My friend Mike White at breathing.com uses this phrase to describe his approach to the practice of optimal breathing.
Andrew Weil in one of his breathing courses says this: “put the exhale first.”
Dr. Peter Litchfield, my go to guy for breathing chemistry and respiratory physiology, warns us against “aborting” the exhale–which means not cutting your exhale short. Make sure that you exhale fully.
In traditional Pranayama, the ancient yogis taught us that the exhale actually comes first. The idea being that before you can take in a full breath, you first have to empty yourself completely.
So, this month, I’d like you to focus on your exhale. Practice actively extending your exhale. Squeezing out all the breath, and then allowing the inhale to be passive or reflexive.
Try it right now.
Take in a normal inhale and a normal exhale.
And before you inhale again, simply take the exhale further. Try to empty all the air out of your lungs.
Feel your belly button traveling toward your spine as you actively squeeze all the air out. And then, relax and let the inhale come in by itself.
Keep practicing this.
The exhale should take longer than the inhale–at least twice as long.
The exhale is active. You are deliberately doing the exhale. You are actively emptying yourself. Squeezing all the air out.
The inhale is passive. Notice how the inhale is automatic or reflexive. You are letting the body do the inhale. It happens by itself.
Some people like to use a ‘shushing” sound on the exhale, and some like to exhale through pursed lips. Others like to hum or tone, or use sounds like “haaah” or “hooo”.
It’s up to you. Play with it. You can breathe in and out the nose, or you can breathe in the nose and out the mouth. Experiment. Discover what is comfortable and what is challenging.
Think of the bellows or an accordion, and how when you squeeze the handles together, you force air out. And when you open, stretch or expand the handles, air is drawn in.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, and are comfortable with the feeling of it, then begin to play with speed and rhythm. Start off slowly and deliberately, and then practice breathing more rapidly.
You are beginning to understand how the “Thoracic Pump” you were born with works.
You can begin to feel how your heart and brain are fueled and supported by the working of your diaphragm.
And you can begin to experience how the circulation of blood, lymph, and even spinal fluids, are all enhanced.
Once you master this skill or practice, you can build on it, to increase your physical and mental health and wellbeing.
Your breathing strength improves, and you naturally develop more stamina, endurance, for overall performance in sports, fitness, and everyday life!