Before we come to yoga, most of us breathe in an unconscious and inefficient way. As the breath is central to our wellbeing, it is super important to conquer this early on and learn to breathe intelligently and own our breath.
The following five tips can be used as a breathing exercise in any upright or prone position. Most importantly though is the application of this breath to your asana practice.
Aim to first work on the breath in isolation, and then bring the breath into your practice.
“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” ~Unknown
1. The Nose
First and most simple, breathe using your nose, not your mouth! The mouth is for eating, the nose is for breathing.
Using the nose to breathe helps regulate the speed, humidity, and temperature of the air coming into our lungs, making our breath more efficient and easier. Simple yet super effective.
Simply put: Breathe in and out through the nose.
2. Breath Direction
The inhale travels down, and the exhale travels back up.
As you inhale, feel the breath moving down towards the belly button, tracing a line with the breath down and then out in all directions. As you exhale, feel the breath come in towards the spine and then up towards the throat.
Simply put: Inhale drops down, exhale lifts up.
3. Release Tension with the Inhale
Bring the breath down and out. Let go of all tension in the belly, side ribs, and lower back, and allow the expansive quality of the breath to create space in your abdomen in all directions. As the breath comes in deep, it helps support the spine and create alignment, allowing you to stand tall without over-activating through the belly.
Simply put: Inhale to create space in the body, releasing tension from the belly out in all directions.
4. Strength with the Exhale
After expansion on your inhale, your exhale gives you contraction and strength. As you exhale, feel a gentle squeeze in and up from your pelvic floor, through your lower belly and abdomen, all the way up towards your throat before letting the breath escape through the nose. Follow that line up, creating strength from your root to your throat.
Simply put: Exhale = strength and a lift of energy inwards and upwards.
5. Slowing the Breath with the Throat
Focusing on your exhale, gently squeeze the back of the throat to slow the breath. This sometimes makes an audible noise like pressurized air passing a valve. That is exactly the idea. This "bottles" or contains the breath right from where you initiated the breath at your pelvic floor, creating a long line of strength right through your torso.
Simply put: Constrict the back of the throat to slow the breath, creating more strength and support.
6. Putting it Together
Inhale feeling the breath come down and out from the belly, creating space in all directions.
As you exhale, squeeze the pelvic floor and lower belly in and up, lifting the breath up towards the throat with a small constriction.
Incorporating this in your physical practice is both natural and easy once your technique is developed. Try and keep all your strong movements on your exhale, and use your inhale to both fill the pose and create space.
Good luck and don’t forget to practice gently and with compassion. It can be a challenge to re-program the activation and direction of your breath, but a challenge which is truly worth it.
Image credit: Stefan Camilleri / Pru Trundle