My Theme: Yoga. For those of you who don't know, I've been working on obtaining my yoga teacher's certification for the past year and am just a little over a month from graduating with my RYT200. As such, I figure there's no better way to spend this month than teaching you folks some of what I've learned.
Pranayama means breath control or, alternately, breath liberation and describes the process of deep breathing one engages in while meditating. In my teacher training we learned about 4 different kinds of basic breath that the human body engages in. (This doesn't include the various types of breathing practices one learns in yoga like fire breath.)
In paradoxical breath, there is a sharp inhalation and the diaphragm moves up within the abdominal cavity (like a gasp). In constricted thoracic breathing the volume of breath is low, the abdominal muscles are rigid, the diaphragm moves upward and the body is in a state of stress. Both of these forms of breath are extremely unhealthy as it decreases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and constricts the muscles.
In thoraco-diaphramatic breath the diaphragm moves down and the rib cage expands up and out- this expands the entire thoracic cavity and allows the lungs to fully inflate. In abdominal breathing the diaphragm moves down into into the abdominal cavity in the lower torso, forcing the belly to expand outwards (thus why it's referred to as belly breathing. Both of these types of breathing are very healthy due to the increased amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and improved muscle control.
In yoga we regularly practice a combination of the last two wherein we attempt to fully expand both the thoracic and abdominal cavities so that not only does the belly expand but the rib cage also moves up and out. Breathing in this way is a difficult endeavor when first practiced as we are not used to using our muscles in such a way. However, with regular practice individual gain control and learn to harness the breath.
The single most interesting thing about breathing, in my opinion, is the way that the air moves. Most people believe (incorrectly) that the body is sucking the air in, like a vacuum. In actuality, expanding the cavities in the torso decreases the air pressure inside the body such that the air pressure outside become great enough to force the air in. So it's not really your body breathing in, it's opening up the space for the universe to force its way in.