By J. L. Thompson
Many people think of yoga as a series of poses and movements that you have to get just right. While the poses and movements are integral to the practice of yoga, this view misses the importance of proper yoga breathing. Proper practice of the poses and movements is only possible when you breathe the right way.
Breathing to Relax
One of the main goals in yoga is achieving a deep state of calm and relaxation. Breathing in yoga tends to be deep and slow, because slow, deep breathing tends to have a calming, relaxing effect on both the body and the mind. That is why people who are too excited or upset are told to take long, deep breaths. In yoga, your exhalations should be a little longer than your inhalations. Also, after you breathe out, you should pause for a moment before you breath in again.
When most people breathe, they expand and compress their chests to work their lungs. This is the natural method of breathing that most people learn when they are young and it is fine for most purposes. However, in yoga you are supposed to fully empty and fill your lungs; to do that, you need to learn to breathe from your diaphragm. The diaphragm is an internal wall of muscle lying underneath your lungs. If you breath in by pushing your stomach out and breath out by pushing your stomach flat, you are pulling the diaphragm down and back up again, causing your lungs to fully empty and fill with each breath. Many singers and martial artists breathe this way, to get the most out of each breath.
In order to get the most out of each breath, your body should be as relaxed as possible. Consciously try to relax your shoulders, your chest, your neck and your head muscles. If you don’t know how to consciously relax a muscle, you can clench it for a moment then let it go completely.
With every breath you take, visualize the oxygen from the air spreading out from your lungs into every part of your body. This kind of visualization encourages the development of the right kind of awareness of your body for yoga.
Don’t Fight the Breath
Although you are supposed to aim for a certain kind of breathing in yoga, it is even more important that your breathing is unforced and natural. If your breath wants to change, don’t try to force it into the pattern you want, just let it change. Then try to guide it slowly and gently back into the desired pattern.
You will find that your yoga sessions go more smoothly and produce better results when you master the art of yoga breathing. It helps to practice the breathing method even outside of the yoga studio, separately from the poses and movements. When you get enough experience, the right kind of breathing will come naturally to you in your yoga practice.