Yoga breathing

Breathing is an integral part of life. It may appear simple, but it is one of our essential bodily functions and may well get out of balance both mechanically and energetically. Yoga breathing is based on the simple principles of ancient teachings called pranayama. The main aim of yoga breathing depends on the goal of the practitioner. Often it is to carry more oxygen to the vital organs of the body and the brain through the blood. This ties together with various asanas or postures and envelops the body, mind and soul.

    So what exactly is yoga breathing? It largely depends on who is practicing it and what the teacher has been teaching. Yoga breathing or pranayama constitutes a chain of esoteric breathing exercises that, in an ideal state, are capable of leaving one rejuvenated. The word “prana” itself means life force or energy, while “yama” translates into self-discipline and control over mind and body. The word “ayama” relates to development and extension. The Western yoga models I have witnessed are fraught with misconception and incorrect breathing practices often leading to altered states of consciousness, for good and for ill. In my opinion, the more effective Hatha yoga practices, such as Iyengar, Sivananda and Kripalu, leave the breathing mostly alone.

    Normal inhalation brings in oxygen, which hopefully travels through all the body parts, leaving one charged with energy. In the exhalation process, toxins are flushed out of the body. This is very important especially to maintain the proper balance between oxygen inhalation and carbon-dioxide exhalation. Ideally by properly putting pranayama into practice, one can follow proper breathing patterns while the yoga practitioner organizes the body for the next step that is often toward meditation. But, as I said before, the ideal state is rarely achieved and requires a basis of sound breathing fundamentals that is practically never taught with any consistent or provable approach. In the US, yoga teachers and students are more often drawn in by abstract spiritual concepts that relate to altered states of consciousness or some spiritual paradigm than they are to doing healthy, natural, breathing development.

    In our everyday life, due to numerous physical, emotional, mental or financial stresses, our regular breathing patterns get disturbed. We lose, or never had, the connection to healthy, natural breathing, or to what I call HOME BASE. We fail to make good use of our lungs and we breathe improperly, either too shallow or too fast. The body thus is left deprived of vital oxygen, then cardiac diseases, insomnia, restlessness, fatigue, confusion or depression develops.

    The benefits of pranayama are potentially numerous. With practice, the attentiveness, concentration and focus hopefully improves. The body may calm down in situations of stress, and one can attain relaxation at a faster rate. The entire body gets toned and one has better control over mind-body integration.  Pranayama promises to train the body to breathe properly. With regular practice, the lung capacity is supposed to increase. Proving and measuring that is usually left to guesswork or hyperbole. While doing yoga breathing exercises, care should be taken that it should not be performed without proper training, particularly when one wants to learn and practice the ancient, esoteric techniques.

High Breathing

    High breathing happens in the upper chest and lungs. In this kind of breathing, the ribs and collarbones as well as the shoulders will rise during inhalation. Hence, it is also termed collarbone or high-chest breathing. Another popular name is clavicular breathing. Basically people suffering from conditions like asthma or bronchitis and possibly glaucoma have high breathing. This kind of breathing is shallow in nature. Such breathing should be avoided as only the upper lungs are used and not much oxygen goes into the lower lobes of the lungs. High breathing is often observed in people wearing tight clothes and belts or restrictive brassiere straps. Commonly associated problems with it are high blood pressure, anxiety and panic, fatigue, poor sleep, asthma, shortness of breath, blurred vision and a host of other ailments that arise from the lack of a copious oxygen supply and over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system activity.


    In mid-breathing, the perimeter of air reaching the cells varies from person to person. In simple words, the air reaches the mid part of the lungs and respiratory system, but fails to reach the entire system. It is somewhere between low and high breathing. It is also known as rib breathing or thoracic breathing. It has a great deal to do with expressions from the heart and is greatly governed by the celiac ganglia portion of the parasympathetic nervous system located at the solar plexus.

Low Breathing

    In low breathing, the lower chest and lungs are put to use. This is better than high breathing, but cannot be called the correct way of breathing either. The diaphragm, lower ribs and certain abdominal areas are in use in low breathing. This is popularly known as diaphragmatic breathing. Low breathing generally takes place in the state of sleep with occasional, deeper, full breaths as in a successful breath-catching breath or "getting over the hump." During common, everyday life, while carrying out regular activities, like walking, sitting, running, etc., abdominal breathing remains insufficient for our needs. But compared to the other forms of breathing, namely mid and high, more oxygen is received with low breathing.

Complete Breathing

    Complete breathing is a combination of the above three breathing patterns. In this way, the entire respiratory system is involved. However, it is often not the deepest form of breathing. Most complete breathing practices I have observed engage the high-chest portion too much, while the foundation and the lower lobes become underutilized, causing probable energetic instability later on.

    Remember that yoga breathing should be started under the able guidance of a certified instructor. People with chronic health conditions should consult a holistic-health professional. S Sheldon Hendler reminds us in his landmark book, The Oxygen Breakthrough, that "Breathing is the FIRST place not the LAST place one should investigate when any disordered energy presents itself."

    When consulting within western medicine, we encourage people to get second and third opinions from the worlds of traditional medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and clinical nutrition. But there is still no assurance they know about optimal breathing.

    Here are some principles by which pranayama should be done. Avoid pushing the body further than its capacity. Pranayama is not meant merely to control the breath but to also signify how comfortable a person is in the entire process and how smooth is their entire inhalation and exhalation process. Before doing pranayama, the mental state should be relaxed and stress free. Avoid repeating any one exercise too frequently. Avoid jerky movements and stop if experiencing any sign of discomfort.

    Some of the most popular forms of pranayama are: Kapalabhati and Anuloma Viloma. There are other forms of breathing exercises that could be put into practice, like the Sitkari, Brahmari and Sithali. In the later stages, one practice exercises like the bandha: ujjayi, bhastrika, surya bheda and samanu.

    The effectiveness of any breathing exercise is determined by its ease, effortlessness, smoothness and internal sense of balance and calming energy. In case of dizziness or faintness, one should stop the breathing session immediately. Restarting is properly guided by the teacher or one of our self help programs.

    Most, but not all, breathing exercises should be done wearing comfortable clothing maintaining warmth and in the early part of the day, in places with fresh, clean air. If the breathing exercises are performed indoors, see that the room temperature is normal.

    Most yoga breathing exercises cannot be learned via the senses of an inexperienced person unfamiliar with the internal territory. This is why it is extremely important that only qualified people teach and practice them. We counsel people to develop the Optimal Breathing fundamentals first. These fundamentals are extremely easy to learn and to apply in our daily life. You don’t need any special training or knowledge to practice them. Whether you are perfectly healthy or suffering from some illness, you can practice these exercises daily. These are the best way to properly prepare for esoteric forms of yoga breathing exercises.   Learn to breathe better now

Content copyright 2009-2010 by Michael Grant White and All rights reserved.