Basic Breathing Exercises – Intercostal, Clavicular, Diaphragmatic

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all Techniques of Yoga articles

Any person on an average,

 utilizes only one-third of his / her

lung capacity during the act of breathing.

Whereas nature has designed

our lung capacity,

proportional to the oxygen requirement

for optimally performing

all the essential functions of the body.

This gap in lung capacity and its utilization exists due to a number of factors, all of which are avoidable in case we can understand them properly. Rather this gap can be easily bridged with some basic breathing exercises

Prana, Bio mental energy, is fuel for any activity taking place inside the human body. Breathing process, also a voluntary process,  is one of the lower activities of Prana, and thus controlling breathing helps us control Prana. Mind as separate from the brain is not supposedly a physical entity, but a matrix of multiple packets of energy( Prana) known as thoughts. So this subtle process of thoughts knitted as Mind, fueled by the level of Prana in the body, gets directly linked to the process of breathing: Denser is this matrix, faster, shallower is the breath and vice versa. 

Disturbed Mind, a negatively charged Mind, and fearful Mind renders the breathing frequency very fast and thus shallow, reducing the utilization of the lung capacity. Prolonged shallow breathing disengages some of the vital respiratory muscles ( Intercostal muscles. Clavicular muscles and Diaphragm) from contributing to a healthy breath. These muscles need to be re-engaged for fuller breath by retraining them for the same.

Below are presented the basic breathing exercises that if performed regularly can re-train and re-engage the respiratory muscles with the breathing process for a fuller breath. The first three are best done in a standing position, as here the lungs can drop down freely in the abdominal cavity to their full size and capacity. These breathing exercises must be done regularly to train the lungs for pranayama’s Practice.

Basic Breathing Exercises

Equal Breathing Exercise 


  • Stand erect in a relaxed  & comfortable posture with feet 30 cm apart. (can also be done in sitting meditative pose) 
  • Inhale slowly and continuously in a relaxed manner to a count that is comfortable. For a start do it for five counts  and gradually increase one count every week
  • One count is equal to one second as per the standard time measuring meter for pranayama, and one round amount to one inhalation and one exhalation 
  • As soon as the inhalation is complete, start exhalation in the same manner, keeping the same count as while inhaling; Equalise inhalation and exhalation
  • Involve all respiratory muscles beginning with Diaphragm, intercostal and clavicular muscles
  • Do not constrict the nose. Use the throat and lower muscles of respiration and be aware of the sound from the throat. Avoid quick, jerky movements of the breath
  • Do not  strain the facial muscles or any part of the body
  • Do not constrict the nose to cause a sound
  • Concentrate on the gentle, uninterrupted and prolonged flow of breath
  • Do 10 rounds of  equal breathing exercis, maximum 30 rounds between all pranayamas


  • Equal breathing exercise can be safely done by everyone


  • Equalizing of breath, awareness of respiratory apparatus.


  • Augments a pleasant feeling throughout the whole body.
  • It calms the Mind, the first  step towards any further Yoga activity
  • If done regularly it reduces the number of breaths per day
  • Uses all three muscles.
  • Creates time consciousness related to breathing
  • Generates a pleasant feeling throughout the body

Intercostal Breathing Exercise

Intercostal muscles are the muscles present between the two consecutive ribs of a ribcage in the human body and help in the lateral movement of the chest as shown below.


  •  Inhale using only intercostal muscles by putting hands ( Only Stand erect, feet 30 cm apart( for indication but not exerting a force therein) on lower last ribs. Four fingers in front and thumb behind ( Woman below the chest ) ( Men below the nipples)as  also be done in sitting meditative pose),
  • Try to expand the chest  sideways, making the chest rise up as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out
  • During intercostal breathing exercise  keep the Mind/attention on the movement happening in the lower chest, especially on the expansion of the last ribs
  • Do not move your abdomen and shoulders
  • Keep the counts during inhalation and exhalation equal in number
  • One count is equal to one second and one round amount to one inhalation and one exhalation
  • Begin Intercostal breathing exercise with 3 -4 counts and can increase one count every week till you reach 10 counts
  • Avoid going above 10 counts
  • To be done to a maximum of 7 rounds


  • Fractured ribs
  • Vertigo – can be done while sitting.


  • Improves concentration
  • Exercises the Intercostal muscles, thus good for Asthmatics
  • Helps improve any breathing disorder
  • The lower lobes of the lungs get activated and vital capacity improves 
  • Certain asanas which need intercostal breathing become easy to perform

Clavicular Breathing Exercise

Clavicular muscles are the muscles which extend from the collarbone to the base of the neck from both sides.


  • Begin the clavicular breathing exercise by placing the palms facing up on the sides of the chest, elbows touching the sides of the abdomen and fingers on the collar bones, this also be done in sitting meditative pose, ( Keep the Back straight, stand comfortably erect with feet 30 cm apart shoulders
  • Inhale using  only the collar bone muscles. Make the collar region rise up as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out
  • The area below the nipples should remain motionless
  • Do not use the other two muscles
  • Concentrate on the area below the armpits and feel the fullness in the lungs in the clavicular breathing exercise
  • One count is equal to one second and one round amount to one inhalation and one exhalation
  • In the beginning, start with a count of 2 and increase up to a maximum of 5


  • Fractured collarbone, or any collar bone area surgery
  • Frozen shoulder, in this case, do it with hands placed in
  • front and the elbows on the sides of the abdomen
  • Vertigo 


•Equalizing of breath, awareness of respiratory apparatus


  • Improves concentration
  • One-Pointedness of the Mind
  • Generally, upper lobes of the lungs are not adequately ventilated, this exercise

       strengthens the clavicular muscles in the upper lobes of the lungs.

  • Beneficial to frozen shoulders.
  • Helps Asthmatic condition

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

The diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle which separates the thoracic, upper body, cavity from the abdominal cavity of the Body. This muscle plays a very important role in the breathing process.


  • For doing diaphragmatic breathing exercise lie flat on your back and pull your knees up, heels as close to the buttocks as possible. Knees and feet together
  • Place the right hand on the abdomen, just above the navel. Place the left hand at least one feet away from the body with the palm facing upwards
  • Slowly start inhaling and feel the abdomen raise up with each inhalation and feel it fall with each exhalation
  • Keep the chest stable and with no movement
  • Start with 3 seconds and gradually move the count to 8 seconds
  • Inhalation, as well as exhalation, must be performed with equal counts
  • One count is equal to one second and one round amount to one inhalation and one exhalation.
  •  Perform a maximum of 10 rounds of the diaphragmatic breathing exercise


  • Kyphosis
  • Any recent abdominal surgery or inflammation
  • A hernia


  • Activates the abdominal organs and gently massages them
  • Helps release flatus, heals constipation and improves appetite
  • Reduces extra fat in the abdominal area
  • Generates relaxation
  • helps with Insomnia
  • Good for cardiac patients as it relaxes the Inferior Vena cava and Aorta
  • Normalizes the blood pressure
  • Stress gets reduced as the Mind is calmed  down
  • Diaphragmatic breathing exercise also stimulates the Sympathetic nervous system


Watch a video on four basic breathing exercises.