How to Do Three-Part Breath (Dirgha Pranayama)

Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of yoga, is a concentration practice focused on the breath. It not only prepares you for meditation, but also decreases heart rate and lowers blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. “When you feel nervous and excited, the breath is more shallow,” says Micah Mortali, Director of the Kripalu Schools, “but when you deepen the breath, the mind mirrors that slower wave.” Micah says that you can disrupt the fight-or-flight response and shift to the relaxation response through pranayama.

The Three-Part Breath, or Dirgha pranayama, is a simple and powerful practice that activates all these benefits. “It should feel like a gentle wave of motion,” says Micah. “There should be a thorough emptying of the breath.”

Here's how to do it.

Part One: Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand softly as the breath moves into your lungs. Then exhale through your nose, tightening your abdominal muscles and drawing your belly button to the spine, allowing as much air as possible to escape from your lungs.

Part Two: Much the same, with an added step. Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand, and then allow the breath to expand your rib cage as well. When you exhale through the nose, squeeze the air out of your rib cage and belly until they’re empty.

Part Three: Take it a step farther. Inhale through the nose, allowing your belly to expand as the breath moves into your lungs and rib cage, and then invite the breath into your upper chest, to your pectoral muscles and clavicle. Then exhale fully.