Basics of Breath and Yoga: How to Breathe to Get the Most Out of Your Movement

You’ve likely heard countless times that breath and yoga are interrelated. Breath connects your movements, helping increase body awareness and mindful relaxation. That sounds wonderful and everything, but what if you really don’t know how to do that? You could have been practicing yoga for a year and still feel like this aspect is unclear. Today we break down the anatomy of the breath and how breathing flows through yoga asanas like magic.

Why Breath Is Essential

Without the aspect of calculated breath control, yoga isn’t really yoga. In fact, you can cause damage to your body if you breathe incorrectly during certain postures. Once you learn to  breathe with mindfulness and intention, you make your yoga practice the meditative and physically beneficial exercise it was intended to be.

Sometimes when you are on the mat it can be difficult to achieve the posture, maintain correct body alignment, and still manage a meditative breath. If you lean to separate the mechanical breath and body movement from your thoughts, stilling your mind, you can maintain a clear head as you master the balance.

Understanding How Breath Works

The very basics of breath in yoga are a series of inhalations and exhalations. While that’s obvious, most people don’t understand how to coordinate their inhalations and exhalations with the ebb and flow of the poses.

To understand how to coordinate your breath with your postures, it’s helpful to know how the breath works. When you inhale deeply (and not just through your nose or chest), you engage the diaphragm and intercostal muscles. As you draw air into your lungs, your diaphragm pushes down and the external intercostal muscles contract, which raises the ribs and sternum. This causes your thoracic cavity to expand as pressure in your lungs decreases, allowing air to flow in.

When you exhale, all these muscles relax. While your lungs’ tissues were stretched during the inhale, they recoil when pressure in the lungs increases, forcing air from the lungs.

The most important takeaway from this anatomy lesson is that exhalations cause the body to fold inward and collapse, whereas inhalations cause the body to stretch upward and lift.

Remember This Rule of Thumb…

Now that you understand how your breath works, you can easily remember: inhale when opening the front of the body and exhale when compressing the front of the body.

When you are practicing asanas that open the front of the body, expand the stretch accompanied by an inhalation. Think backbends, raising your head and opening your chest during Cobra, or rising into Cow Pose.

Exhale on forward bending movements that are already compressing the front of the body, enabling a deeper stretch and correct biomechanics. Think about Seated Forward Bend, Child’s Pose, or Bound Angle Pose. The moment of bending or compressing forward in all of these movements should be practiced on the exhale.

You’ll also want to practice any twists or side bends on an exhalation, due to the restricted expansion of the chest and abdomen.

Coordinating your breath and yoga movements can be a challenge, but is essential to safely getting the most of your yoga workouts. When you register with Core Fusion yoga classes, we’ll help you with breath control and other techniques. Contact us today for more information.