“Learn how to exhale” has always been my No. 1 tip as a breathing instructor. In the practice of deep breathing, your inhalation can only be as good as your exhalation. Extending exhalations for as long as you comfortably can and learning what muscles are involved is a great way to build awareness.
A purposeful exhalation requires a gentle pressure. Our abdominal muscles come into play, first automatically and then through our deliberate efforts. Practicing emptying the lungs in this way, without strain or struggle, is a good way to build strength in our breathing apparatus, slow down the pace of our normal breathing, and build lung capacity.
When we exhale, our diaphragm muscle relaxes but our abdominal muscles are working in order to expel the stale air from our lungs. Most of the time we are unaware of the role the abdominal muscles play in our breathing, but with practice we become engaged in this activity. In deep breathing exercises it is good to consciously work with our abdominal muscles in order to comfortably squeeze out as much air as possible from our lungs.
Learn how to release the abdominal muscles in a wave-like motion and the inhale will take care of itself. Our respiratory system works by way of a vacuum effect. By releasing all the effort that was required for exhalation, the air automatically comes flowing back into your body; however, this releasing motion requires practice.
Trying to take in deep, full breaths without letting go is counterproductive and creates tension. Full, yet relaxed inhalations require good letting-go skills. I know none of us normally think of letting go as a skill, but it really is something that we can participate in and become skillful at doing. Think of it this way: Relaxing after a long day is something we gradually work toward through an unwinding process. It doesn’t just happen when we sit down and stop. It is the same with the letting go motion of inhalation. The fact that it happens in only a few seconds actually makes it a bit more challenging, and this is why it takes practice. A good inhalation is not a tanking up of air but a gradual motion of release that results in a satisfying fullness. By learning how to exhale well you become better at breathing deeply.
Working with your breath this way can help you free your body of tension. Many of us are unaware of the tensions that are with us 24/7. Our breathing is designed to help us release any tensions that have become so much a part of us that we no longer sense their presence. A long, slow even, relaxed and steady exhalation and a wave like release is deep breathing at its finest.
Carla Melucci Ardito helps people to understand the path of the breath through the body and how their skeletal alignment plays a part in unencumbered respiration. She teaches a breathing workshop at The Integral Yoga Institute in New York City and has created the application BREATHING LESSONS for the iPhone, iPad and iPod to guide people through the basic principles that comprise healthy breathing patterns.