Common Yoga Breath and Movement Questions

Getting the hang of breath and movement in Yoga takes a bit of work when you tackle them separately, and combining them successfully can be even trickier. Here are some tips on handling both.

How much should I move and how long should I hold?

We note the number of repetitions and how long to hold them in all our recommended programs. With practice, you develop an idea of what’s right for you; a lot depends on how you feel at any given moment.

In general, you should do at least three but no more than eight repetitions for a dynamic, or moving, posture. You can put together a program that has only moving postures, but normally you should perform a combination of both static (still) and dynamic postures.

We often ask you to hold a posture for 6 to 8 breaths, which translates to roughly 30 seconds. Keep breathing when you hold a posture — don’t hold your breath.

What about bouncing when I hold a stretching posture?

Now and then, eager Yoga practitioners seek to achieve better flexibility by bouncing during the holding phase of a stretching posture. This practice is part of old-school training, which really isn’t such a good habit after all. Bouncing not only tends to disconnect you from the breath, but it also can be risky, especially if your muscles are stiff or not adequately warmed up. Be kind to yourself!

How do I start combining breath with movement?

The arrows in the following exercise tell you the direction of postural movement and the part of the breath that goes with the movement. Inhale means inhalation, exhale means exhalation, and breaths means the number of breaths defining the length of a postural hold.

  1. Lie on your back comfortably, with your legs straight or bent; place your arms at your sides near your hips, with your palms turned down.

  2. Inhale through your nose and, after 1 or 2 seconds, begin to slowly raise your arms over your head — in sync with inhalation — until they touch the ground behind you.

    Leave your arms slightly bent.

  3. When you reach the end of inhalation, pause for 1 or 2 seconds, even if your arms don’t make it to the floor; then exhale slowly through your nose and bring your arms back to your sides along the same path.

  4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 with a nice, slow rhythm.

    Remember, open or expand as you inhale; fold or contract as you exhale.

    [Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham]
    Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham
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