3 Tips To Breathe In Yoga Like A ProOct 09, 2022
How to Breathe in Yoga
If you are interested in starting yoga or you already love yoga and want to advance in your practice, the key is in your breath.
I'm going to share with you three types of breathing that you can use in your practice whether you need the fundamentals, or you are intermediate or advanced student and you want to take your experience deeper and get stronger results.
Here we are going to talk about breathing practices that you use while doing a physical yoga practice, not the pranayamas like alternate nostril breathing you might do before or after the practice of asana.
Three of these go outside the box a little but can deliver new experiences and different results.
- Slow ocean breathing through your nose which is the standard practice to help you relax and bypass the stretch reflex
- Holding the breath in for power
- Conscious connected breathing and holding the breath out for deeper stretching and core work
Slow Ocean Breathing
Nose breathing is what you want to be doing most of the time. Ocean breathing is making a whispering sound in your breath.
Nose breathing preserves carbon dioxide which in most cases, is what you want to encourage, most of the time. When you have more carbon dioxide, your blood vessels dilate, the heart slows down, your fight flight nerve system calms down and you get more oxygen to the tissues. In other words, breathing slowly through your nose makes you calm.
So it makes you calmer so when the stretch sensation intensifies, you deliberately slow the breath and will the body to relax- and you'll notice your experience changes as your body's stretch reflex is soothed and you can go to the next depth level in your stretch. It is asserting your consciousness over the processes of the body and that- can be a way to reinforce the body mind connection. Ocean breathing further helps you slow the breath down so you can synchronize your breath to your movements. It also helps you to build core strength so you can do more interesting things with your body and strengthen your posture.
The key to ocean breathing is to make a whisper sound on the inhale and exhale.
The reason ocean breathing works to build strength in you is that when you inhale with a whispering sound you are pulling the air in through a smaller aperture and that makes your diaphragm work harder. Because your diaphragm is connected to other core muscles this practice makes you stronger and gives you more control over your body. If you would like to quickly master this practice, check out this video:
Holding The Breath In
Once you have your breathing in your control during practice, you can experiment consciously holding the breath in. Inhale fully and retain that air in your lungs for moves where you want power- particularly when coming into inversions. This is because full lungs create intra-abdominal pressure which, so you have more control. It's like the difference of trying to bounce a ball which is filled with air versus a saggy one. And then something that can really help here to give you even more strength is to do a fake exhale and pull the core in, a bit like the Kiai in martial arts. So, the key here is to fill your lungs and at the same time pull your stomach muscles in and your pelvic floor up, so you are almost resisting the expanding air, creating more pressure.
Holding The Breath Out
Now what I like to do the most is a few rounds of connected breathing and then holding the breath out because it helps me to work more closely in my body for deeper stretching, stronger core work and it centers my mind. Holding the breath out takes a bit more practice initially than breathing slowly through the nose and even holding the breath in because you have less air in your lungs and less oxygen. But brief periods of low oxygen can actually be really good for you because it has a paradoxical effect in that it causes our body to produce more red blood cells.
In yoga practice, I do some connected breathing, connecting my inhale to my exhale and my exhale to my inhale because this lowers carbon dioxide and when CO2 is low, you can comfortably hold your breath out for a minute or two and as you hold your breath out, lengthen your spine.
After just a few seconds of intentionally faster breathing you will notice that you have no desire to breathe and this makes it a perfect state to explore breath holding and breath suspension which can be really useful in how you control your body or experience meditation.
The reason that dumping out a bunch of CO2 through faster breathing works to make feel at ease with not breathing is because the urge for respiration is primarily the bodies response to lower CO2, not as much to acquire oxygen. If CO2 is low, the body slows down the breath or brings it to a stop until it builds up again. If CO2 builds up like it does when we do harder exercise, that is why we start to breathe faster.
When that need to breathe has been pacified, you can then either inhale and hold the breath in your lungs or hold the breath out - each one has a use.
When you exhale, your main breathing muscle, the diaphragm, moves up inside your ribs. The diaphragm is connected to other deep core muscles in your body such as the mighty psoas muscle which connects to the lower spine, runs across your hip and then down to the inner legs. So, holding your breath out while going on a stretch is a wonderful way to work more deeply in the body and strengthen the core muscles at the same time
Practice! Connected Breaths Then Hold Your Breath
The following is a clip from one of my courses, Breathe to Energize where I teach the art and science of breath suspension for performance. Try a round of 20 breaths and feel what it's like to hold the breath in or suspend the breath out after you finish. You will find it easy to do. The next time you practice yoga, do a mini version of this- maybe 5-10 connected breaths and then either hold the breath in if you're going for an inversion or a pose that needs your power. Or if you're about to do a backbend, do some connected breaths, then exhale and hold the breath out as you go into the pose. You will find it to be lighter and easier than before.
I hope this was useful for you and stimulated some ideas that you can take with you.
Do you have another variation that you like? Let me know in the comments!
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