Breathing in Postures: A Guide to Breathing through Asanas

Breathing in Postures: A Guide to Breathing through Asanas; a man and a woman holding their noses for breathing control exercise
9 min read

The concept of breathing in postures, possibly in the context of practices like yoga or meditation. The act of breathing holds significant importance in numerous both physical and contemplative pursuits, and it serves a pivotal function in amplifying feelings of calmness, concentration, and holistic health.

Basic recommendations for breathing in postures

There are a few basic recommendations for breathing in postures. Visualize your lungs as a pair of balloons. Inhaling causes them to fill and exhaling causes them to empty. While they fill, they rise and float, adopting a taller and rounder shape. They expand in multiple dimensions—upward, downward, sideways, forward, and backward. You can sense the air moving into your back, chest, and from the sides just below your armpits, even elongating your spine as it travels upwards. Any motion that broadens your chest or elongates your spine, effectively expanding these balloon-like lungs, aligns with inhalation. Conversely, any action that compresses the lung balloons, reducing their capacity, naturally pushes the air out and corresponds with exhalation.

Breathing Guidelines for Specific Postures

  • Whenever the body is bending and compacting itself, the motion occurs during exhalation.
  • Each instance of the body extending, aligning, or the chest opening involves movement on the inhalation.

For instance, take the Seated Forward Fold posture. During this, exhaling coincides with the folding forward movement, while inhaling aligns with the upward motion.

As you transition into postures that involve curving the spine backward and opening the chest, like the Cobra Pose, the inhalation phase is utilized.

  • When it comes to twisting movements, these are executed during exhalation.

Advanced Twisting Poses and Breath Complexity

In more advanced twisting poses, the process becomes more intricate. When the twist targets the lower spine, the twisting action is initiated during exhalation. If it occurs in the upper spine, inhalation is employed.

  • In instances where your body’s weight aids in stretching, you can ease deeper into the stretch as you exhale.

However, these guidelines aren’t rigid and occasionally, in more advanced poses, exceptions might apply. Nevertheless, they generally prove effective. As you gain more knowledge about yoga and develop an intuitive understanding, the sense of feeling becomes paramount. Once you grasp the sensation of your actions, the most comfortable approach usually turns out to be the best. Meanwhile, these guidelines contribute to cultivating an inner awareness of breath in postures.

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Once you’re settled in a posture, the same breathing pattern that brought you into it is used when you deepen the stretch in the same direction. Put simply, achieving the deepest possible stretch might require more than a single breath, especially without proper warm-up. Subsequent breaths will gradually guide you deeper. For example, in the Seated Forward Fold, each successive exhalation aids in folding deeper, whereas in the Cobra Pose, each successive inhalation enhances your depth.

Leveraging Breath for Contrasting Stretches

Numerous postures encompass contrasting stretches, offering opportunities to employ both inhalation and exhalation for deepening. For instance, a fundamental aspect of any forward fold is intentionally elongating the spine before folding forward.

While the folding forward is synchronized with exhalation, elongating the spine coincides with inhalation. Hence, both inhalation and exhalation contribute to intensifying the posture’s depth. You inhale to lengthen your spine and exhale to deepen the fold. During a twisting posture, inhalation elongates the spine, followed by turning, twisting, and rotating through exhalation, repeatedly.

Conscious Breathing in Postures Execution

Initially, it’s crucial to compartmentalize movements, conscientiously focusing on the ujjayi breath, and isolating and coordinating your actions. This rhythm will evolve into a more fluid flow as your expertise grows.

Deepening extends beyond just the stretch—it encompasses the breath as well. Strive for a deeper, slower, and more flowing breath as you maintain and deepen your postures, all without forcing or discomfort. You’ll observe that any fear, tension, or unease leads to resistance within you, resulting in strained and irregular breathing. However, deepening your breath from within will expand you internally. It also boosts your air intake and elongates each breath cycle. Increased air intake provides more energy, while elongated breath cycles induce calmness. This harmonious blend of energy and calmness encourages your body to open up with minimal resistance.

You might have noticed that anxiety, fear, discomfort, or being off-center can lead to shallow and restricted breathing. Emotions influence breathing patterns. The opposite can occur in yoga, particularly during postures that engage the diaphragm through deep twists, backbends, or tight forward folds. Initially, this might result in shallow and quick breathing, inducing feelings of anxiety, claustrophobia, or discomfort. Yet, by mastering the art of maintaining extended stretches with a slower, deeper, and steadier breath, you can foster a tranquil state of mind. This, in turn, facilitates your body’s optimal opening at a measured pace.

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Nonetheless, don’t consider these suggestions as strict rules. They serve as guiding principles. Grasp them, develop an understanding, and then leverage them to your advantage. Sense your expansion and absorption of life energy with each inhalation, and experience internal relaxation with each exhalation. Familiarize yourself with your body’s innate inclination for movement and breath. Your body will always communicate its needs. Experiment with these suggestions, uncover what feels natural, and then allow yourself to be creative and intuitive, always directed from within.

Synchronizing Breathing and Body Movements

The fundamental concept in hatha yoga revolves around skillfully synchronizing your movements and stretches with your breath, making them operate as a single unit. This goes beyond simple coordination; it involves recognizing that they are inherently inseparable. Breath and movement merge into one entity. The breath both generates and propels the movement, just as the movement molds and influences the breath.

To unite breath and movement effectively, adhere to this three-step approach:

  1. Begin by mastering the fundamental movement without focusing on your breathing; allow your breath to flow naturally, without any constraints.
  2. Harmonize the movement with the appropriate phase of your breath: Inhale during expanding movements, and exhale during compressing movements.
  3. Transition to a state where the breath assumes control. Feel the breath instigating the movement. Then, by permitting the breath to initiate the motion, establish a sense of unity between your breath and your movement. Go beyond mere technical or skillful coordination. Keep in mind that you are akin to a wind instrument. Let the breath flow through you. Infuse life into the pose with your breath. Be filled with inspiration.

Develop an intuitive sense for this process using the subsequent uncomplicated arm exercise. Stand with your feet together and arms resting at your sides. Then proceed as follows:

  1. Inhale naturally as you gradually lift your arms upward from your sides until your thumbs meet above your head, followed by a gradual lowering of the arms. Perform this arm motion at a slow, unhurried pace, maintaining a consistent rhythm. Repeat this sequence a few times.
  2. Now, synchronize this motion with your breath. Inhale as you elevate your arms, and exhale as you lower them. Observe how the movement gains a sense of vitality and animation.

Continue practicing until the act of inhaling as you raise your arms and exhaling as they descend feels instinctive. Breathe deliberately and deeply. Adjust the pace of the movement to match the duration of your breath. Employ a leisurely breathing pace, enabling your motion to be gradual and fluid. Commence your inhalation just before the arm ascent begins and conclude it slightly after the motion terminates—letting the movement be enveloped by the surrounding air, cushioned. Your exhalation should initiate the arm descent and conclude once the motion concludes. Allow for a brief pause after each inhalation and exhalation. Maintain an air-infused quality throughout the entire movement.

  1. Progress beyond mere coordination of breath and movement; merge them into one. Forge an inseparable connection between them. Attain such familiarity with the breath and the movement that you become fully immersed in the activity. Let them feel as if they are two aspects of a unified action—distinct yet harmonious, as though you cannot conceive of moving without the breath or breathing without the movement. Allow for a smooth, elegant flow. Repeat this practice persistently. Discover a sense of novelty in each iteration.
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The complete motion should be permeated with the presence of air. As your arms ascend, you should experience a sensation as if the act of inhalation itself were propelling your arms upward. Simultaneously, it should seem as though the motion of your arms is encouraging you to draw in more air. When your arms descend, you should feel as if the exhalation is causing your arms to lower, and the movement of lowering your arms assists in expelling air from your lungs.

There should be a subtle impression of resistance, akin to the resistance felt with an accordion or bellows. Just as you can’t force air out of an accordion faster than it naturally allows, a similar sense of pressure, squeeze, and resistance should be cultivated, as you are effectively compressing and expelling the air.

Generate a comparable sensation in this context. Don’t merely elevate and lower your arms as though they were devoid of substance. Gradually draw the air in and extend outward in alignment with the direction your arms are reaching as they ascend. Conversely, squeeze the air out and stretch outward, following the direction your arms are pointing as they descend. The movement should evoke a feeling akin to pneumatic action.

In essence, this is a highly straightforward motion. Your sole action is to elevate and then lower your arms. There is no inherent complexity to it. However, if you internalize this fundamental concept as it materializes within this uncomplicated action, your yoga practice will transform into an engrossing, enlightening, and profoundly impactful meditation.

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