My first introduction to healthy, yogic breathing came from my beloved mentor Jamie. As Jamie’s counseling apprentice, I co-taught a college stress management class. Clearly I had survived into my 20s so I must have been taking the oxygen in, and releasing the carbon dioxide out. But learning how to breathe in a conscious, relaxing, yogic way was a revelation.
Reverse Breathing Revealed-How are you breathing?
Through working individually and in class with Jamie, I realized that I was reverse breathing: on the inhale my belly would recede, and on the exhale it would puff out.
It took me countless hours of practice to unlearn this stress producing habit. Unfortunately, many students in my classes had picked up the same pattern, so I could clearly empathize with their struggles.
For much of the populace, the awareness of the expansion in all directions of the abdomen on the inhale can be a revolutionary, quality-of-life changing event. Aren’t we taught to suck it up, hold it in, and flatten it out?
Pranayama is the Sanskrit term for the practice of yogic breathing. Pranayama literally means “extension of the life force”. The yogis have perfected scores of techniques to consciously recruit the breath to calm us, heat us, cool us, and tone our respiratory musculature.
Learning to harness the powers of our breath in all kinds of situations is a key to health of the body/mind.
Introduction to your Intercostals-Side body/breath consciousness
The intercostals are an integral and much overlooked part of a full bodied breath.
There are several muscle groups associated with our miraculous breath, the primary muscle is of course the dome like thoracic diaphragm. This is a nice drawing of the diaphragm and the intercostals.
The intercostals (intercostal=between the ribs), work in tandem with the diaphragm; the diaphragm is responsible for approximately 70% and intercostals 30% of moving the our breath.
The intercostal muscles form two thin layers that span each of the intercostal spaces. The external intercostals are oriented obliquely downward, the same direction as if you were putting your hands in your front jeans pockets. They assist the diaphragm with the inhale. You can feel the ribs draw up as you take in air.
The internal intercostals are situated similarly to your back jeans pockets. They run posteriorly and downward and are mostly associated with the exhale.
Standing or sitting with good posture, place your hands on either side of your ribs, as if you are a disgruntled parent waiting for their to teen arrive home past curfew. Very gently place your fingers between the spaces of the ribs.
Now begin long, slow, and deep yogic complete breaths.
Can you feel the lateral expansion of the ribs on the inhale? Can you feel the contraction on the exhale? That is the coordinated result of the diaphragm and intercostals working together. As you feel comfortable with intercostal 3D breath, you will eventually be able to direct your breath into the pelvic muscles.
A version of this article was originally published on Yoga Tune Up.