This month we are focusing more deeply on “2-Phase Breathing.” It is a way to develop more breath awareness and more breath control. The idea is to explore the active and passive phases and the reflex and neutral points in the cycle.
To start, imagine a round clock. Divide the circle in half by drawing a vertical line from 12 to 6. The left side represents the inhale (from 6 up to 12), and the right side represents the exhale (from 12 down to 6). 12 o’clock represents a completely full inhale, and 6 o’clock represents a completely empty exhale. These two points are reflex points.
If you take a big breath and fill yourself up on the inhale (12 o’clock point), you don’t have to do the exhale at that point because the reflex will do it. As soon as you stop pulling in, as soon as you let go, the exhale happens by itself. No need to push or blow or even “do” the exhale. The body does it, the reflex does it. It happens because you relax.
If you squeeze all the breath out and come to the empty point at 6 o’clock, you have reached the other reflex point. At this point you don’t need to “do” the inhale, you don’t have to pull the breath in. All you need to do is relax and let go and the breath pours into you by itself. The reflex does the work of inhaling, your body inhales by itself.
Now draw a horizontal line across the clock dividing the circle into top and bottom. These are neutral points: 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Either reflex (12 or 6) should take you to this “neutral zone.”
When you are at 12 o’clock, the internal forces of expansion that have built up will power the exhale. When you are at 6 o’clock, the forces of contraction that have built up will power the inhale. But the reflexes will not fill you up or empty you. They will only take you to the neutral points.
Now you see that the clock has four sections. The top right section is the passive phase of the exhale and the bottom right section is the active phase of the exhale. The bottom left is the passive phase of the inhale and the top left is the active phase of the inhale.
When you are close to 12, it requires tremendous effort to inhale even a little bit more breath, but it takes no effort to exhale. When you are close to 6 o’clock, it takes great effort to squeeze out even a little more breath, but it takes no effort to inhale.
At 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock it takes the same amount of effort to inhale as it does to exhale, because there are no forces pushing or pulling on the breath. This is the point where a marksman pulls the trigger on a gun. And this is the point where yogis can easily enter the “breathless state.”
If you relax at either 12 or 6—the reflex points—the breath moves by itself. The body does the breathing. If you relax at 3 or 9—the neutral points—the breath doesn’t move at all. You are in the neutral zone.
Practice playing with these two reflexes. Strengthen them, experiment with them. Get out of the way and let them do the work. Let your body do the first phase of the inhale or the exhale. And you come in only at the neutral point. There, you take over the breathing, filling yourself more or emptying yourself more.
So, when you are at 12, the body does the first half of the exhale all by itself (the passive phase), and you do the second half of the exhale (the active phase). Then the body does the first half of the inhale (passive phase), and you do the second half (the active phase).
It’s like being in a relay race. The first runner is the body. It has the baton. Then it passes control over to you. You have the baton and you take the breath further. Body does the first phase and you do the second. The breath breathes itself during the first phase and you breathe the breath during the second phase.
Notice that the top half of the clock represents the rebirthing breath, heart opening exercises and transformational practices (active inhale and passive exhale). And notice that the bottom half represents diaphragmatic breathing, used in practices such martial arts and sports, and the yogic practice of “breath of fire,” where the exhale is active and the inhale is reflexive.
Play with these reflex points and neutral points in the breathing cycle. Play with the active and passive phases of the breathing cycle. Make it a meditation. Learn what your unconscious habit is. Learn what is your default habits are under stress. Notice which phases and points are easy to touch and feel, and which ones are challenging or unfamiliar.
Welcome to the dance of breath! Welcome to 2-Phase Breathing.