In Yoga a full yogic breath is important because it feeds the entire ‘energy’ body, the pranamayakosha. Yoga divides us into 5 separate entities: physical body, mental body, energy body, intuitive /wisdom body and bliss body. In order to be in full health, all of these need to be addressed in any therapy. For example, does the person have something in their life that gives them joy? This would be relating to the bliss body.
The energy body is also divided into 5 with each of the parts (or winds as they are known – ‘vayus’), feeding and nourishing a particular region of the body. Anatomically this accounts for 4 parts of yoga breath (see numbers below).
The five parts of the energy body are:
- Apana – lower belly/legs etc (breath into lower belly)
- Samana – between heart and navel – digestive system / effects heart & circulatory (breath into waist)
- Udana – body above the neck (breath up towards collar bones/throat)
- Prana- from larynx to top of diaphragm (breath into chest/ribs)
- Vyana – pervades the whole body – promoting coordination / circulation and the wind behind the other vayus.
The way you would use this would be for example, if someone was suffering from constipation (intestines) typically this would indicate a weak apana vayu. Therefore a practice that uses this part of the body (i.e. lower body) would be useful. Similarly IBS patients might benefit from a practice emphasising Samana if deficient. This is a simplified example but you begin to gain an understanding of how Yoga therapy may work incorporating breath work.
In short, a full breath feeds every aspect of the body, and in yoga therapy practice anecdotal evidence is plentiful that this methodology works, and is one of the tools available to the yoga therapist.
In yoga there also are hand gestures (Mudras) which can be used to focus the prana (the energy that makes up your energy body) into these regions to facilitate health and improved energy to areas of the body considered lacking in energy and needing assistance.
With all of this in mind, it is clear to see how a full breath is beneficial to all areas and how by understanding it you can look after your body.