Common steps and sub-activities

Reverse breathing

The objective of this technique is to put pressure on the diaphragm.  This technique is used in a number of yoga techniques.  It is also one of the five main keys of general Chi Kung [Qigong] practise.  In Qigong for example it is called ‘Taoist breathing’.  Numerous systems use the approach but have different names and occasionally slightly different methods of achieving the effects.

In yoga this is called Agnisar kriya, it is also used in ‘Uddiyana bandha’.

 The Sanskrit word uddiyana means 'to raise' or 'to fly upwards'. The word bandha means to 'hold', 'tighten' or 'lock'.

It  looks not only difficult but ghastly when done by a slim and practised adept, but once I have explained how it works, you will be able to see that even someone who is – shall we say - a little on the pudgy side, can achieve something.

In many systems it is preceeded by breathing awareness and belly breathing both of which help to prepare you for what is quite a difficult method.

 

It is possible to sit or stand. 

The standing posture can be the ‘horse position’,

or it can be as shown right.

The seated position can be any comfortable position,

as long as you have the back straight.

Close the eyes.

Relax the whole body.

Exhale

  • Exhale as deeply as possible by accentuated contraction of the abdominal muscles and the chest; the lungs should be emptied as much as is possible.
  • Hold the breath outside.

Raise diaphragm

  • Then try to take a false inhalation. That is, expand the chest as though you are breathing in, but without actually allowing air to enter the lungs.  This false inhalation will automatically raise the diaphragm and enable the abdomen to become concave in shape, being raised inwards and upwards.
  • There is no need to contract the abdominal muscles; in fact they should remain passive at this stage.
  • In this position, whether standing or seated,  the palms are pressed firmly against the knees and the arms straightened.  This helps to keep the position.

Hold

Stay in the final pose for as long as you can comfortably hold your breath.

Relax and release

  • Then slowly relax the chest; that is, release the false inhalation; this will automatically allow the abdomen to reassume its normal shape.
  • Inhale slowly.
  • This is 1 round.

Repeat

Repeat the process when the breathing has returned to normal.

You can practise as many rounds as you wish, but you must not strain. Beginners should

do only a few rounds initially and then slowly increase the number when their system becomes accustomed to the practice.

Comments and warning

This technique has its dangers unless done properly. The pelvis and its position affect the lower organs and as a consequence the way the person stands as well as their health and stability. The correct position of the pelvis is shown below.

When a person moves, the pelvis rotates, which means the hip joint needs to be free so that the pelvis can rotate easily around the ball and socket joint.  Furthermore there must be muscles to help stabilise the pelvis as it moves. 

 

On the front this muscular structure is provided by the recti abdominis. The counterbalancing set of muscles is called the psoas.

 

When psoas and recti abdominis are balanced, the correct upright stance shown left can be maintained; but when there is imbalance, for example, the recti are in contrast loose whilst the psoas are taut and in tension, the stance can be as shown in the picture right where the diaphragm and ribcage positions are affected. 

 

As can be seen from the diagram, having arisen from the sides of the lumbar vertebrae, the psoas pursues a somewhat S shaped route downwards.  It diagonally traverses the cavity of the pelvis, crosses the crest of the pubes and continues obliquely downward  across the hip joint, it then inserts into the femur as stated before. 

So as can be seen, by manipulating the psoas and recti abdominis we are affecting all the areas in the pelvis.

Done correctly therefore there could be real health benefits. The psoas can be made to relax. The nerves are thus also relaxed posture is improved, the sagging belly goes and relaxation follows. Health improves.

But if you strain to hard and too much over a short time period and do this too often damage can result.

It may seem bizarre, but although reverse breathing may apparently strengthen the stomach muscles, done wrongly it may actually only serve to permanently shorten and stiffen the recti.

This chronic shortening will drag down the rib structure as a whole bringing the lower ribs too close to the pelvic brim.  It will have an effect on the whole body, as it will also strain the neck and cervical spine which are included in the compensation.  The myofascial structures of the cervical spine become anteriorly shortened and result in the head coming forward.

The sag of the ribcage strains the 3 or 4 uppermost ribs as well.  There will be pain in the ribs.  Tenderness and general aches result.  In turn the ventral sag in the first and second ribs displaces and raises the first dorsal vertebra in the back.  And as a result we get the beginnings of the so called 'dowager's hump – see below.

Muscles act as pumps moving food and oxygen carrying fluids to and from cells, so exercise of a moderate sort is beneficial.  But very repetitious specific movement can in the longer term simply 'harden'  the muscle and it loses flexibility and all its pumping functions.  It also, all too frequently, shortens the muscle and contributes to a wasting of the psoas.

So great care needs to be taken here.

References

Some of the information I obtained for a description of this technique can be found in the two excellent books by Dr Jang Jwing-Ming.

  • The Root of Chinese Chi Kung
  • Muscle/Tendon Changing & Marrow/Brain washing Chi Kung.

There are also explanations in

  • Yoga and Kriya by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, and
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika  - Swami Muktibodhananda

The descriptions about the dangers of the approach can be found in