Basic Breathing Guidelines for Yoga

By Larry Payne, Georg Feuerstein, Sherri Baptiste, Doug Swenson, Stephan Bodian, LaReine Chabut, Therese Iknoian

Yoga breathing techniques are designed to relax and energize you. You can practice breathing techniques by themselves or as you do your yoga routines and workouts. After experimenting for a while, you discover the breath that feels best to you while you’re working out.

No matter which breathing technique you undertake, follow these basic breathing guidelines:

  • Breathe through your nose unless told to breathe through your mouth. Nostril breathing slows the process down. It also helps to filter and warm the air as it enters your body. A few classical yogic techniques for breath control, however, require you to breathe through the mouth. When a mouth-breathing technique is presented, the instructions alert you to that fact.

  • Listen to yourself breathe. By listening to your breathing, you begin to control your breathing, and, in turn, you notice that you can gently shift your mood or disposition in subtle ways. Working gently with the sound and the sensations of your breath, you can subtly control how your body feels.

  • Breathe rhythmically. If your breath stops or sounds rough, short, or shallow, it’s a sign that you may be pushing too hard as you exercise.

  • Concentrate on making a smooth transition between each inhalation and exhalation — focus on the point of stillness where one becomes the other. Don’t hold your breath at the top of an inhalation; ride it a bit over the top and then smoothly turn it into an exhalation. At the bottom of an exhalation, ride it out just a bit as well, and then smoothly transition into a natural inhalation.

  • Never force your breath beyond the natural capacity of your lungs. Full, rhythmic, gentle breathing without strain is the goal of yoga breathing.

  • Never force your lungs to inhale or expel air. Feel your lungs filling evenly and calmly in all directions — up, down, into each side, forward, and back.

  • Don’t practice yoga breathing in uncomfortable places where the air is too cold or too hot. Like Goldilocks’s porridge, the air should be “just right.” Find a place that feels comfortable to you.

  • Straighten your posture. If you slouch, let your belly hang out, round your shoulders, or stand without distributing and balancing the weight of your body properly, you can’t breathe well. If your posture is poor, you’re crowding or collapsing your lungs and diminishing their capacity to take in oxygen.