There are many breathing techniques which serve different purposes. You can breathe at any age…but you may not always be able to do every pose (asana)! You can cheat the body but you cannot cheat the breath.
The popular 3 part breath was not originally pranayama but used as a purifying tool. This particular breath creates conflict with the body’s natural movement. When you inhale, the diaphragm naturally lifts, therefore, the belly should not expand. You want the spine to lengthen and it can’t if the belly is full. Keep it simple…inhale from above the heart, exhale from below the heart.
It is unfortunate that we think of pranayama as a “practice”. Pranayama is nothing more or less than conscious breathing. It isn’t something we DO, it’s something we ARE.
Breath lies in the heart of all movement. The breath is the center of the practice. The breath follows the same intensity of the asana practice. Develop strength in the breath and your body and life are strengthened. In the end, the whole body breathes and the world breathes along with us.
So…the best breathing technique is NO technique. Never force the breath to do things it doesn’t want to do. The best technique is simply to experience the breath and allow it to follow its own natural rhythms. Breathe out AH-pana! When our body relaxes then our brain quiets down. As we continue to breathe and surrender, we slowly become the stillness in which all technique falls away and the authentic breath emerges and expresses itself fully.
Yoga Master and Teacher of Teachers, Krishnamacharya, described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: "Inhale and God approaches you. Hold the inhalation and God remains with you. Exhale and you approach God. Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God." Let the divine “breathe” and express itself.
This is sometimes called “Stop-and-Wait” breathing. After exhale, we pause and wait for the next inhale to come to us, to let it happen. Imagine yourself standing on a warm beach, looking out at the ocean and seeing way off in the distance the growing swell of the next incoming wave. Don’t respond right away, let the swell continue to grow and watch it with interest but without any craving or avoidance. Don’t run out to it or away from it. Let the inhale come to you and receive it gracefully and gratefully, like a gift. Pay very close attention to the moment when the breath turns around; when the inhale becomes the exhale and when the exhale becomes the inhale. That moment is an effortless stopping of the breath, a prelude the purposeful retention (kumbhaka), which induces a pleasure sense of calm.
You can observe a lot just by watching. Just as bees follow the route of the queen bee and rest when she rests, so when the mind stops the senses also stop their activity. Pranayama prepares the body for meditation.
"Inhale from above, exhale from below"
Breath and movement seem separate but they can become one action and THAT creates yoga. Inhalation corresponds to the receptivity of life. Exhalation relates to the strengthening of the base. You are participating with the ascending and descending prana current. Yoga is the merging of the polarities above and below/right and left/masculine and feminine. Strength Receiving merging at the heart (hrid) is your direct experience with life.
Anatomically, the lungs are like passive sponges, they don’t expand and contract under their own power. They’re stuck inside the ribcage and are pulled open and squeezed by the motion of the ribs. Your spine will physically react to your breath, lengthening up on the inhale, shortening down on the exhale. Your spine actually oscillates with your breath. Imagine that your breath is playing your spine like an accordion or that your spine is akin to a long spring.
So yogic breathing is simple consciously watching the natural breath and moving as a partner with it.