Dhirgha breath is a foundational breath in yoga. Called the 3 part breath, full yogic breath, three dimensional breath or complete breath among others I’m sure. I prefer to call it the three part breath because it’s generally led by describing three distinct areas of the body being filled.
The power of this breathing is the near complete exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide within with the body. This breathing technique is akin to power wash for the lungs. It is a filling of the lungs which flushes out the carbon dioxide that may normally hang out in the lungs. Doing this allows for more oxygen to be available and circulated throughout the body.
The benefit to more oxygen in the blood is a feeling of higher energy. It’s similar in sensation to hiking at high altitude for a week, then coming back to sea level. After getting used to the thinner air (less oxygen) at higher altitude, the sea level air leaves the body feeling like it’s been supercharged. With this breathing, you can begin to feel like that all the time.
Some other benefits include:
- Calms the mind and emotions
- Releases tension in the chest, shoulders and abdomen
- Massages the lower internal organs (diaphragm does this)
- Super charges the oxygen in the blood
- Full exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs
When shouldn’t you practice this breathing technique:
- When you have irritated sinuses and/or throat (cold/flu/allergies/etc.)
- If it makes you dizzy (trying to draw out the breath too long too soon)
As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to call this the three part breath because it is usually led by having the students visualize their lungs filling in three distinct sections, the lower abdomen, the side ribs and the upper chest. Typically this is verbally led by having the students visualize being filled with water. The water fills the lower belly, fills and expands the side ribs and finally fills and opens the upper chest. The exhalation is the reverse, emptying the upper chest, emptying the side ribs and finally deflating or emptying the lower belly.
A few notes on this typical method of leading. First, it’s not complete in that it is definitively not a completely accurate description of what happens. That said, for beginners who likely aren’t in touch with their bodies much less their breath, it’s a great starting place. For more advanced students, the back body queues can be added, as can more complete visualization queues.
Let’s go back to the beginners and examine a technique for getting a novice student in touch with their breathing using this breath technique.
Begin by lying comfortably on your back, feet hip distance apart and relaxed. Take a couple of deep releasing breaths and bring your left hand to the lower belly (around the belly button) and the right hand to the heart.
As you inhale picture the lower belly as a balloon, expanding and causing the left hand to rise. Once the belly feels almost full, picture the expansion moving to the side ribs causing them to flair out slightly. Once the ribs feel almost full, let the breath expand into the upper chest causing the right hand to slightly rise.
For exhalation, reversing the order of this process and “deflate” the upper chest, letting the right hand sink, emptying the middle chest letting the ribs close slightly and finally emptying the lower belly deflating it and causing the left hand to sink towards the ground.
Repeat this cycle of breathing for several cycles, or minutes. When you’re done, let the hands come down and rest by the body and begin breathing normally. Notice the effects of this breath on your mind and emotions. I also encourage you to notice if your natural breathing pattern begins to shift over time.
Some options to draw attention to different parts of the body for beginners (and even advanced students) is to focus on breathing into a different area of the body for several breaths then move on to another part of the body. Once you’ve cycled through these areas individually it can be easier to maintain the mind/body connection during the full dhirgha breath.
Taking the time to get comfortable with this breathing technique will over time lead to fuller, deeper breathing. The benefit to that is more oxygen in your lungs and blood. More oxygen in your blood means more awareness and the sluggish feeling, yawning and afternoon mental fogginess will be a thing of the past. Try it out and be patient. Breath work takes time and practice.