Expand Your Breath. Increase Your Health.

by Darina Brown


Did you know that we use only 25% of our lung capacity?

You might think that is not important but let me ask you… are you reaching your maximum potential at anything when you do it at only 25%? I’ve always been very active and a big believer in "use it or lose it". Unless we remain active and work at it as we age, we lose as much as 5% of our muscle mass each decade, with a corresponding decrease of about a liter of lung capacity by age 65. So let’s bring attention to our lungs!

In yoga, breath is known as prana or “life force”, and is one of the most important things we can work on for optimal health. When you are stressed or anxious, your breath is short and choppy, but when you are super relaxed, your breath is deep, relaxed, and slow. Deep, full breathing not only feels good, it is a way to create length and width in your body, space in your mind, and inner peace in your heart.

One of the best ways I have found to improve lung function is to exercise my lungs gently from the inside out. This method is the opposite of typical, passive breathing. What we do is intentionally breathe fully, remain present and working on stretching and increasing our capacity by taking in even more air after we feel that our lungs full. As you learn this technique you can even begin to breathe into your back, with your back ribs expanding, which feels like an amazing massage for your entire back and spine.

My personal practice for the past 5 weeks during this pandemic, on top of my regular routine of yoga, pilates, and running, has been to practice this type of breathing every evening for about 20 minutes. It leaves you feeling expanded, relaxed, and ready for a great night of sleep! You can do this lying down on your mat, in bed (yes you heard me right), or seated. If you are new to this, I would recommend lying down to start. Follow below or you can also follow along with my video of the practice. THE FULL LUNG PRACTICE ...

1. Breathing Into the Lower Lungs

Place both hands on the bottom of your rib cage, lower ribs, and start sending your breath intentionally into your hands. You might wonder if you are doing it right, but don’t worry about it, just do it! On the inhale feel you lower ribs expands in all directions (sideways, back and front). After taking a full breath, pause for a beat, then sip a little more air in. You can do this sipping 2 or 3 times but don’t do it to the point where you are straining or tensing. When you exhale, empty and relax. Please don't tighten or contract the muscles when exhaling. Repeat for 5-8 breathes, then let go and allow your body to breath 2-3 times in a relaxed way, on its own.

2. Breathing Into the Middle Lungs

Place both hands on the sides of your rib cage at approximately the middle, stretch from side to side and lift your ribs both up towards the ceiling and up towards your head. On your inhale, breathe into your hands at the middle rib cage to stretch the lungs from inside out in all directions. After taking a full breath, pause for a beat, then sip a little more air in a couple of times, making sure you remain relaxed as you do it. Exhale, empty and release. Repeat 5-8 times, then try to hold the last big inhale…breath retention for about 10 seconds. Release. Take 2-3 relaxed natural breaths and see if you feel different - at this point I usually feel relaxed and light - as if there is more space in my body.

3. Breathing Into the Upper Lungs

Place both hands on the sides of your upper rib cage, with your thumbs tucked into your arm pits. Stretch from side to side and lift your thumbs both up towards the ceiling and up towards your head. On your inhale, direct your breaths to the upper rib cage and feel your shoulders, your collar bones, and your upper chest expanding. After taking a full breath, pause for a beat, then sip a little more air in for a couple of times as before. On your exhales, empty and release. Repeat for 5-8 full breaths, then try to hold the last big inhale for about 20 seconds. Don’t strain and let go early if you need to, it’s not a big deal! Take 2-3 relaxed natural breaths and see how you feel.

If you can make this a regular daily routine for a couple of weeks, as I have, you will feel the benefits increasing over time. As it becomes a natural habit, if feels great to be able to turn on that maximum lung capacity at any time that you need it.

Please give it a try, and I’ll be back in my next post to explain how we can go even deeper in our breathing practice.

I love you!

Darina Brown is a yoga teacher and pilates instructor who blend crisp anatomy knowledge with softness and wisdom.

Darina has been teaching and practicing for years. With that experience comes heartfelt wisdom - because her practices are not simply something she read on a page, but rather a gift she's discovered and rediscovered, defined and redefined through her time with thousands of clients.

Her connection to Yoga is personal, not simply intellectual, which makes her classes that much more potent in delivering the physical and emotional connection to practice that everyone wants and needs from a guide. Hop into one of Darina's classes or view her videos to benefit from her instruction, her kindness, and her mastery of blending science and philosophy.

Fun things to know about Darina!


A mom to two beautiful active children, a coffee and beach/mountain lover, but most of all passionate Yoga and Pilates human being.


Yoga has always been a huge part of my life, helping me get through my personal challenges and I love sharing that with my students. Encouraging them and making them feel seen and heard.


It does not matter if you are bendy like a pretzel, that is not yoga. Just arrive on your mat mentally, open your heart and be willing to stay!


Outlander series - 8 books, it took me one year to finish!


Dermot Kennedy

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