurons to emit signals to the brain to rest, digest, and come to a relaxed state.
How to ignite the abdominal breathing fire?
First of all, you have to become aware of your real breathing style, whether you are breathing from the abdomen or from the chest. Once the breathing style is detected, it becomes easier for you to rectify your style and know how much you need to work on it.
Sitting in sukhasana or cross-legged posture, keeping the spine straight, place your right hand on your abdomen and your left hand on your chest. Start to relax yourself and release any tension you feel in your body consciously.
Once you start deep breathing, notice which hand is moving more, and in which direction. Your right hand, which is on the stomach, should be moving more and in an outward and inward fashion. The left hand on the chest should depict less movement but in the same fashion as abdomen.
If your chest is moving in an upward and downward fashion, you are carrying out chest breathing, which is highly condemned by the yogis.
Practicing this technique will conjure the abdominal magic the Hindu sacred texts describe. Within a few days or weeks of adopting diaphragmatic breathing, you may start noticing a vivid change in your stress, anxiety, and patience levels. Try it out today and watch how it changes your life!
by Manmohan Singh – Manmohan is a passionate yogi and traveler in India who leads and organizes yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda tours and retreats in India and Nepal. Connect with him here: www.200hrsyogattc.com.
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