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Breathing during yoga practice

What makes yoga what it is, and not gymnastics or any other workout, is the synchronization of breath and movement.

I never understood this philosophy in the early days of doing yoga until the day I was introduced to ujjayi breathing in Ashtanga Yoga and realised how much of a difference breathing makes to my mental, emotional and physical state.

Breath is what takes us from ‘just stretching’, to becoming acutely present and aware of our entire being

There are multiple types of breathing exercises in yoga. These will be discussed in another post. The focus of today is to help you start practising breathing with movementwhen you attend your next yoga class.

One of the confusing in a yoga class is when and how to move and inhale or exhale at the right time. Without a teacher’s cue, most people may not know when to breath, how many cycles of breath per pose, and whether to inhale or exhale.

3 tips for breathing in the next yoga practice

1. Know when to inhale and exhale

Inhale when you are moving into a pose that opens your chest and abdomen, such as when you are raising your arms in standing poses, doing a backbend, or raising the head

Exhale when you are compressing the front of your body. In forward bends or twists, for example, you would use each exhale to get you deeper into the pose (what teachers refer to as “breathing into your pose”)

2. Breath deeply and naturally

The difference between yoga and a normal exercise is the use of your breath to create energy and relaxation as you do your pose

It is natural to start taking very short breaths as you tackle challenging poses such as arm balances or warriors. Exert ‘mind over body’ at this point – try NOT to hold your breath and consciously lengthen your breath to find stillness in the midst of your ‘struggle’

3. Use Ujjayi Breath

During Vinyasa, Ashtanga or other more strenuous practice, breathe with sound (Ujjayi breath). This breathing exercise encourages a deep opening of the lungs and sounds like the ocean (or Darth Vader). It builds energy and encourages self-awareness,  which is especially needed in more rigorous yoga classes.

To practise Ujjayi breathing, close your lips and inhale through your nose

  • While inhaling, gently constrict the back of the throat to create resistance. Feel the air expand your chest and lungs.
  • When exhaling, maintain the throat constriction and press the air out of your nose and feel your core tighten
  • You should hear your breath sounding like waves crashing on a beach
  • During both inhales and exhales, your breath should be deeper and longer than usual
  • Create a moving meditation and create your own rhythm by synchronising each yoga pose with your breath

See also: Ujjayi Breath – A Quick Guide for Beginners

Many times when you start practising breath with movement in a class setting, the mind may start playing devil’s advocate and make you feel self-conscious when you are the only one breathing so loudly in class. But remember, your yoga practice is yours to own, you decide if you’re going ahead with what is good versus what you think others think of you

There are times when it is so much easier to do what feels good, but I believe that the more we push ourselves to do more within our limits, the more we benefit after the yoga session. The harder the practice, the more important it is to look inward and focus on your breath to get through the practice.

Try these tips and let me know whether it made a difference to your practice! Let me know what else you would like to know about yoga breathing that would help you with your yoga journey in the comments below.

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