Short Answer: Yes, breathing is important in Yoga.
In our day-to-day lives, we often don’t think about breathing until we get out of breath. It’s like background noise to everything we intend to do throughout the day.
One particularly vital aspect of yoga practice is how it encourages practitioners to bring greater awareness to their breath.
In fact, some would go so far as to say that without the breath, yoga is no longer yoga.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the two main purposes for awareness of the breath in yoga, and why they are important. We will then provide bonus content in the form of a description of breathing technique in yoga.
Why The Awareness Of The Breath Is Important In Yoga
There are two main purposes for proper breathing in yoga.
The Physical Reason For Proper Breathing In Yoga
Let’s begin with the basics. It is not customary for anyone to stop breathing during yoga. Yes, some Yogis do it, but this is the exception, and not the general rule.
Proper breathing, both during yoga practice and at any other time, helps to bring more oxygen into the blood, and in doing so, it helps to bring this oxygen to your muscles as they stretch and are put to work. It also improves blood flow and circulation, and organ function.
And more specifically, exhaling and inhaling can be easier or harder as you move through the various asanas…
For instance, in some moves, your body is feeling relatively open, this makes it an excellent opportunity to take a deep breath in.
Similarly, when you’re doing a pose that causes your body to feel relatively contracted, this is an excellent opportunity to push breath out and exhale.
But despite these great benefits of proper breathing during your yoga practice, it’s not the central reason… (for our favorite books on breathing and breathwork, read here)
The Mental Wellness Reason For Proper Breathing In Yoga
When you experience greater awareness of your breath, and in particular when deep breathing, this stimulates the cerebral cortex of your brain, along with other more evolved areas of the brain. This in turn sends messages from these areas of the brain to those areas concerned with processing emotions, bringing a greater sense of peace, balance, and well-being.
Conscious deep breathing like this also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows things down and gets your body going from the fight, flight, or freeze response, into a much more relaxed state.
The Main Reason For Proper Breathing In Yoga
While all these benefits are great, yoga is most often associated with subtle energies and the activation and balancing of the chakras.
The seven chakras are considered the subtle energy centers of the body, and they are lined up along the spine, starting from underneath, and reaching beyond your head to the uppermost chakra of your aura.
When all of our chakras are unblocked and open, subtle energy can run through them freely, and you can achieve a harmony between the physical body, the mind, and the spirit.
There are multiple ways to stimulate and strengthen your chakras, including certain types of yoga, crystal healing, and guided meditation.
There are also multiple benefits to unlocking these chakras. Not only can you enjoy better overall health and well-being, but you will also have better memory, concentration and perception, as well as a more positive outlook, more patience, better sleep, and a greater sense of self-worth and confidence.
Suggested Breathing Techniques For Yoga
Truth be told, there are actually several different breathing techniques that can be used as part of your yoga practice.
Sadly, it’s beyond the scope of this article to go through all of them. But we have picked out some great ones for you…
Basic Breath Awareness
The great thing about this technique is that you can do it anywhere at any time. It starts with simply noticing where you are with your breath, whether you’re inhaling or exhaling, and how your body is moving during this process.
You can pay attention to your breath through your nose, through your mouth, feel it in your chest, in your diaphragm and in your abdomen.
You don’t necessarily have to make changes to the way that you’re breathing once you become more aware of it, unless you wish to.
Studies have shown that the mere act of becoming more aware of your breath tends to make it slow down, and sometimes become more pronounced.
This in turn can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve concentration and sleep.
Ujjayi Pranayama (Also Known As Ocean Breath Or Victorious Breath)
This is what’s considered a classic pranayama practice for use during pranayama.
During your yoga practice, you simply breathe in through your nose, then open your mouth and exhale slowly, so that you’re making a “haaa” sound.
This soft and soothing sound reminiscent of ocean waves is why it’s often referred to as ocean breath.
After doing this a few times, try to do it again, but with your mouth closed. It is thought that the vibrations in your larynx that take place when you do this stimulate sensory receptors, which signal your vagus nerve to induce a calming effect.
Kumbhaka Pranayama (Another Term For Breath Retention)
To do this, to prepare for meditation, breathe in so that your lungs are as fully inflated as possible. Then hold your breath for ten seconds. Next, inhale some more, and hold this breath for as long as possible.
The benefit of holding your breath in this way is that it increases the pressure within the lungs and allows them time to fully expand, which in turn increases their overall capacity.
As a result of this, the blood that circulates around the body to its various muscles and organs is more oxygenated.
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Also Known As Alternate-Nostril Breathing)
As its nickname suggests, this technique involves breathing in through one nostril only, and then breathing out through the other nostril, while the initial nostril is closed. Then do this the other way around in order to complete a full cycle.
Some yogis believe that this method of breathing helps to balance both sides of the brain, and to balance masculine and feminine energies within the body.
Kapalabhatti Pranayama (Also Known As The Skull Shining Breath Or Breath Of Fire)
This is a technique to practice when you are feeling sluggish, and not one to try when you are feeling anxious.
First, take a full deep breath and slowly let it out. Then inhale again before letting the breath out in short bursts by pulling in the lower abdominal muscles, and continue to do this for between 25 and 40 exhalations.
This technique has been shown to improve heart rate variability and is also thought by some to improve concentration and focus as well, which is great for preparing for meditation.
So, if you’ve reached this far, now you are not only aware of how important proper breathing is in yoga, but you are now in a position (pun intended!) to take the breathing technique described and carry your new knowledge forward in your yoga practice for a better session every time.
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