“Take a big inhale, filling up the belly, expanding the side ribs… and release it with a long obnoxious sigh.”
Familiar words to you? If you said yes, then you’ve likely taken one of my yoga classes. If you’ve heard it in my yoga class, there is a chance you’ve also heard the logic behind it. This is one of my most often repeated phrases, and it’s backed by both science and reality.
Pranayama is the yogic practice and science of controlling the breath, which is the source of our prana, or vital life force. Guru Jagat alternatively describes it as breathing technology in her writing, talks, and classes, which I’ve really started to appreciate (and use the term a good bit). All lineages of yoga focus on the breath, yet I really appreciate the Kundalini Yoga list of benefits of the breath: “Physical well-being. Lightness of heart. Clarity of mind. Inner and outer health and fulfillment. Weight loss. Purpose, intention, and direction.”
Within our body’s center lies the thoracic duct. Specifically, this powerful vessel starts at the top of the sternum, reaching all the way to the small intestines. Proper diaphragmatic breathing, a simple pranayama or breathing technology, will massage the duct and move lymph fluid from the arms, legs, and head toward the thoracic duct. Thelymph fluid is cycled through the body’s laundry system and ‘garbage’, ortoxins,are excreted, sweated out or otherwise expelled in the proper, well-designed process. Simple movements coordinated with diaphragmatic breathing does this.
We often associate sighing with emotion; my typical example when teaching is to sigh like a teenager who’s asked to do chores rather than text with a friend. We sigh more frequently when we’re feeling frustrated, tired, or bleh; but we can also sigh with relief, or sometimes for no apparent reasonor without noticing. A sigh is different from a regular breath because it’s deeper and fills your lungs with more oxygen — and usually feels fulfilling to have your lungs fill up to the brim with air.
During a sigh, the lungs’ alveoli, or air sacs, expand, providing us with a sense of relief. While sighs may seem like an expression of emotion, it turns out that they serve a specific function — to inflate these air sacs when some of them have collapsed. This process helps keep the lungs functioning long-term.
How to practice –
· Find a comfortable position, seated or laying down, in a quiet spot
· Close the eyes
· Place the hands on the thighs with palms down, or one hand on the heart and other on the belly*
· Take a couple of normal breaths and try to clear the head of anything else on your mind
· Take a big inhale through the nose, filling the belly, expanding the sigh ribs – until you are all the way filled
· Open the mouth and release the breath with a great big sigh (the more obnoxious the better!)
· Repeat 5-10 times
· Return to a normal cadence of breath for you
· Slowly open the eyes
· Sit and notice – what comes up, what feelings do you have?
· Thank yourself for your practice
*This is a suggestion of simple hand placements, and know there are plenty of powerful mudras (hand positions or gestures) that can help channel or focus specific intentions of the practice – stay tuned for this to be featured in another blog post.
“Those sighs are music to my ears!” – Melissa Rusk
Y4C – Tari Prinster
Invincible Living – Guru Jagat
The Science Behind Sighing: Breathing Deeply Is A Life-Saving Reflex, Sustains Lung Function- Lecia Bushak
Sighing reduces physiological tension in anxiety-sensitive individuals- Steven Pace