Breathing: Consciously and Unconsciously

When I became more interested in practicing yoga, I started focusing on my breathing too much. I had noticed that my breathing was quite shallow, so I would start controlling my breathing whenever I remembered to. I would start breathing more fully and deeply. But this was not necessary. And it only provoked stress. I later learned from reading Yoga Nidra for Relaxation and Stress Relief by Julie Lusk that there are two types of breathing. These two types are both great. The two types are conscious breathing and unconscious breathing. Unconscious breathing is when we breath as we normally do without thinking about it. It is taken care of for us the autonomic nervous system. Conscious breathing happens when you focus on your breathing and alter it.

Image Title: 1. Pooruck Pranaiyam [Puraka pranayama]. 2. Kumbuck [Kumbhaka]. 3. Raichuck [Recaka] Creator: Day & Son — Lithographer – Public Domain
Pranayama is one of the eight components of Yoga according to the Yoga-sutras. Pranayama is conscious breathing. There are many styles of pranayama. In some of the pranayama practices, the yogi will hold their breath after an inhale and/or after an exhale. The Sanskrit term for the hold after inhale is antah kumbhaka (A.K.). Bahya kumbhaka (B.K.) is a hold after exhale.

An example of this conscious breathing follows. The inhalation starts as a three-dimensional expansion of the chest. It is slow and smooth. Think of the three dimensions as you breathe. Think of expanding the top, the front, the sides, and the back of your ribs. As you continue, your inhale will expand the upper abdomen, and it may continue even further down. It should feel comfortable. Be honest with yourself; you may not need to breathe this deeply when you are just starting out. Just being aware and having a little control over your breathing may be a good place to start. The exhalation starts by contracting the lower belly. Exhale slowly and smoothly. Once again with your exhalation, don’t beat yourself up. Just let yourself exhale in a way that feels good to you at this time.

You can use this type of breathing to restore your energy instead of drinking a coffee. This is how:

1) Inhale again in three dimensions, slowly and smoothly.

2) Hold for as long as is comfortable—antah kumbahka (A.K.).

3) Exhale contracting the lower belly and moving up.

4) Do not hold, go back to step one, and repeat.

If you were to try this exercise the other way around using bahya kumbahka (B.K.), can you guess what effect it will have on you?

Proofread by Leona B. Hunt, BA, proofreader