The yoga posture vajrasana, hero pose.

The Importance of Breath

March 02, 2022

The Importance of Breath

The breath is a vital component of yoga, for those that are new to yoga it is often over-looked. Some beginners feel uncomfortable and struggle to focus on the breath. Taking time to breathe slowly and completely whilst focusing on alignment is the perfect way to start integrating the breath with the yoga practise. 

The word yoga translates from Sanskrit to mean union. When a smooth steady flow of breath is experienced during a yoga practise, this sense of union comes to life. By breathing slowly and completely through the nose the essence of yoga becomes more apparent and yoga is experienced.

Breath awareness engages body and mind, the pace and tempo of the movements performed are governed by the speed of the breath. This is one of the many reasons as to why yoga is different from other physical activities. In many other physical activities the breath follows the movement, which is usually influenced by the level of exertion.

The Breath and the Nervous System

The breath relax both body and mind. A slow steady breathing technique stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is responsible for relaxation, the heart rate and blood pressure naturally lower and stress levels are reduced. Whereas breathing quickly stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the fight or flight response which raises stress levels in the body.

The Breath and Alignment

The breath assists alignment and carries practitioners safely through the yoga practise. For example, whilst performing seated postures the spine lengthens on an inhalation and the torso rotates or folds on an exhalation or when performing a held seated posture the spine lengthens on the inhalation and the shoulders naturally relax and soften on the exhalation.

Anti Aging

As we age the lungs loose some of their elasticity, a sound breathing technique will help the lungs remain agile and flexible so that plenty of oxygen is received.  As oxygen is our main source of fuel the more oxygen we receive through an efficient breathing technique the better the body functions. 

Breathing Practice

As we move further into the practice of yoga the importance of the breath becomes greater and even more apparent. Through yoga and learning to control the breath it becomes more obvious how the breath influences the body and mind. Start slowly with a smooth steady flow of breath through the nose and the rest will fall into place. Never worry about whether you should be breathing in or out just keep the breath flowing with awareness.

Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing)

This breathing technique (pranayama) helps to balance body and mind and brings a calming sensation.

Begin sitting comfortably with a straight spine and your hands lightly resting on your knees or thighs. 

Start to breathe slowly in and out through your nose, take your time and work to regulate the breath so that it is slow and steady with both inhalation and exhalation lasting for the same duration. When you are ready lift your right hand and roll your first two fingers down towards your palm, block your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril, now use your third finger to block the left nostril as you do so release the thumb and exhale through your right nostril, now inhale through the right nostril, block your right nostril with your thumb and release your third finger from the left nostril, exhale through the left and then inhale through the left. Continue like this breathing through alternate nostrils with a slow steady breath for 30 complete breaths. 

Experienced practitioners usually include a breath retention, but for now just let your breath flow and acknowledge the natural pause after the inhalation and exhalation.

“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.” Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

This blog article was written by Sue Fuller creator of the Yoga 2 Hear range of audio yoga classes and yoga teacher training courses.