If you’re not breathing, you’re not living. Literally.
And if you’re not breathing well; you’re not living as well as you could be.
If you pay attention to your breath, you can learn a lot about how you’re taking life in. The breath is an amazing instrument for reporting the state of your internal weather systems. Take a moment to close your eyes and observe your breath. How would you describe your current internal ‘weather’? Calm, warm sunny skies? High winds and thunder showers? Once you’ve answered the question, read on.
Your breath is the link between your conscious and unconscious mind.
Amazingly, by taking control of your breath you can exert a measure of control over the state of your mind and emotions – you can control the weather inside!
If you are living in a state of chronic stress, your breath is likely shallow, rapid and clipped. You can actually choose to use shallow rapid breathing to induce a state of stress and anxiety, shifting your nervous system into fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system dominance).
Go ahead, try it!
You don’t want to live your life breathing this way. When the sympathetic nervous system dominates, adrenaline goes surging through the blood stream overtaxing your systems, putting you on edge and impeding the body’s ability to repair itself.
Conversely, you can address states of stress and anxiety by breathing deeply into the belly. This down-regulates the nervous system (activating the parasympathetic nervous system) and stimulates the body’s relaxation response. When the parasympathetic nervous system dominates the body heals and repairs itself and the mental/emotional weather pattern is calm and still.
Breathe better; feel better; heal better; live better.
If we can choose how we breathe (and we can!), we should opt for deep, abdominal breathing in times of stress.
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This makes me want to take a big belly breath! thanks for the reminder!
The quality of my breath and finding attention for that is always a useful reminder. Thanks
Quality of breath and jus beginning with state of my breath and having an awareness there is always a welcome reminder. Thank you
Great reminder Amanda!… it sounds so simple, just breathe, but so many people are not fully breathing…therefore not fully living. Also, I did not know this…”when the parasympathetic nervous system dominates the body heals and repairs itself and the mental/emotional weather pattern is calm and still”. So, thank you!
Beautiful reminder to breathe, surprising to hear from a yoga teacher, however I take comfort in always being a student first and foremost.
Ive always considered the breath as a bridge between my external self and internal self.
Thank you for this post! I teach breath awareness techniques to Cardiac patients and this article 100% supports what I’m trying to convey always…A little awareness on breath can go a long way. I’ve even had patients fall asleep in under 3 minutes! Watching them drop into their parasympathetic for perhaps the first time (in a long time) is so powerful. Just like you said “Breathe better; live better”
Thanks for this Amanda! I actually use abdominal breathing to help pacify my 18 month old boy, also to put him asleep!
As an RMT, I often hear my clients take a deep breath when they get on the table; an almost audible sigh. I think for many of them, it may be the first conscious breath they’ve taken all day. In our yoga practice, when in a challenging pose, it is often our breath that is forgotten. So too in our daily challenges. Amanda has a lovely way of describing the parasympathetic response as calm & still weather. In a world that ofttimes feels beyond our control, we have a built-in off switch we can tap into whenever, wherever we are.
Conscious breathing is such a basic and powerful tool.
I truly believe breath awareness and breathing techniques should be taught and practiced regularly at schools as we forget how to breathe like a baby.
Years ago I would be more anxious and stressed based on the everyday stress of life. The first thing I learned was to focus on the breath when I started mediation and that is why I love yoga. I remember CNN HLN recently reported the best thing for yoga in the United States was the use of long breathes, which mirrors the lovely quote in the article of “Amazingly, by taking control of your breath you can exert a measure of control over the state of your mind and emotions-you can control the weather inside!”
I love this reminder to breathe deeply to live well!
Definitely a great reminder in stressful times to breathe deeply to down regulate the nervous system.
” by taking control of your breath you can exert a measure of control over the state of your mind and emotions – you can control the weather inside!” I have found this to be true . Tuning into my breath helps me become more aware of my state of mind . Becoming aware my breathing pattern , helps me negotiate my way through daily life.
I couldn’t agree more – the power of breath influences the body in so many ways. I always remind my clients why posture directly influences how our bodies responds to threat. A poor breath pathway can literally prompt your body to become chronically stressed! It does not differentiate between a panic attack, a bear attack, or desk posture – the (fetal) posture is the common denominator, so the body responds the same. Learning to take charge of your breath and tune your breath pathway for deep, down regulating breaths will have a massive impact on stress and anxiety. I will definitely share this article with my clients … Thank you!
So much important information! Breath brings awareness , energy , health and life to all our tissues .
This blog post is perfect. The way you describe how taking a moment to breath to find out how the weather is inside of us, truly resonated with me. I have come a long way now from suffering anxiety and panic attacks. On those moments, as panic flew over my body I remember breathing quicker and quicker firing up my sympathetic nervous system to the roof. Then, there was nothing I could do other than burst into tears and feeling absolutely terrified. I started practicing yoga to have more tools to be present, to be in the moment and get aware of my breathing. It worked well not perfect but it helped me to bring back myself out of a panic attack or anxiety episode quicker, being more present and not letting my self go on with fear the way it used to. However, learning how to breath was integral for me to accomplish that. Then, I came across Yoga Tune Up and the Coregeous ball. That purple crazy ball that I used to have a love-hate relationship with (I am now deeply in love with it) has changed my breathing, the relationship I have with my breathing and the way I am aware of the effect breathing have in my body, my mind and my emotions. By massaging my abdomen I have released a lot of emotional scare tissues on my torso, on my viscera, and has relaxed my breathing system so much. It has also, empowered me, it has change my posture and feel so much more space that make me aware, of my breathing. Since reading this post (I read it for the first time a couple of months ago) I always start my classes taking a few minutes for all my students to breath and check their internal “weather” so they can be more present and aware of what movement can offer them, to their bodies, to their minds and to their emotions. Thank you.
We can truly own our peace when we breath with awareness! It is amazing how quickly anxiety and nervousness shifts when we take a few conscious breaths. When my kids hurt themselves, I always remind them to take a big huge belly breaths and almost immediately the tears stop. What a powerful ‘tool’ we have available at all times!
I teach a free stress-relief class at my office once a month. On Friday I only had 1 student, which gave me a great opportunity to really OBSERVE how she was breathing. When I instructed her to breath into her belly, it was if her mind could not even make sense of it. I watched her whole rib cage elevate.
Since yoga is such a big part of my life, it was very eye-opening to me to see how alien belly breathing is to non-yogis! I used the example that we were taught in class – to think about how a baby breathes. That really helped her identify with what the goal. She had never heard before that belly breathing could help her control that internal weather pattern!
I love this: “Your breath is the link between your conscious and unconscious mind.” Great explanation for how belly breathing affects the nervous system!
Simple yet profound advice. A good reminder of the amazing power of conscious breathing. Love the weather metaphor. We just need to be our own weatherman and know that whatever fronts are coming through we have a measure of control when we remember the power of the breath.
This is a must-read reminder for all of us. Our breath is such a powerful, portable and free addition to our self-care kit. Thank you Amanda for sharing this simple and effective way to chill out!
Well said, Amanda! After all these years in yoga I am just beginning to learn how anxiety and stress has impacted my breathing. Until recently, I hadn’t understood how I could heal in my body just by using my breath.
Thank you Amanda, I love the analogy of weather to breath and our internal state of mind. You’ve provided some great techniques for people to practice breath awareness and management.
I always enjoy reading and learning about the breath, and hearing other folk’s descriptions. Love the concept of your internal weather system. Change your breath, change the weather 😉 In addition to yoga, I am a Pilates instructor and this idea reminds me of Joseph Pilates who called his method an “internal shower.” Thanks for the post!
The breath is such a simple and powerful tool, yet so many people struggle with it and don’t know how to use it properly. It all starts with consciously paying attention and observing, especially in those stressful situations. We can make it better for ourselves always (and better for others too since conscious breath will help us respond versus react)!
Breath and breath control is something I am becoming more aware of and want to learn more about. I often attend to the breath of the clients I work with. Working with infants, their breathing patterns are and important source of information about how they are feeling and tolerating my interventions.
I am often unaware of my own breath until I notice I have been holding my breath or need to sigh deeply. My stress and tension frequently shows up in my breath and breath control..holding my breath, quiet voice, clearing my throat. I need to learn to breath more consciously and realize the powerful calming benefits of this practice. It is a work in progress.
So important to know! So many people don’t understand fight or flight vs rest and digest for their nervous system and how the breath can help!
thank you for this clear ,concise yet simple explanation of how being aware of our breath can affect us in so many ways. When ever I catch myself dealing with a situation of high stress I remind myself to just breathe. So simple yes so important.
I love the analogy of breathing and internal weather; it truly illustrates how emotions can alter our breathing. I understand the connection of the nervous system and breathing: abdominal breathing brings us back to the basics. The parasympathetic nervous system the “rest and digest” the counterpart to the sympathetic nervous system “the flight of fight” to start to understand the difference is of major importance in terms of defining our own stressors. I really like how you approach breath as an essential element of our practice, thank you
I agree with Alyss, this article is a wonderful way to explain the importance of breathing and a way to introduce breathing techniques to someone. Its amazing how many people do no know how to breath well and worse, they don’t even know it. I would love to use your article as introduction to some YTU poses that have an impact to upper back and shoulders (pecs,SPS) abs, psoas and hip flexors because helping releasing these muscles will have a dinamic impact to the diaphragm so breathing will be easier.
Amanda, this is a great back to basics blog! You have articulately conveyed the value of breath in a way any lay person could understand but also do a thorough job of explaining how the dimension of your breath can alter your physical and mental state. This article would be a great reference to introduce the concept of abdominal breath to someone.
I love belly breathing! I usually practise belly breathing in bed to soothe my system to have a very restful night of sleep while focusing on relieving tension throughout my body from top to toe. I have occasional insomnia and this usually curbs the sleep math.
Love your description use the breath to check your “internal weather”. By answering the questions, I felt more empowered and focused after doing this exercise. Thank you!
Thank you for this post and the reminder of the importance of breathing. I’m currently in training and find this is something I still need to work and focus on to experience all the benefits of.
I love how you relate the breath to an internal weather system! This is exactly the way the breath feels inside the body. I dont know if we really put enough emphasis on the breath outside of our yoga practice. If we can stay connected throughout the most stressful times in our life, it resonates a sense of calmness and assertion. Thank you for this wonderful post.
Thanks Amanda! I learned how to deep belly breath in a yoga class 20 years ago. It is something I’ve always returned to in times of stress. When I stop to take 10 breathes and calm down, it’s always the deep belly breath that I’ve turned to.
Thanks Amanda. I knew that belly breathing stimulated the relaxation response but I didn’t appreciate that the autonomic nervous system was hooked into the diaphragm – and that there was a two way communication path between the two. I was missing the “How?” part of the equation. This makes it a lot easier to understand and will definitely make it easier to explain in class.
I love the way you guide Savasana of inflating and softening the belly. It was revealed to me today that I spend most of my awakened days in fight or flight mode. I hope to be able to integrate some of the direction you offer into my daily habits 🙂
Hi Garrett. Great question! I hope I can answer to your satisfaction here.
The autonomic nervous system is the branch of the nervous system that regulates your sympathetic (fight/flight/freeze) response and your parasympathetic (relaxation) response. You cannot DIRECTLY control your autonomic nervous system, but autonomic nervous are hooked into your diaphragm. That is how short, clipped, shallow breaths happen automatically when you shift into fight or flight mode. When you’re under stress, the autonomics automatically prepare your body to fight or flight by altering your breathing pattern. Here’s what’s SO COOL: There is a two-way communication pathway going on here. You can control your diaphragm and shift yourself into fight or flight or your relaxation response simply by taking control of your breath and choosing to breathe in the pattern that corresponds with the branch of the autonomic nervsous system you want to activate. Short clipped breaths will send you into fight or flight; slow, deep breaths will shift you into parasympathetic mode.
Hope that helps!
Thanks Amanda! I’m curious as to what the mechanism ,or connection, is between belly breathing and the parasympathetic nervous system? Why does breathing slowly into the belly down regulate? Theories on this??
Thank you for this article on breathing Amanda. I found it very interesting you brought up the point about how causing your breathing to being shallow, rapid and clipped can engage your flight or flight response. When I was beginning my journey as strength athlete I was taught to dothis from the more experienced lifters when approaching a big lift in order to cause an adrenaline surge and help you power through the lift! It’s amazing what an impact breathing can have on performance whether it’s a yoga pose or a heavy squat!
Thank you for the reminder of the importance of breathing! I do find that in most classes when the teachers cues “are we breathing?” Or “how is your breath?” I quickly take in a deep inhale as if I totally forgot because I was so focused on the asana! I am hoping to get to a point where my breathing comes first and the difficult of the asana follows smoothly.
With the holiday season approaching we (sometimes) induce stress and anxiety . Amanda Tripp in her Yoga Tune Up Blog describes a very simple way to reduce these sensation. Turn your seasonal breathing into a life time of Ease !
Thanks Amanda. I am glad I found this blog at the beginning of my teacher training to reduce my stress and anxiety for this week and the rest of my life ! Gratefully Nancy Drope. x
I am in the midst of reading a book on breath by Larry Rosenberg and I just picked up Iyengar’s book “Light on Pranayama”. I find as a teacher that when I am leading my students through a Svasana I am guided to speak by there breath. If it reverts to shallow chest breathing or rapid belly breathes I am compelled to guide them back either through counting or metaphors or simply by stating “inhalations and exhalations” in a soothing slow tone. Also, recently while teaching a full Restorative class I find that I am moving my hands in a rhythmic motion to simulated the rolling waves of breath or gently sway of breath.
I learned so much this past week on the sympathetic and parasympathetic states and approaching the latter without a felling of stress “I need to do this…why do thoughts keep interrupting my breathing….fuck I’ve lost count again” and the realization that the parasympathetic state is not the state our bodies are conditioned to be in but rather a state that we teach our bodies to accept.
Here’s to big long happy breathes!
During the 3 day YTU training I was once again reminded of just how important the breath is, in my yoga practice as well as in my daily life. A yoga teacher of mine always used to say ‘it’s the breath that brings the pose to life’ and I cannot agree with her more. Thank you Amanda for this most informative post. I will definitely share this with friends and family.
Learning more and more about our breath has been one of my favorite parts of yoga teacher training. Since YTU class, it’s been even more important to focus on your breath. For example, if I’m not breathing well while using the YTU balls, I’m not getting as much as I could be. When I have control over my breath, I have the control to turn a painful situation into an enjoyable massage 🙂
Thank you for this post! It is so interesting! How breathing affects our nervous system and is linked to our emotions and state. Learning how to do abdominal breathing has helped me to cope with very stressful situations, and has given me control over my body and mind. Be able to place my hands in my belly and feel my breathing has given me a powerful tool. I had three MRI this year, and I was surprised how practising my abdominal breathing helped me to be able to relax and not be setressed with all the noise!
I love how you gave the physiological aspects of breathing and their connection to activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Succinct and to the point, you’ve given the reader simple tools to observe their breathing and simple tools to help deal with stress.
Thanks, Amanda. This is a very important lesson! Yoga has helped me deepen my breath and pay much closer to attention to it. As a high-stress individual this has helped me beyond belief! More people could benefit from slowing down and focusing on their own breath when in a stressful situation. It can help so much.
I love how you talk about our “internal weather system” that we sometimes do not believe we have control over. The more we allow our bodies to remain under stress, the more we are letting it dominate our emotions and actions. We don’t want our bodies to get into fight and flight mode, especially since we have the tools in our hands to instead use stress as a positive thing. Stress is there to get us moving, but to do so calmly. Using the proper breathing methods, we give ourselves the time to meditate and appreciate our bodies and everything that life has to offer, helping us take things one step at a time. It’s a great reminder to never take any breath for granted!
Is breathing into the belly more stress relieving that breathing into the chest? I understand that long, slow breath is calming, but how does the location of the breath play into the calming effect?
Amen! So much of what is troubling us inside can be address by breath, by literally taking the time to bring the breath inside of us. When the outside distractions and stressors turn our sympathetic nervous system buttons on, it’s within our control to switch those buttons off with deep belly breathing, igniting our parasymapthetic nervous system buttons instead. Thank you for this simple but important message that with abdominal breathing, a sense of calm and restoration can be ours. Self care is just a breath away.
Thank you for a great article. It is amazing how deep breathing/abdominal breathing can reduce stress anywhere and at any time. These techniques can also easily be taught to older children and teens!
Thank you for this concise yet extremely important article! It always amazes me how such a simple technique, deep abdominal breathing, has the power to slow down the stress response and relax the body. I have been using the technique for several years and it has never failed me. Someone explained to me that the body is not capable of being both relaxed and stresses at the same time…..since the abdominal breathing relaxes the body…it quickly relieves the stress. I am a teacher and I share this with some of my students who are experiencing stress and/or anger issues. It is a wonderful tool for self control.
It’s amazing how paying attention to the simplest of things, like breathing, is such a fleeting art. Our minds wonder left and right from the demands of our daily schedules, by technology which was supposed to make our lives easier, which has now made life more expansive, invasive and (when I forget to turn off my cell during the night) quite frustrating.
Like you say Amanda, breathing is THE most important thing we do. Yet, we sometimes forget we’re even doing it.
I was at the bank this afternoon, and while waiting in line, down-regulating my breathing. My bank account wasn’t smiling when I left, however, I sure was.
We have the ability to choose how we breath.
Well put Amanda.
I love the idea of linking the breath to the weather. So many of us live in a foggy, gray state of being but unlike the actual weather, we have the power to change that.
I find that belly breath is one of the simplest and easiest parts of a yoga practice that students can take off the mat with them. We all deal with stress on a daily basis, but we can stay a little sunnier with abdominal breathing.
Sitting at a desk all day, is probably the biggest breath defeater. As I find my self slouching sometimes, everything collapses and I find I am breathing in a very shallow way. Don’t brain cells slowly die, because they don’t get enough oxygen. At least that’s what my docter told my husband for his sleep apnea.
Yes, I totally agree with you. Abdominal breath also help you find connection with your mind and observe what is occupying and what is drifting through your mind scape. The breath pattern also helps us to become more aware of our emotions. Confidence, calm, sadness and anger express very differently as to the location and frequency of our breath. It is most satisfying for me to sit and meditate quietly with my belly breath! Belly breath is my pal!
How interesting! And timely! Just last night, I had a couple of ESL students turn up in my Restorative Class. After class, they asked me to explain some of the anatomical terms to them so they could understand the breath work we were doing. After 15 minutes and much pointing, diagram drawing and Sanskrit to English to Japanese translation, we came to a clear understanding about what a kumbhaka is, what a sternum and clavicle are and how to perform Viloma. Finding ways to explain the concepts that are accessible and interesting is an ongoing challenge!!
Hi Amanda! I love how concise this article is. As I find myself trying to explain the things that I have been learning to family and friends, I see many of their eyes glaze over as soon as I use an unfamiliar word or phrase. The syntax and accessibility of your language in the article is so descriptive yet simultaneously informative – something I have a lot to learn about 🙂 I also loved the weather analogy – what a wonderful way of objectively and non-accusatively assessing ones inner state. Thank you for this – I will definitely be rereading it again and again 🙂
@Lynne & Amanda.
Thanks for posting. I am so happy to hear that Lynne, you brought deep abdominal breathing into an anger management class! Breath is the first step, it’s the bridge between our experience now and our experience in the next moment. And we can choose to till our garden so the next moment is more capable of receiving happy feelings! The more I read about the diaphragm, the more amazed I am. I used belly breathing when I was nervous this afternoon, preparing for an important conversation. I know that it helped me enter into a parasympathetic state so that I could begin to address what was going on in my tissue and collaborate with the “wound up-ness” in order to unravel my nerves 🙂 ….And thank God, the conversation was great. Thanks belly breathing for a practical way into my soul’s wisdom! And thank you Amanda 🙂
Hi Stephanie. No, I don’t breathe abdominally all the time. My natural breath seems to sit around my low ribs.
I have another article on the YTU blog about the Intercostals (the little muscles between your ribs that create rib cage movement when breathing) that you might enjoy reading. At the end of the article, there is a list of techniques that you can use to make them stronger and more supple. Happy reading!
Thank you for your post and reminder for how to relax in the moment by abdominal breathing. I have a lot of clients who come in having learned abdominal breathing – and that is pretty much all they do. Their ribs don’t move at all and their thoracic spine is thus very rigid and their abdomen is displaced too far forward. I wonder if you abdominal breathe in general, or just as a means of down-regulating? Thank you.
Actively practicing abdominal breathing the past 5 days when i can remember during my daily activities, but especially entering savasana and settling for sleep at night, has been incredibly soothing. It usually takes me a while to settle down for savasana and sleep but abdominal breathing has taken me directly into deep rest.
Amanda, while I was familiar with these breathwork/ relaxation concepts -I love the way you paint the picture! As I read this, it reminds me of a general Stress Reduction/Relaxation class I used to teach for a PE Department at a college. I used to collect some pre-semester info re: medical conditions, medications, experience with stress and how it manifested for my students. It always amazed me to learn how many of my 17-24 year old students were taking prozac, zoloft, etc. Additionaly, some of the things they wrote about their stress and (lack of ) coping methods made me contemplate “what are these young adults going to do when they REALLY have adult troubles and need some coping skills”? Hopefully they learned some during the semester in my class. Now – as I read your excellent description of coping with stress in this healthy and most basic way –I wonder why we don’t teach this in elementary schools as a way for our young ones to learn the most basic “coping skills” in this stress and stimuli filled world? Thanks again for the reminder!
Great article and a reminder that breath leads the way!
This is a wonderful reminder that breath is the key to the control valves of the body and mind. I love the concept that breath can alter or shift your internal weather forcast~what vivid imagery!
I have an ever-evolving experience with my own breath patterns both on and off the mat, and am so incredibly humbled by how powerful and rich, small amount of dedicated attention breathing, can make such a difference in one’s day!
The breath is so beneficial for many reasons! I loved doing this along with Thoracic breathing in Tubular Core taught by Jill in the Yoga Tune Up level one class. I found from breathing more fully I was able to relax and I was simply more aware!
It’s empowering for people to learn that they truly can change their relationship with their nervous system through the practice of abdominal breathing. I’ve found that just knowing they have some tools they can use — that they are not at the mercy of these feelings of stress — gives them a greater sense of well being.
The breath is the wind of the spirit. When the spirit is low the breath seems barely there, when the spirit is agitated the breath is out of control, when the spirit is connected, the breath is long, smooth and deep. Can’t live without it!
Today we practiced 5 restorative hip exercises and Jill changed the breath for each exercise. Following the breath and changing it with each exercise had an incredibly relaxing effect on me. I will use this technique in the future to attain this relaxed state for my clients.
Great question, Marilyn. Before YTU, I mainly practiced and taught a style of yoga that treated pranayama and asana as distinct practices. One of the ways YTU training changed my approach to pranayama was that I felt freed to practice asana and pranayama at the same time! I also felt freed to play and invent new ways to coordinate breath with movement – which has literally allowed me to breathe new life into my asana practice. Enjoy the training!
I teach anger management classes and always teach abdominal breathing in the first class. Generally, the students think I’m a little crazy when I assign home work of taking 5-7 abdominal breaths an hour. When they come back the next week they report being happily surprised that, Surprise! Surprise! It worked and they were much calmer.
Amanda, thanks for the article, I regularly “listen to my clients” breathe and talk before we begin our session, to check their state of mind, and body.
When we are stressed, and breathing quickly, we also produce a stress hormone called cortisol. In a state of flight or flight , and you are stressed, your body finds it very hard to work correctly and holds on to calories. In saying that…. Breathe deeply to help your body burn calories and loose weight!
How has your breathing practice been enhanced or changed since taking and teaching Yoga Tune Up? I am currently in training and am finding myself challenged to consistsently find my breath
I love that this article centers on a person’s ability to change their internal weather with focus on the breath – what a gift to give students to feel empowered in the face of difficult times and strong emotions. It is a magical tool to counteract the stressors within our busy lives. In my current training, I’ve learned the expression “bare attention” on the breath and I think it has enormous use for practitioners – by recognizing where the breath is without changing it, we gather information about our internal state and can then use the tools described here to stimulate a sense of calm by generating abdominal breaths that can soothe us during stressful times. Magic indeed.
Amanda – Thanks for the succinct yet extremely important article on the breath. I practice a yoga that is very breath centered and I cannot imagine how people practice without an emphasis on the breath. After well over 16 year of practice and over a decade of teaching I think of the breath as immediately accessible “aid” that is with me 24/7. I feel like in every situation that I encounter in life the breath can somehow enhance my experience bringing clarity, connection, or calm. The breath has such an immediate and profound affect on the quality of all aspects of life.
During a recent lecture I attended, Doctor Andrew Weil suggested a breath technique that he claims, “is the single most effective medical intervention” he has ever discovered. He went on to say, “…The results I have seen this produce in terms of improvements in general health, of solutions to chronic health problems—chronic digestive problems to anxiety to insomnia to heart arrhythmias—is phenomenal.” With that glowing recommendation I added the technique to my everyday practice and have shared it with dozens of clients.
1. Keep your tongue in the yogic position: touch the tip of your tongue behind your two front teeth.
2. Let all of the air out through your mouth. You will feel the air moving around your tongue. Close your mouth.
1. Breath in through your nose quietly for a count of four.
2. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
3. Purse your lips and blow outward, making a release sound, for a count of eight.
1. Perform a minimum of twp times a day. Typical practice times are morning and evening.
2. Beginning Practice (about four to six weeks): repeat for four breath cycles.
3. Ultimately: repeat for eight breath cycles (maximum).
Thank you so much for a great article. As a Fashion executive and life coach, I notice in business meetings and in private sessions with my clients, how people’s breathing changes their state of being, if they are in their mind and anxious or experiencing anxiety and negative emotions, their breathing gets shallow and when encouraged to take deep abdominal breaths with longer exhalation, they get to be more in their hearts and in touch with their true feelings therefore feel relaxed and more in control of their situation or whatever they are dealing with, at that moment. I exercise the abdominal breathing in most intense situations in my daily life and experience calm and peace even see how my slowing down my breathing affects the people around me and bring them on that level of calm as well. I feel more connected within myself and with others that creates quality in my daily life..Peace…
Great blog! As a mental health counselor and yoga teacher-in-training, I have become attuned to the body during therapy sessions and noticed that when my patient’s are talking about their pain, their breathing changes. I also notice that, at times, they sigh deeply into the belly, which is always such a wonderful thing to see…watching them unconsciously calm their nervous systems. Now, my job is to make that action conscious for them. I believe that with the consciousness you discuss, they can use it to heal their deep anxiety/depression on a more actively conscious level and create greater relief…and faster relief. Namaste!
The beautiful thing is that it doesn’t take lot to actually feel the effects of the parasympathetic system being activated.
Living in New York City where stress is everywhere, deep belly breathing technique is a tool I use on a regular basis.
This is so nicely stated. Consciously extending the inhale/exhale during stressful situations throughout one’s daily life can really make a difference in how you respond. I even find if i’m ever having difficulty falling asleep at night, to try 4-part or square breathing — I usually fall asleep before the 5th round.
Our best friend, our own breathing patterns, for most of us is an area neglected. Why? Because we automatically have to breathe to stay alive. It’s sort of like our other internal organs that just go on working working without our direction. But what a special and valuable tool we have when we recognize that we can direct and control our breath. As a yoga teacher, I feel it’s imperative to remind the students numerous times throughout the class to breathe. And, if we’re adjusting someone, to listen to their breathing patterns while deeply breathing ourselves.
i too enjoy a good breath! as a power yoga teacher, i tell the students the meaning of power in power yoga is to have the power to control the rhythm of breath. if you lose the rhythm or control of the breath, you lose the power in the yoga. i also encourage our students to think about practicing ujjayi breathing the next time somebody pisses them off. for example, the next time a colleague or friend ruffles their feathers, just ujjayi the crap out of them.
It truly is fascinating to see how different kinda of breathing can really make a difference in stress, life, and exercise. I’m thrilled to learn all these new breathing techniques and see how powerful a breath can be.
I’ve been taught that you can engage the parasympathetic nervous system by lengthening the exhales longer than the inhales. I use this regularly in class. Kelly McGonigal, from Stanford, taught us the 4/8 breath (meaning breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of 8). That’s a generalization – not everyone will be able to do that count comfortably – but it’s a great breath to use for relaxation and something that I use often on flights when we hit turbulence.
The breath is of course essential to yoga, and to life. We can instruct our students to take deeper inhales and allow the exhales to be longer, but without more pliable and and supple muscles of respiration, these breaths will still be a struggle. Using the Yoga Tupe-Up Therapy balls this morning, allowed me to access blind spots and sticky muscles and afterwards my breath truly was soft and full.
I love it when in class and the yoga instructor reminds you to breath because guess what, I did forgot to breath!!! Yoga has made me regard my breath as something sacred. By having a regular practice, you also allow to receive the amazing benefits of deep breathing. I once had a friend who had a heart condition where if stressed her rate rate would shoot up at a dangerous pace. I asked her how she managed it and she said, “with my breath. It’s amazing what you can do with your breath.” I never really understood what she meant exactly until I started yoga, and became aware of my breath and its effect.
Good reminder, Amanda.
At this point, I am starting all classes with abdominal breathing. I am making the assumption that the act of getting from home, school or work to the studio (particularly those around the ‘rush hours’, leave students walking into the studio with an overactive sympathetic nervous system. Allowing the initial part of the class to down-regulate seems to bring the students into a much better balance from which to move into the remainder of the class.
Ah breath – the beauty of breath. If you recorded one of my classes you would hear me prompt students (and myself) to breathe throughout the practice. Without breath the asanas are simply exercises. It is the breath that creates the framework for mindfulness and integration. Life is full of stress and we spend most of our waking hours rushing to get things done. This rushing extends to our breath – when stressed our breath tends to be shallow and rapid. The reminder to take deep abdominal breaths or really luxuriate in dirga breath is a gift that we can give ourselves throughout the day, not just on the mat.
This is great article! I never really put two and two together. I just realized that my normal, everyday breaths are stressful, shallow breaths, in turn, stressing my out for no reason. My belly is always clamped, my chest is tight, my shoulders are tired and my mind is slightly frantic. When I don’t think about my breathing I don’t feel stressed, but after concentrating on how I’m breathing, I can feel that I’m stressed. Ugh, even while I’m sitting here typing and breathing “normally”, my breath keeps going back to being compressed. I’m really glad I read this, however, it’s going to be a challenge to break this cycle, ha ha ha!
Great article. Focusing on deep abdominal breathing is a great way to regulate the breath and focus the mind during the practice of yoga. However, as you mentioned in your article, belly breathing can do so much for us in our daily lives as well. Checking in and observing the breath often is a great way of keeping an eye on both our mental and physical health. Poor regulation of breath can affect our anatomical health negatively in parts of the body such as the diaphragm, which can in turn cause problematic chain reactions all throughout our bodies.
Thanks for reminding us all that we can use our breath every moment of every day to allow harmony of our breath to be a personal assistant in times of stress.
I totally agree with this article, especially since I have personally experienced the connection between shallow breathing and daily stress. It, however, is difficult to constantly monitor and control breathing.
Love your analogy of the consequences of our breathing to “weather”!
It is true, Claire, that often beginners seem to be frustrated with breath awareness exercises at the opening of a movement class. Which, is evidence of the blatant lack of awareness most people have and thus, are “not living” with. What a wonderful gift we give others when we help them begin to experience a higher quality of life through the breath.
Awesome! Silvia Marisol Harms
[…] can easily feel how your entire internal ecosystem shifts gears dramatically depending on how you choose to breathe. Overall, when you influence that length, size, volume and style of your breath, it changes your […]
Thank you Amanda, how true, breath is life and this wonderful life giving breath is assessable to everyone.
Recently, I became aware that I was not taking as much time for the study of the breath at the beginning of my Pilates, Yoga or movement classes as I used to do. I assume I strayed away from it was because there are MANY themes to choose and things to cover in class and sometimes it is easy to skip or rush the opening breathing exercises. In addition, many students, especially at first, are not comfortable simply focusing on breath and breathing.
However, experiencing the issues with breath in my own body, and seeing it in others, I have re-realized the importance of breath studies. Some of the most challenging holding patterns (hips/psoas/diaphragm/abdominals/lumbar spine/shoulders/neck) can be “unwound” by taking a few moments at the beginning of class to simply re-focus, re-organize and bring awareness to the breath and how we breathe and its effects on our body and mind.
In turn, by choosing to highlight a few breathing exercises, we can release holding patterns and demonstrate to students the repercussions of stress and shallow//dysfunctional breathing mechanics. These lessons give student tangible examples of the profound effect and relationship of breath to holding patterns and movement. We then give context to the value of such practices and remind students to stay connected to the breath more often in daily life. One of our most important lessons is to “Balance our Doing, with Undoing”.
This is so so so true! Being a yogi it is our job to identify the breath, get to know it, and control it. Actively breathing in through the nose and out through the nose slowly and steadily with our Ujjayii breath is the key to calming the mind and properly practicing our yoga asanas. Yoga teaches that every pose begins with the breath first (or you could say that every pose begins after the breath- Breath first, followed by Action/Movement) so it makes sense that we shoudl approach our daily life with this same idea and practice! For years I never understood the theory that the breath “tells us what’s happing in our body” until I got deeper into my yoga practice and started paying attention to my breath! It was like I started breathing for the first time! And even now, often through out my day I’ll feel my heart rate and stress levels rise when I’m about to get on a crowded subway or when I’m about to go into a meeting, etc. and I have to remind myself to just BREATH. I know many people- friends, co-workers, and family who suffer from anxiety attacks and they ask me all the time about the yoga breath and if it works and my answer is always YES- it does work! The deep abdominal breathing discussed in this article is a very effective stress reliever tool that everyone can do at anytime to help calm the nervous systems down instantly. Thanks for the reminder!
I am very fascinated by the power of the breath. It’s something that’s with us every second of every day and something that we have so much control over, but because it’s so often unconscious, we take it for granted. But wow, if we work with it, how profound the experience can be. I recently participated in a holotropic breathing workshop in which the basic premise is that we all have a deeper knowledge/wisdom that lies beneath our left-brain, thinking mind, and that we all have access to if we can just get out of our own way. What I find so intriguing is that by simply shifting the way that we take a breath, we are able to access sensations, feelings, experiences, energy movement, visions etc that are normally out of reach of our conscious mind.
I wholeheartedly agree that the breath is the link between our conscious and unconscious minds.
I have been going through a lot of major life transitions lately and deep abdominal breathing has been my saving grace. In stressful situations, I remind myself to breathe deeply and it instantly brings me out of my fight or flight response. It’s interesting to be able to observe and physically feel my heart rate slowing and the relaxation response taking over as the breath guides me into my parasympathetic nervous system. On my inhalation, I focus on drawing something positive into my life – breathing in love, acceptance, gratitude, etc. On my exhalation, I release any negative thoughts or fears that might be holding me back on that particular day.
Taking it back to the breath… Simple yet challenging. Quiet yet powerful. Breathing is something we all must do to stay alive but it’s the first thing that flies out the window when we are stressed, whether it be physical or emotional stress. Many times, we have to make a conscious effort to perform an involuntary action. Amazing!
Probably more than anything on this planet, I’m in love with breath work. Choosing conscious breath has been a true life changer for me. I love how fast you can change your mood, your day, or your stress level by breathing. It’s such a gift and most do not take advantage of it. It’s free. It’s easy. We already know how to do it. I wish all families would spend ten minutes every night or every morning breathing consciously together. There would be a shift. I think it’s taught by lots of people but my wish is that more people would get together to breathe. The yogic complete breath as explained in our TT is something that I will use in my own life and teach everyone in my family!
Sometimes focusing on the simplest of life’s functions, breathing, is the answer to health woes. It’s at least a part of it. Great information here and solid delivery.
Thank you so much for this article. Everyone should read this because everyone has moments of stress. There have been times where I have been in sheer panic and have been able to calm my body and mind by moving from clavicular breathing to abdominal breathing, just by shifting conscious awareness. I don’t know where I’d be without it.
It’s perhaps the most important topic on this site, breathing… yet we spend so little time (in ordinary life) focussing on the breath.
We should all learn to breath better… deeply, and from the belly.
Belly breath its an instant slower of anxiaty. I´ve had always been an anxious and nervous person, and the moment i tried belly breath with my closed eyes, i started realizing how my eyes relaxed at first and then my thoughts started to fade out. It improved my insomnia and all the problem that condition lead to. When I practice yoga, my breathing is as important as my foundation, you can really hold on to it!
I love this analogy of weather and with the great humorous spin you add ! The breath is one of my favorite topics and parts of the body. Imagine a life of awareness to our breath and creating a sense of calm through stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system, thus decreasing the work on our adrenals to take a break on releasing unnecessary cortisol that is ever so present in our fast past life. I will use this weather analogy as it sticks with me and will be a powerful way to help people get back in touch with conscious breathing. The diaphragm has attachments and connections to many tissues in our body and impacts us on many levels including assisting with filling and emptying the lungs with oxygen. Oxygen impacts every tissue of the body therefore proper function of the diaphragm is vital. Through improper breathing techniques the diaphragm can impact spinal alignment and not function properly which triggers a cascade of events such as core instability, pelvic floor muscles laxity, SI joint compression and many other concerns. Often times when there has been trauma the diaphragm can be impacted as well. As you said if you are not breathing you are not living. The good news is the diaphragm is regulated by both somatic and autonomic nerves thus we have the ability to self-regulate when we choose to be conscious of our breath. As you said if you are not breathing you are not living. Pranayama is vital in yoga and life to create homeostasis.
Your sense of humor has me doing all kins of spontaneous respiratory movements. KEEP WRITING SO I CAN KEEP LAUGHING! Brilliant!
Breathing is the most important when practicing yoga. And it also connected to our inside weather! I breathe without focusing on doing it, but unconsciously it stops for a while or sometimes counts faster depending on the state of my mind. Need to keep in my mind to keep it calm and smoothe!
I have given abdominal conscious breathing instruction to two people with two very different effects….. Imy friend Tony, with may physical and emotional issues used this technique when he was at the doctor’s office. They took his blood pressure and it was high. He applied the belly breathe and afterr the second check, his blog pressure had gone down dramatically. However – I was visiting my 90 year old mother and following her with her physical therapy appointment. She was continually getting out of breathe and they said her pulse was high. The physical therapists recommended some slow deep breathing. She lay downy and I guided her to abdominal breathing…. she seemed to calm down. I left and soon got a call from the nurse – she had had a heart attack! – Weird, since that was the only time I offered guidance in breathing! HMMMM – probably she would have had the heart attack anyway – or maybe she is so wound tight that upon relaxing for the first time in years, her heart flipped out from shock???!
My experience with the breath, as an Ashtangi, is very intimate. That feeling of almost intoxicating serenity that comes after a practice usually eludes me when my mind wanders and I neglect the breath during my practice. Pretty amazing how movement linked with breath can synergistically result in such a profound sense of well-being. The irony of it is that what appears to be an intense way of breathing is actually what truely relaxes me afterwards and for the rest of the day I’m just breathing “normally,” which for me means relatively shallow. However, the state of relaxation is still there. I do pose a question though: should I be breathing deeply all throughout the day as well? Having studied a little bit on Pranayama, true perspective has been given to me on the importance of acknowledging the breath, given that one individual does it nearly 22,000 times a day. It’s like a doorway to the truth that has been lying there right under our nose, 24 hours a day, and by simply focusing our awareness to it, our entire perspective can shift.
Yoga belly breath is an invaluable gift that we all have. We just need to be reminded to use it! I wholeheartedly agree that shallow breath creates anxiety and panic. In fact, years ago, after taking an injury – related break from my consistent practice, and with some added stress, I developed anxiety attacks. I knew that the only way to get out of this situation was to start practicing yoga WITH breathing. And so I did. I have never had an anxiety attack again. In the years to follow, I used my yoga belly breathing in various stress inducing situations like speaking in front of large groups and business related cross country flights.
I would like to make my breathing better, it tends to be shallow. I have noticed that it is challenging for me to make my exhale as long as my inhale. I will be looking for yoga tune-up poses that will improve my breathing.
Deep belly breathing calms me in an instant! it is my ‘go-to’ tool and mechanism for healing. I love thinking that I can control “The weather inside!” We often think about the weather daily as out of our control. But remembering to breath and that we can exhibit some amount of control over our breath is a great way to initiate positive healing and change in our lives.
I was on an incredibly turbulent flight a few years ago and was scared. I decided to test the deep breathing for relaxation theory, and, although it took some time, I found myself able to totally relax. It was almost eerie how peaceful I was able to stay, despite all the white-knuckeling I was observing around me.
Thanks for the reminder that the diaphram is also a muscle that need to be worked like the rest of our body. Belly breathing is such a powerful tool to calm our nervous system and begin to focus inward.
I am more aware than ever of breathing, stopping to breath. I am constantly now reminding myself to breath throughout the day thanks to my Yoga journey.
Thanks, I agree with all of the above!
Breath is a great tool to make your life (and yoga!) a lil easier.
On a free way, when someone cuts you off, try to take a big, deep breath in, and slow, complete exaltation (instead of swearing out loud) Works, like a charm!
This article was very informative! I find that when I am in finals and/or stressed about an assignment, I have very shallow breathing. I literally almost hold my breath. Through yoga I have been able to connect to the power of my breathe to help me hold and get deeper into poses. By stating the actual physiological responses that the body goes through when we breathe in a shallow way, this has reminded me to be aware of that and to remind my students on the importance of breath.
During my 1st pregnancy I had anxiety and I remember my heart always racing almost constantly and I remember how hard it was to slow it down. I learned through meditation to calm it down. It’s amazing what the breath can do! I even teach belly balloon breathing in my kid yoga classes and to my 5 and 3 year olds. 🙂
@ Donna, That’s awesome that you use those trying moments to practice your yoga breath 🙂
My ninety year old mother was in the hospital recently experiencing some chest pain, and as could be expected, her anxiety level was sky high. Watching the respiration rate on her hospital monitor and seeing her breathe in such a rapid, shallow manner, I suggested that we do some slow abdominal breathing together. With a focused, rhythmic breathing pattern, we watched the monitor drop back to normal levels almost immediately. Every time she got anxious we repeated the process, and each and every time the monitor reflected our efforts. Breathe better, feel better, heal better, live better- I couldn’t agree more!
Deep abdominal breathing has helped me to stay connected with myself and my clients in massage. Throughout my sessions I stay conscious of my breath and this brings a great awareness for me as well as my client. I feel that it triggers their parasympathetic nervous system to sync in with the body work they are receiving and the healing intention I have for them. Just like Amanda said “When the parasympathetic nervous system dominates the body heals and repairs itself and the mental/emotional weather pattern is calm and still. Breathe better; feel better; heal better; live better.”
This is an invaluable tool for optimal well being.
I have found that conscious deep breathing into the abdomen has saved me from overreacting on numerous occasions. For instance, like Alicia said above, when there is that moment of anxiety and excitement about teaching a class I consciously breathe while driving to the studio and find that I am more grounded and composed. Other instances like when I interact with a difficult customer, breathing and staying composed to handle the situation in a professional way serves the situation and us both well to come out with a favorable result for the both of us. Lastly, the mention of healing better by breathing well has been true for me. I feel the stress levels and natural positive energy flow when my parasympathetic is dominating my experience.
As a yoga teacher, the breath is the most valuable tool. I mean this not only for my self but also for my students. I think most teachers have all experience the jitters of teaching a new class or teaching in a new place or even teaching a new student for the first time. If I just take the moment to pay attention to my breath and then really dive deep into my body with a full inhale and exhale, I always seem to get past that moment when I feel like fear and uncomfortableness takes me out of myself. When I am aware of my breath I can connect to my students breath and breath with them.
I’ve found that I can control my level of stress when I’m in a difficult meeting with a supervisor by focusing on my breath. The great thing is that while they may be focusing on ‘pushing my buttons’, I’m breathing my way through the experience – and they don’t have a clue why I’m not getting rattled.
Thank you for your article. Calm breath calm mind. I try to remind myself every practice. The breath is one of the hardest things to focus on in my practice I do a lot of Bikram and catch myself holding my breath. Also if I work hard in my practice I can go the other way and find myself almost panting. Yoga reminds us to come back to the breath. If everyone did yoga and was mindful of the breath first maybe we would know world peace. 🙂