How to Do Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman laying on a yoga mat
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Targets: Breathing, focus

Level: Beginner

Three-Part Breath (Dirga Pranayama) is one of the most calming, grounding breathing exercises you can do. It really works to help focus your attention on the present moment and get in tune with the sensations of your physical body. For these reasons, it's often taught at the beginning of yoga classes as a way to transition students from their workaday lives into the time they have set aside for yoga. If you practice at home, it can work the same way. Do this pranayama when you first get on your mat to shake off your day and prepare yourself for practice.

Benefits

Deep breathing will help oxygenate your blood, nourishing your entire body. When you are under stress, your breath may be quick and shallow. Intentional breathing as in this practice will help calm you. Greater oxygen flow to the brain will help you become more focused and alert. This technique is taught to relieve stress and even to address panic attacks. You can use it throughout the day whenever you are feeling tension.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need an area where you can lay out your mat. While this breath is often done while seated in a comfortable, cross-legged position, it is also very nice to do it while lying on the back, particularly at the start of your practice. When you are lying down, you can really feel the breath moving through your body as it makes contact with the floor.

  1. Come to lie down on your back with the eyes closed, relaxing your face and your body. You can keep the legs outstretched or bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet to your mat if that's more comfortable. If you bend your knees, let them rest against each other.
  2. Begin by observing the natural inhalation and exhalation of your breath without changing anything. If you find yourself distracted by the activity in your mind, try not to engage in the thoughts. Just notice them and then let them go, bringing your attention back to the inhales and the exhales.
  3. Begin to inhale and exhale deeply through the nose.
  4. On each inhale, fill the belly up with your breath. Expand the belly with air like a balloon.
  5. On each exhale, expel all the air out from the belly through your nose. Draw your navel back towards your spine to make sure that the belly is empty of air.
  6. Repeat this deep belly breathing for about five breaths. This is part one.
  7. On the next inhale, fill the belly up with air. Then when the belly is full, draw in a little more breath and let that air expand into the rib cage causing the ribs to widen apart.
  1. On the exhale, let the air go first from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together, and then from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.
  2. Repeat this deep breathing into the belly and rib cage for about five breaths. This is part two.
  3. On the next inhale, fill the belly and rib cage up with air. Then sip in just a little more air and let it fill the upper chest, all the way up to the collarbone, causing the area around the heart (which is called the heart center in yoga), expand and rise.
  4. On the exhale, let the breath go first from the upper chest, allowing the heart center to sink back down, then from the rib cage, letting the ribs slide closer together. Finally, let the air go from the belly, drawing the navel back towards the spine.
  5. Continue at your own pace, eventually coming to let the three parts of the breath happen smoothly without pausing.
  6. Continue for about 10 breaths.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this practice, avoid these errors.

Breathing Too Deeply

Do not force your lungs into overcapacity. Your lungs should feel comfortably full, not like they are going to burst.

Strained Breathing

Your breath should come in and go out smoothly.

Modifications and Variations

You can practice this pose in several different ways.

Need a Modification?

You can do Three-Part Breath from any comfortable seated or reclined pose. Try Corpse Pose, Easy Pose, or Bound Angle Pose. If you are not sure whether you are breathing correctly, place your hand gently on your belly, ribs, and collarbone to ensure you are expanding each of those in sequence.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you are able to do Three-Part Breath without any problem, you can vary the pattern. Try lengthening your exhalations.

Safety and Precautions

This technique should be safe for most people, but it may be difficult if you have asthma or other causes of breathing difficulties. If you feel any dizziness, return to your normal breathing pattern.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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