The Breath: How to Move With it in Yoga

It’s no secret that breathing is a fundamental aspect of any yoga practice. In fact, one whole limb of yoga (there are 8 total) is dedicated to the art of working with our breath. In our breathing, as in all of yoga, we’re aligning with what’s already happening by coaxing the breath deeper, rather than pushing to the point of strain. As a yoga teacher, there are two main goals I have for all of my students in regards to their breathing.

1. Breathe consciously

2. Move with your breath

Breathe Consciously

The vitality of our life force resides in the breath. The sanskrit name for this powerful current of energy is prana. Prana is the vehicle by which we move our awareness. When we are conscious of our breath we become more aware of and connected with ourselves no matter what chaos may be happening around us.

Try these tips to be more conscious of your breath:

  • During your next practice, observe three full cycles of breath without letting your mind wander. (It may be easier in the middle or end of your asana practice than at the beginning. Experiment and see what works best, then stretch it to 5 breaths, then 10, then try for your entire practice).
  • Imagine your breath is a flashlight. Light up any dark, constricted, stuck areas of your body.
  • Listen to the sound of your breathing or feel it moving in and out of your body to get your senses in on the act.
  • Relax your tongue, jaw and the back of your neck to breathe more deeply and with less effort.

Move With Your Breath

Inhalation

Inhaling is an expanding movement; without even trying, our chests lift and our ribs expand. An inhalation moves our awareness out to our periphery, which invites connection with the world around us.

Actions that correspond to inhalation are:

  • lifting (as in the spine and chest when we stand or sit up)
  • reaching (as in our arms overhead or out to the sides)
  • widening (as in moving our thighs back and sitting bones apart, i.e. in cow pose or forward fold)
  • lengthening (as in the spine before a twist or forward fold)
  • returning to center (as in after a twist)
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Inhale to reach up : Tadasana in Pine Creek Canyon, CA

Exhalation

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Exhale to fold in : Uttanasana in Pine Creek
Canyon, CA

A natural and effortless contraction occurs when we exhale. Our awareness moves from the outside to the core, making it good for connecting with ourselves on a personal level. It’s also the completion of a cycle and the perfect time to let go of what no longer serves us.

Actions that correspond to exhalation are:

  • folding (as in moving into a standing forward bend)
  • contracting (as in engaging the muscles of the upper back to pull the shoulders deeper into cobra pose)
  • narrowing (as in squeezing our legs together in headstand)
  • twisting (as in when we rotate into twisting triangle)
  • deepening (as in moving farther into a twist, forward fold or back bend)
  • bending (as in to the side in side angle pose)