The Importance Of Breathing In Yoga - Yoga Practice Blog

The Importance Of Breathing In Yoga

about breathing in yogaBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP

How important is breathing in Yoga practice? Yoga is so much more than just fancy postures. Strength and flexibility are only two small parts of the Hatha Yoga practice. Breath is something perceived as so mundane, that it is taken for granted. Yet, mastering the breath through pranayama practice is truly one of the pathways to inner peace.


“When the breath wanders, the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”

~ Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika


Awareness of Breathing in Yoga

When are we aware of our breathing in Yoga class? Usually, when a teacher asks students to honor, or be mindful of, the breath, students will become aware of the act of breathing. In today’s flow style classes (Vinyasa), the default form of Yogic breathing (pranayama) is Ujjayi. Most practitioners are taught how to practice Ujjayi with sequences such as the Sun Salutation, Moon Salutation, Dancing Warrior Series, or the Primary Series. Since flows show up in Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and other styles, Ujjayi pranayama might be the most widely practiced form of breathing in Yoga classes today.


Breathing in Yoga and Life Off the Mat

Let’s be honest, most people have to be reminded to calm their breathing. Most people have a routine of reminders, such as brushing teeth, daily prayers, good posture, and so on. Proper breathing is similar in that we have to make an appointment with ourselves. In daily life, we tend to sprint from one priority, to the next, during our waking hours.

Rarely, if ever, are most of us inclined to give any attention to this most basic life giving force, which is drawn in and out of our bodies, every living moment of our lives. In many traditions throughout history, the breath was thought to be linked to the soul.

Sadly, most of us were not taught how to breathe, and without that basic knowledge, we lose the ability to simply be, as well. To be able to calm one’s self with breathing in Yoga practice is a gift well worth mastering, for the mental, physical, and emotional health benefits.


What About Class Time?

Breathing in Yoga class is entirely another matter. Most instructors teach their students about breathing in Yoga practice on the first day. One of the primary principles of Raja and Hatha Yoga is called pranayama, which is the art and science of controlled breathing. In everyday life, people tend to breathe from the chest, instead of from the belly. Deep breathing from the belly is healthier and deeper.  Watch a sleeping baby, or kitten, and you will find that their breath seems to fill their belly. Perhaps it is our modern fixation with thinness, or the type of clothing we wear, but for some reason the inherent knowledge of how to breathe deeply is lost as we age.


What About Shallow Breathing in Yoga?

These low, shallow breaths fail to fill the lungs, and the lung capacity is greatly reduced. Fast, shallow breaths are also associated with fear and panic, and studies show that breathing in this manner will actually raise blood pressure.  Deep, slow breaths lower blood pressure and raise resting rates of oxygen in the blood, along with releasing carbon dioxide from the body. The end result is increased health from the inside out. Practicing Yoga and pranayama, on a daily basis, improves heart health and lung function. Each posture is designed to guide the breathing.

Breathing in Yoga class is an entire system of techniques. To look at pranayama simply: We inhale and exhale for a specific ratio, getting valuable oxygen and stress reduction. This is often enough for most people, who barely realize that their breathing has been altered by situations, which naturally occur during the course of a day. Pranayama must be approached with patience and practitioners are advised to be patient with themselves as they cope with the learning curve.


Precautions Regarding Breathing in Yoga

With all that said, serious Yoga practitioners may wish to go deeper into pranayama itself. For these practitioners, it is essential to find good and reliable information. Force is not needed and moderate pace is enough. Pranayama, while very beneficial, can potentially be harmful if forced or practiced improperly. Some of the dynamic pranayama techniques can cause hyperventilation, which may do more harm than good.

Through gaining control of the breath, one gains control of one’s inner self by truly connecting the mind and body. Caution is advised concerning the pace of breathing, force, and breath retention. Students are strongly advised to get the basics down with a competent Yoga teacher. Please avoid forced or dynamic techniques that cause dizziness, nausea, rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness, and tingling around the mouth or in the fingers.


Pranayama: The Art of Breath Control

Pranayama, often called the art of breath control in yoga, is a fundamental aspect of any yoga practice. It goes beyond just breathing; it involves harnessing and manipulating the breath for various purposes.

Through Pranayama techniques, practitioners can regulate their energy levels, calm the mind, and even tap into deeper states of consciousness. Focusing on different patterns of inhalation and exhalation can have profound effects on both the body and mind.

Incorporating Pranayama into your yoga routine can enhance your overall practice by helping you stay present and centered throughout each pose. Mastering the art of breath control is key, whether you’re looking to increase vitality or cultivate inner peace.

There are a variety of pranayama exercises to explore, from simple techniques like deep belly breathing to more advanced practices such as alternate nostril breathing. Each method offers unique benefits and challenges, allowing practitioners to tailor their training to suit their needs.

As you delve deeper into your journey with Pranayama, remember that patience and consistency are key. The more you dedicate yourself to these practices, the more profound their effects will become.

Benefits of Focused Breathing during Yoga Practice

When practicing yoga, the benefits of focused breathing cannot be overstated. Incorporating breathwork into your practice helps create a sense of mindfulness and presence on the mat. Focusing on your breath can calm the mind, reduce stress levels, and improve concentration during challenging poses.

In addition, deep breathing techniques can help regulate the nervous system and promote relaxation throughout the body. This leads to greater inner peace and emotional balance as you move through your practice. Focused breathing also allows for better oxygen flow, increasing energy levels and enhancing overall physical performance during yoga sessions.

Moreover, paying attention to your breath while practicing yoga cultivates a deeper mind-body connection. This awareness improves coordination and alignment in postures and encourages a more profound spiritual experience on the mat.


Standard Breathing Techniques in Yoga

Regarding yoga, breathing techniques play a vital role in enhancing the practice. One common technique is Ujjayi breath, where you constrict the back of your throat as you inhale and exhale deeply. This audible breath helps focus the mind and regulate body temperature during practice.

Another popular technique is Kapalabhati, also known as skull-shining breath. This rapid and forceful exhalation, followed by passive inhalation, helps detoxify the body and energize the mind. Bhastrika, or bellows breath, involves quick inhalations and exhalations through the nose to increase oxygen flow and invigorate the body.

Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, balances both brain hemispheres while promoting relaxation. Dirga Pranayama focuses on deep belly breathing to calm the nervous system and reduce stress.

These standard breathing techniques can deepen your yoga practice and enhance your overall well-being.

How to Incorporate Breath into Different Yoga Poses

The breath becomes a vital anchor for each movement and poses as you flow through your yoga practice. Inhale deeply to expand the chest and fill the lungs with fresh oxygen. As you exhale, engage your core muscles to stabilize your body in balance poses like Tree Pose or Warrior III.

In seated poses like Lotus Pose or Seated Forward Fold, focus on slow, steady breathing to deepen the stretch and release tension in tight areas. For backbends such as Cobra or Bridge Pose, inhale as you lift the chest towards the sky while creating space between each vertebrae.

During inversions like Headstand or Shoulder Stand, maintain a smooth breath pattern to stay grounded and calm despite being upside down. Whether you’re practicing standing poses, twists, or inversions, remember that linking breath with movement is critical to enhancing mindfulness and presence on the mat.


Advanced Pranayama Techniques for Experienced Students

For experienced yoga practitioners looking to deepen their practice, advanced Pranayama techniques offer a pathway to harness the power of breath like never before. These complex breathing exercises go beyond basic techniques, requiring focus, discipline, and patience.

One such technique is Kapalabhati, also known as Skull Shining Breath. This rapid exhalation, followed by passive inhalation, helps cleanse the respiratory system and increase energy levels in the body.

Another advanced Pranayama technique is Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing. By balancing the left and right sides of the brain this practice promotes mental clarity and emotional balance.

Bhastrika Pranayama involves forceful inhales and exhales to invigorate the body and awaken dormant energy centers. Practitioners need to approach these advanced techniques with caution and under the guidance of a qualified instructor to ensure safety and effectiveness in their practice.


The Importance of Mindful Breathing in Yoga Practice

Mindful breathing is the cornerstone of any successful yoga practice. It’s not just about taking in air and letting it out; it’s about being fully present in each breath, connecting your mind to your body. When you focus on your breath, you bring awareness to the present moment, quieting the mind’s chatter.

Incorporating mindful breathing into your yoga routine can help deepen your stretches, improve balance, and increase overall flexibility. By syncing movement with breath, you create a sense of flow, allowing for a more profound mind-body connection.

When faced with challenging poses or moments of discomfort during practice, mindful breathing can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress levels. It acts as an anchor, grounding you in the here and now.

By cultivating mindfulness through breath work on the mat, you’re also training yourself to carry that presence off the mat and into everyday life. Mindful breathing isn’t just reserved for yoga class – it’s a tool you can use anytime to center yourself amidst chaos or uncertainty.



Incorporating proper breathing techniques into your yoga practice is essential for maximizing the benefits of each pose and deepening your mind-body connection. By understanding the art of breath control through pranayama, you can enhance your overall yoga experience and unlock a deeper level of mindfulness.

Remember that mindful breathing helps you stay present during your practice, promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and increases energy flow throughout the body. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced yogi, focusing on your breath can transform how you engage with each movement and pose on the mat.


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11 thoughts on “The Importance Of Breathing In Yoga”

  1. When the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath. Thanks for sharing the valuable info.

  2. Different cultural perceptions of nose and/throat resistance are also of paramount importance. A karate yell or ujjayi sound for example can be understood physiologically as an invigorating maneuver (in the East) or purely psychologically. If yoga techniques producing sounds on inhaling are understood physiologically as means for increasing lung volume, tuning the respiratory system etc. They then make sense but to a western doctor they do not. Richard Friedel

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