Microcosmic Orbit Breath

Not only a fun name to say “Microcosmic Orbit”, but also a visual tool for your breath pattern to help to focus your mind in the here and now.

Other names include small orbit, chi circulation or in Japanese “shoshuten” which means “circling of light”.

I originally discovered this pattern during my Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark. Yin has a connection with the Daoist view for energy, using the Meridian Lines to map the directional movement of Qi/Chi or energy throughout the body. This method is a way to gather stray energies in the body and make a circle pattern around the torso (think length of spine) to promote circulation of Chi for both health and wholeness. This technique touches all of the chakras and both yin and yang meridian lines and their associated Organs (spelled with a capital “O” since it represents both the actual physical organ like the lungs but also their functions).

If you have ever enjoyed a pool in the summer, you may have walked around the circle and created a whirlpool effect. If you also had the task of cleaning the pool, you would notice the dirt and debris then gathered at the very center in a water tornado. If you walked this path for long enough and then switched directions, you have a hard time walking against the water’s current. This is how I see this breath pattern. Imagine that the pool is your body, the water is the breath and any debris is energy that is stagnant. Using the breath (water) in a circular fashion, the energy is stirred around. You get activity, momentum, a whirlpool!

In this visual breath pattern, your focus and intention are set to move the breath to aid in the circulation of energy. It can be done in any position but most often from a comfortable upright seated position so the spine is neutral. I highlight around 2 minutes with just focusing on your breathing first before adding in the visual aspect which can be done for another 2 or 3 minutes. So in total, it is a great way to spend 5 minutes of your day.


Practice Details ~ Total time around 5 minutes

  • Find a comfortable seat so the spine can have its natural curves. My suggestion is to sit on a bolster or folded blanket on the floor. Or use a chair but sit away from the back support.
  • Allow your tongue to lightly rest on the roof of your mouth. Seal your lips to breath via the nose.
  • Take a moment to align your spine. Shifting around to ensure your base or pelvis is comfortable and neutral. Release the shoulders. Draw the head back to align ears over shoulders and slight tip down of chin towards chest to elongate the neck.
  • Palms rest in your lap or you can select a mudra for your practice.
  • Establish a connection to your breathing. This is an important step to ensure you are not taking too large of a breath and remain relaxed/comfortable. This step normally takes me 2 minutes at least. Breath via the nose and allow a light, silent and slow inhale and exhale. The movement is felt around the low ribs, or diaphragm area, and the volume of breath is low. It is not a full to lung capacity or deep breath. (more on this in future blog posts using Restoring Prana by Robin Rothenberg book) If you find it helpful to count your breath in seconds, try for a 4 second inhale, 1 sec pause, 4 second exhale, 1 sec pause.
  • Draw awareness to the lower belly or second chakra (svadhisthana). Set your intention for the practice and imagine energy starting to stir.
  • Ascending Orbit = As you inhale, follow the flow down the midline of the body, looping around the pelvis towards the backline of the body. Following up the spine from tailbone to the crown of the head. All of the way to the third eye (ajna, point between the eyebrows).
  • Pause for 2 seconds
  • Descending Orbit = As you exhale, the breath/energy travels from third eye towards the throat, heart center and back to the lower belly again.
  • Pause for 2 seconds.
  • Continue for 2 to 3 minutes (or longer if you choose).
  • When done, let the visualization go and linger for a few seconds and notice how you feel.

Tips & Tricks

  • The distance to visually travel for the ascending orbit (low belly, back of torso to third eye) is longer than the descending orbit (third eye to low belly). I tend to visualize that part of the loop to be fairly quick since I do not want to take in more unnecessary oxygen.
  • Take your time. Establish your breathing pattern first and then add in the focus of the visualization. The more you relax into it and step away from timing yourself, the more benefits you will receive.
  • Be patient with any visualization. It may feel like you are “faking it” or just using your rusty adult imagination skills, but give it time. Pranayama is a practice.
  • Not feeling anything or any different? Don’t give up. You may not notice it right away, but you may sense body temperature changes, mood shifts, better night of sleep, etc.

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Mindful Breathing: Ocean Breath

There are so many benefits of mindful breathing and increasing the length of the breath cycle. This is free and easy to do. It also can be done at anytime during your day! The magic is in the slowness of the breath cycle. Consciously breathing and lengthening the cycle to around 10 seconds per breath or 6 breaths per minute. This is a switch from unconscious breathing to consciously breathing and watching the breath, setting a little internal timer in your head to count the inhale and exhale length. There is some effort to slow down the inhale in a comfortable and smooth manner. However, there is no need to force out the exhale, the diaphragm has a natural rebound effect. The focus should be on the slow and smooth inhale and the slight pauses.

“Four S’s” of breathing exercises: Maintain a smooth, slow, subtle and steady breath

Each breath is unique. I encourage you to try this practice without expecting a precise count with each inhale and exhale. If you are new to this technique, I encourage you to start small. Begin with 3 to 5 cycles of the Ocean Breath and then just relax and let your unconscious breathing take over again.

Side note if you want to follow the route of your breath according to how your diaphragm works, you can do the following. As you inhale, follow the breath as it fills the upper chest (aka upper lobes of the lungs), then expands the rib cage and the finally can be felt in the belly due to the diaphragm contracting and moving slightly downward. The exhale will be the verse of this route as the diaphragm returns back to the upside down dome-shaped muscle near your low ribs.

Simple Pranayama Exercise: Ocean Breath

  • Find a comfortable seated position so your spine can be long. Sit on some height like folded blankets or a cushion. If this is very uncomfortable, then practice in supported bridge pose with a block under your pelvis/sacrum.
  • Inhale for 4 seconds
  • Pause for 1 second
  • Exhale for 4 seconds
  • Pause for 1 second

Benefits

  • Activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is your rest/digest/recover nervous system. The great part is just your breath alone can enable this response. You may notice an increase in the saliva in your mouth and a decrease to the rate of your heart beat.
  • Increases heart rate variability
  • Healthy for your vagus nerve which is your pathway of information to and from the brain and organs.
  • Improves baroreflex or the way your body automatically changes blood pressure
  • Improves exercise tolerance. This is the reason we are encouraged to breathe through your nose slow and smooth while exercising.
  • Increases blood oxygenation which means the heart does not need to work as hard since there is an increase in the amount of oxygen in the blood stream.

Recommended books

  • https://yinyoga.com/the-yinside-of-breathing/
  • The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark
  • Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
  • Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing by Timothy McCall
  • Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

  • This Pranayama (breath control) entails inhaling in one nostril and exhaling out the opposite nostril.  I will be describing the moon-piercing breath (Chandra Bhedana) since I have found it to be the most calming version. It considers your left side of your body, the Yin, which is the restful and cooling side.  The opposite is the right side of your body, the Yang, which is the active and hotter side.  All your inhales will occur via your left nostril.  All your exhales will be done in your right nostril.  If you like a visual, the breath goes in and out in a clockwise fashion.      
  • Have a tissue ready since this tends to clear out sinus blockages and can help during allergy season.  This is a relaxing breath to do before a big meeting or something you know that elevates your stress levels.  It is also a nice one to do right before going to sleep.
  • Steps to perform this breath:
    • Take either hand and curl in your first and middle fingers into your palm.  Bring your thumb to the outside of one of your nostrils.  Your ring and pinkie fingers will be on the outside of your other nostril. 
    • Block your right nostril, inhale left.
    • Block your left nostril, exhale right.
    • Continue this breath for one to three minutes.  Each breath should be slow, controlled and deep.