The Yogis - people who practice yoga not only as an exercise but as a spiritual path - see breathing as taking in prana, which is life energy. The Cabalists (a Jewish path of mysticism and magic with several possible spellings in English) speak of ruach, which is Spirit, but also breath or wind. They believe that when God formed man out of the Earth, He breathed the breath of life into the man's nostrils, and the man became a living soul. There is a connection between breathing and spiritual energy.
Controlling our breathing can help us relax, help our bodies heal, make us more alert, or help us tune in to spirit. I know, you're thinking, "I breathe all the time." But most people breathe too shallowly most of the time. This affects our health, our level of alertness, and our ability to relax.
And so we will learn what I will call "full breathing". I first learned it in a book entitled Yoga Self Taught. The book calls it yogic breathing, but since it is useful to everyone on our various spiritual paths, we will just call it full breathing.
We can breathe through three parts of our lungs. Top breathing is when we take shallow breaths which mostly put air in the tops of our lungs. When we breathe this way our clavicles , also called collar bones, tend to move to open up space at the top of the lungs. Think of the rapid shallow breathing or a frightened person. Or a lady who is about to give birth and who gets out of breath really fast because she can only effectively breathe at the top because the rest of her is too full of baby!
Middle breathing is chest breathing. Our rib cage expands, our chest gets bigger, and the main part of our lungs fills with air. When we have been running, we may still chest breathe, but with big, visible breaths.
Bottom breathing is breathing from the diaphragm. This is the sheet of muscle which separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. When we bottom breathe, our bellies expand and air fills the lowest parts of our lungs. If you have taken a singing class you have probably been told to breathe from your diaphragm. I suspect we Americans typically dont because we have a silly preoccupation with our bellies looking small and dont feel right about breathing in a way that expands our tummies. Unwise.
In full breathing, we consciously control our breathing, filling the lungs all the way, bottom to top, and then empty them all the way. In our exercise we will take in extra air and blow out more air when we seem done. We won't necessarily do that part later, when we full breathe at the start of meditation or rituals, but in the exercise we are expanding our capacity and developing good habits.
Exercise 1: Full Breathing
Find a nice spot to lie your back. I recommend the floor because your body may associate being in bed with sleeping and make it difficult to focus. But that is just a suggestion.
a: Lie on your back in a comfortable position. Your feet will probably a few inches ipart and your arms a little away from your body. You do want you arms off your body, but wherever feels natural.
b: Exhale normally. Then squeeze out another puff of air by contracting your belly and chest..
c: Relax those muscles so some air will come in, and continue with expanding your belly and diaphragm. As your belly reaches for the sky, the bottoms of your lungs fill with air. The bottom of your chest may naturally expand a little, but that is not the goal.
d: When your belly is full, expand your chest. The front of your chest should go forward and the sides expand also as you take a good deep chest-breath.
e: When your chest is full of air, fill he top by pulling back your shoulders a little, raising your chin a little, and moving your collar bones up and out. This is not as obvious as the first two. If you need to, you can lay one hand on that part of your chest and neck a few times to learn what it feels like.
f: Use your diaphragm to take in one more puff of air. The goal is to fill your lungs a little more than you think you can so your usual breathing will eventually deepen too. (When you are full breathing to start meditation or a ritual you will skip that part, but as an exercise you will do it.)
g:Hold it for five seconds (more if you like).
h: Relax your muscles so some air will come out, then intentionally use your belly and diaphragm eo empty the bottom of your lungs.
i:Then continue by shrinking and emptying your chest.
j: Then force out the air from the top/clavicular area.
k: Give one more puff out from your belly to get some more bad air from your lungs. (This, like step f, this is part of our exercise, but you wont need to do it when full-breathing to begin meditation or a ritual.)
l: Relax to allow a little air to flow in, which takes you back to step c.
m: Do this until you have taken ten full breaths with the extra inhalation and exhalation for exercise, then spend a few minutes still consciously using the three stages of breathing, but without forcing it.
n: breathe naturally a few minutes, enjoying the sound and feel of air flowing into and out of your lungs.