Breathing Correctly in Yoga

If there is one crucial lesson that the practice of yoga or tai chi teaches us, it is how to breathe. Without breath, there is nothing. But for many of us, trying to breathe correctly in yoga class can be more frustrating and baffling exercise than standing in Warrior I posture for five minutes. We take anywhere from 12,000 to 25,000 breaths per day. The variance in number largely depends upon the depth of your breath.

warrior 1 yogaSo why we do wrestle so much with learning how to correctly breathe when we are doing it so many times a day? You would think we would be breathing experts by now. But if you have ever sat in lotus posture and had your teacher walk you through a few simple breathing exercises, you understand how illusive our breath still remains to us despite the frequency with which we do it.

Breathing is our most fundamental action as a living being. We haven’t stopped breathing since we came into this world and we won’t stop until we leave it. For most of us, we spend our days without any awareness that we are breathing. Moreover, we have very little sensitivity about the quality of our breath. The depth of our breath, whether it is shallow or deep, is largely dictated by what we are doing and how we are following. The next time you see a police car’s lights behind in your rear view mirror, notice your breath. Or take heed of what happens to the pace of your breathing just as you are about to fall asleep.

Deep breathing, when it is practiced correctly has the ability to improve our health and well being. The kind of deep breathing that we do in yoga class, called Ujjayi breath in the Ashtanga yoga method, should be both relaxing and invigorating. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you are struggling with “getting” your breath in yoga or when you’ve experienced in a spontaneous stressful situation.

1. Relax! The key to yogic breathing is relaxation. Before you begin, swallow once and do a quick scan of your facial muscles. Unclench your jaws, soften the muscles around your mouth, unfurrow your eyebrows, relax your forehead muscles, drop your shoulders away from your ears and keep a steady gaze with your eyes. As you balance your breath, your breath will then become your compass that allows you to stay grounded and focused as you do your asana practice.

2. Don’t strain. If you find that you are straining with your breath, it is time to back off. Yogic breathing should be focused, but it should not force you to lose your breath. Once you have a continuous and deep breath going, your intention is to maintain the quality of your breath as you move in and out of postures. When you start to lose the fluid rhythm of your breath that is your signal to ease up on your practice.

3. Let go. Deep yogic breathing involves increasing oxygen to your muscles and building internal heat. Both of these factors will enable you to travel into deeper places in your yoga practice. As your breath becomes rhythmic, it will invoke a meditative quality to your practice which is the where your entire yoga practice will come from and will ultimately end in.

And remember: The most important lesson to employ both in and out of the yoga studio is to keep breathing.

5 Responses to Breathing Correctly in Yoga

  1. Praveen says:

    You are quite correct. In fact the incorrect breathing can take away the benefits that you may be getting whether it is from exercise or the yoga.
    One should understand the correct breathing is a part of the yogic postures . Thanks for nice elucidation on this topic, Heather.

  2. heather says:

    You are absolutely correct! When the breathing is not done correctly, your practice is thrown off and you open up the space for injury. I’m glad you appreciated the tips and I thank you for your comments as well.

    I have heard it said a number of times by expert yoga teachers that if you don’t have a balanced breath, you don’t have a yoga practice.

  3. Victoria Nikolov says:

    Please write to my email address to tell me what happens inside the body to relieve stress when you breath deeply?

    Why do you need to breathe deeply to relieve stress?

    If you can send me information, I need to know.

  4. Victoria Nikolov says:

    Please write to my email address to tell me what happens inside the body to relieve stress when you breathe deeply?
    Why do you lneed to breathe deeply to relieve stress?
    If you can send me information, I really need to know.

    Please put, “INFORMATION ON BREATHING YOU WANTED” in the subject I will see it. Thank you so much. I hope you know the answer. I couldn’t find it anywhere.

  5. heather says:

    When you breathe deeply, as you do in yoga class, your body takes in more oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. This process slows the heart, relaxes muscles and lowers blood pressure. You feel these subtle but powerful changes as your whole body starts to slow down and you in turn start to relax as well. The oxygen also releases endorphins throughout your body. Endorphins are naturally-occurring hormones that bring on feelings of relaxation and contentment.

    When you get stressed, do you notice how your breath quickens, your muscles, particularly those in your face, tighten and your heart beat gets quicker? All of these responses to stress are necessary if real danger is a threat but for most of us, if we are simply reacting to an argument or an angry coworker, over time these stress-induced effects can take their toll on our health. Researchers are not sure of the exact role that stress plays in our health but we do know that stress is a contributing factor to coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, irregular heart beats and chest pain. Therefore, in today’s fast-paced and stressful world, it is that much more important to learn how to properly manage how you react to stressful situations. Deep breathing exercises are an effective and inexpensive way to control your response to stress.

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