breathing and yoga relationship

He would say this often and I understood what he meant. My yoga teacher training at Mysore, under the guidance of Yogacharya Bharat Shetty taught me a lot, especially about our own breath, because this was something I would tell my own students while teaching.

Don’t forget to breathe.. Inhale and Exhale ! Bugged by my constant prompts, my friend said “of course we are breathing, who forgets that.” Oh! But we do. We are unaware about our own bodies.

Let’s try this

Gently place one hand on your stomach and breathe normal while observing the movement of your stomach and the shoulders.

​- Are your shoulders moving in a slight shrug?

​- Is your stomach going in as you inhale or just has no movement?

​If you answer is Yes, then you might be doing something called as Vertical Breathing. Since you are not using your lungs to its full capacity, your body compensates with your shoulders putting in the additional efforts.

Then there are some who contract their stomach by pulling the diaphragm upward while inhaling and expanding while exhaling. It sounds shocking, but it isn’t that uncommon.

Common Problems with breathing techniques


Shallow breathing/short/chest breathers

This is directly opposite to our natural course of breathing which is deep breathing. Shallow breathers do not use their diaphragm to its maximum capacity. The air just enters and exits without ever filling the lungs properly. This leads to improper usage of lungs and overtime weakens the muscles.  A chronic problem can be rapid shallow breathing (hyperventilating) which can be due to multitude of reasons, from lung infections to anxiety.

Vertical breathing instead of horizontal

Our lungs can inflate in all directions just like a balloon, where the ribcage expands as the diaphragm pushes the stomach. Observe babies, as they naturally take to horizontal breathing. As discussed above, vertical breathing involves more shoulders and less lungs, where one ends up wasting more energy and fatiguing easy when doing any activity. This is due to our years of conditioning with prolonged sitting in wrong postures.

Mouth Breathing

Mouth Breathing may happen because of several reasons, but the most common is due to blockage in the nasal cavity. However unless it is temporary due to a common cold, it can cause some serious problems. From crooked teeth, to sleep disorders,  to dryness of mouth to name a few. For some it might just be about correction of their breathing technique and clean of nasal passage properly, others might require proper medical attention.

Retaining breath during a workout 

This is a common problem especially amongst beginners who hold their breaths in any difficult or challenging workout.  Our muscles thrive on oxygen and proper blood flow and depriving them of  this process can make them to tense up.  This can lead to improper form in your exercise, cramps, faster exertion and sometime even blackouts.

5 ​Correct method to breathe and how to make the corrections 

These are some general tips for different types of breathing that one can use to practice proper breathing and improving the lung capacity. In case of serious breathing troubles one should consult a Pulmonologist.

  1. Practice normal breathing through nose.
    Check that your belly expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale.

  2. Elongate the exhalations.
    Deep breathing involves slower and longer breaths. Try a 1:2 ratio of inhalation to exhalation, where you stretch out your exhalations. This should be practiced slowly and not forcefully. It will help your endurance while strengthening the lungs.

  3. Practice Anulom Vilom (Nadi Shuddhi).
    This helps breathing through both nose correctly, bringing a balance to the body temperature and calming and clearing the mind. Western medicine has finally accepted the benefits of alternate nostril breathing.

  4. Practice abdominal breathing.
    To correct vertical breathing and shallow breathing, practice abdominal breathing where you max fill the belly with air as you inhale.

  5. Yogasanas, Swimming and Running helps strengthen cardiovascular system.
    In general, proper exercises will help your improve your breathing.

A doctor once told me.. say “Haash” (Hindi) or Phew (english) in between, to exhale out the stress and reset your breathing.

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