Anatomy and Stages of Breathing #Pranayama


As a yoga practitioner, it is important to have attained a level of understanding of the basic physiological functioning of the breath.  And in order to achieve this understanding, we must examine the structure of our breathing.

The contracting diaphragm is the primary respiratory muscle.  It is like the skin of a drum.  It separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity, and on inhalation it descends onto the organs below, creating pressure. As a result, the thoracic cavity expands, while the abdominal cavity contracts. As we exhale, the opposite occurs: the diaphragm relaxes and releases upward.  Meanwhile, the ribcage relaxes inward, allowing for a somewhat counter-intuitive space in the abdomen.

Breath equals life. But do you ever bother to ask: why do we need breath that much?

Since we have been unconsciously doing it since the first day we came into this world, the breathing process has been taken for granted by almost all of us. All we know is that we need to take in oxygen in order to keep our bodies running. But very few of us have taken the time to really understand the breathing process. The following article will explore the mechanics of breathing, particularly the:

  • different stages of the breathing process;
  • different kinds of breathing;
  • organs used in breathing; and
  • process of breathing

Stages of Breathing

Basically, breathing has four stages:

  1. inhalation, or the taking in of air
  2. a pause before exhaling
  3. exhaling, or the pushing out of gas
  4. a pause before inhaling again

These four stages comprise the cycle of respiration. In Pranayama, yogis prolong the pauses in a way that will benefit their health and state of mind. However, the two pause stages may not exactly be restful since the whole respiratory system, along with its muscular and nervous components, goes through a reversal of direction and many small adaptations whenever such a reversal occurs.

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