Recently, a clinical hypnotherapist and registered yoga teacher talked about how integral deep breathing is to her clients’ success. The type of breathwork, or pranayama, she uses is called dirgha, or 3-part yogic breath. It’s key to de-stressing and keeping stress hormones in check. Plus, it’s easy to do anytime, anywhere.
About dirgha, or 3-part yogic breath
Dirgha breath emphasizes utilizing the body’s full respiratory function. It focuses on controlling the rate and quality of each inhale and exhale, bringing air into three areas: the belly, ribcage, and upper chest.
Why 3-part (dirgha) breath is so helpful
For most people, everyday life comes with constant contact and connection, overstimulation, and an overwhelming amount of time constraints and physical, emotional, and financial stressors. As we rush through our responsibilities, our breathing often matches that pace. We unconsciously speed up and shorten our inhales and exhales.
Conscious breathing can reverse that trend. While some experts say dirgha breath brings in up to 60% more oxygen into the body, the real power isn’t about the extra air. Three-part breath works because it offers these three interrelated benefits:
- It requires you to regulate your breathing
- You breathe into the belly rather than the chest
- It slows down your rate of respiration
Hormone benefits of conscious breathing
Even though inhaling increases your heart rate slightly, exhaling smoothly and mindfully decreases heart rate. As a result, you may feel better able to cope with stressful situations. Focused breathing provides a sense of control, even amongst chaos or uncertainty. It even has the power to lower stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.
Keeping adrenaline and cortisol levels within a normal range is important. Cortisol helps with inflammation, sleep and wakefulness, and balances the effects of insulin. But high cortisol comes with higher risk for insomnia, heart disease, strokes, weight gain, digestive issues, and immune suppression. It also causes other hormonal imbalances, like insulin resistance, low progesterone, and reduced thyroid hormones or impaired thyroid hormone conversion.
How to do dirgha breath
Dirgha breath can be done from your desk, a chair, standing in line, or wherever else you are. (Talk with your provider first if you have pulmonary issues.) You can even get comfy if you want, but still aim for good posture. You’ll want to keep a neutral spine and avoid hunching the shoulders, slumping into the back of a chair, or folding the arms across the chest.
Inhaling with dirgha breath
- Inhale slowly through the nose, with a focus of drawing air into the belly—but not forcibly. Let the inhale visibly expand the abdomen. (You know, like Buddha belly.)
- Draw the air higher, noticing how the ribcage expands in the process.
- Continue to lift the breath into the sternum, or heart center. Let the collarbones lift.
- If you can, pause here and hold onto the breath for just a second.
Exhaling with dirgha breath
- Slow down your exhale, so it’s longer than your inhale. Send the air out through the nose, from the heart center down to the belly.
- The navel should pull in slightly as you finish your exhale.
With any breathwork, start slow and keep it short. See how your body responds to five rounds of controlled inhales and exhales, and inch your way up to longer periods of time. Want to add a few yoga postures or other breathwork to your routine? Check out the top two yoga poses all women can benefit from.