How to Combine Breath and Movement in Yoga

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When you’re new to Yoga, you may need to practice yogic breathing separate from the Yoga postures. The goal is to eventually do yogic breathing while moving through Yoga poses or a sequence of positions. But combining them successfully can be tricky. Here are some tips on handling both.

  • How much should I move and how long should I hold? Yoga teachers often suggest how many repetitions you should do for a pose and how long to hold poses. 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, try 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 a combination of both static (still) and dynamic postures is generally better.

    Holding a posture for six to eight breaths 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 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 (see Figure A).

    2. Inhale through your nose and, after one or two seconds, begin to slowly raise your arms up over your head — in sync with inhalation — until they touch the ground behind you (see Figure B).

      Leave your arms slightly bent.

    3. When you reach the end of inhalation, pause for one or two 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.

      The breath surrounds the movement. [Credit: Photographs by Adam Latham]
      Credit: Photographs by Adam Latham
      The breath surrounds the movement.
    4. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 with a nice, slow rhythm.

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

After you become comfortable with this exercise, combine it with one of these yogic breathing techniques: focus breathing, belly breathing, belly-to-chest breathing, or chest-to-belly breathing. You can decide which technique you prefer as you begin combining breathing with movement.


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