In my previous articles I discussed the diaphragm and its function in breathing.  Then I looked at a simple breath exercise where you could really focus your attention on the breath and the diaphragm.  Now we look at a more dynamic breathing exercise that combines breath and movement.

The promise of vinyasa yoga is that evenly metered breath coupled with evenly metered movement results in an evenness of mind.  In my last article I discussed a student of my mine that couldn’t control her breath and thus her practice really suffered.  After teaching her to focus on her breath we had to layer on good movements.  We began with the Yoga Tune Up® exercise called Bridge Lifts.  Doing Bridge Lifts is a mindfulness exercise that develops awareness of both breath and body.  While doing this exercise become aware of how the movement of the arms overhead increases the volume of the thoracic cavity and promotes a deeper breath.After mastering Bridge LIfts, my student’s practice was profoundly improved.  Her sun salutations acquired a new element of grace and poise that were not there before.

Layering on good movement on top of good breaths is surprisingly difficult.  The breath should always come first.  Once the breath is full and deep, then add the movement.  The Bridge Lifts are a deceptively simple exercise.  It seems almost too easy until you try it and realize that truly synchronizing movement with breath is more challenging than it seems at first blush.  This exercise builds mastery over the breath and movement. I’ve included the video clip below, and it’s also available on the Quick Fix for Stress Relief 10 minute video.

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Keith Wittenstein

I endeavor to work under the following principles: We shouldn’t take anything about the way we move for granted. We should strive to master the fundamentals to achieve virtuosity--the performing of the common uncommonly well. The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.

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Corey Wright

Thanks for the article Keith!!
As we are finding out, movement of all kinds is nutrition your body needs and is as important as the food you place into it. Breath is so integrated into this as well wether in up or down regulation. Thanks for coming breathing an movement in a way that down regulates and increases vagal tone.

Sue Taylor

Bridge lifts are such a great exercise to coordinate movement and breath. Students need to me mindful to physically move (there is a lot going on in this) and adjust their speed according to their breath. I like to initiate movement from the breath and find this helps keep the breath connection as we begin to move. Jills imagery of inflating/deflating a balloon is fantastic and helps focus awareness to breathing into the entire thoracic cavity and right up to the first rib. As an added bonus I have found that incorporation of the arms really helps to articulate the… Read more »

Melanie Burns

I like the comment about starting a yoga class with cat/cow and then bridge lifts to synchronize the breath, so helpful in the beginning of a vinyasa class. The slight backbend up and down provides a sweet circulation of cerebrospinal fluid and invites craniosacral rhythm.


As yoga practitioners it is valuable to consider how we coach breath with movement. Not only breath 1st, then movement, but you bring up the valuable point that considering how the shape of the body will allow or restrict the ability of the thoracic cavity to expand is important in helping people kinesthetically connect to how their breath is impacting their body.


I love the idea that the breath always comes first. I’ve realised through my practise that with some sequences of movement I tought myself into breathing in a specific way and now I’m not able to figure out if this combination of movement/breath is natural for me. I find it difficult to come back to natural breathing. The idea of allowing the breath to come first, sound like a new area for me to explore.


Trying to sink breath with movement for me has been a challenge. I like the way it is taught with the bridge lifts and I think it has helped me begin to make a connection with breath and movement. Breathing sometimes gets overlooked, but this was a good reminder that to be truly successful in a pose you have to be able to connect to it with breath.


This post is a helpful reminder! I often catch myself so focused on trying to do a pose correctly that I hold my breath and when I then once I do remember to breathe through poses it makes all the difference in how I feel during my practice.

Sandy Gross

Hi Keith and all:) This blog post reminds me of how vinyasa doesn’t simply mean “flow”, as commonly thought, but rather it means “to place in a special way”, suggesting mindfulness with movement as in this minivini above. Bridge Lifts also remind me how the lungs are not made of muscles that stretch to take air in, but rather they need your body to move out of the way to make space for breath to come in. This minivini packs quite alot of self care into it providing an opportunity to help yourself make space for breath while cultivating mindfulness.… Read more »

Michelle Clemens

Not only do bridge lifts help connect to the breath, but the breath helps support the spine in and out of the movements. It’s so important to practice with conscious and supported breath. And always amazes me that people are walking around life not even knowing they are breathing. Bridge lifts are a great pose to give someone to as a start to connect their breath practice with asanas. Thanks for this blog.


It’s scientific fact that oxygen is a basic element to our survival and function. Oxygen deprivation instinctively sends the body and mind into panic mode. When movement proceeds faster than breath can sustain it, then function suffers until that breath can then catch up again. I have seen this in my career as a martial artist, as well as in a multitude of other daily life activities. Studying and practicing vinyasa is new to me, but it is reminding me of and highlighting a new awareness of breathing practice and technique that I can incorporate into other practices in my… Read more »


I’ve been discussing this pose recently with a vocal coach. It really allows a person greater volume control and ease for a singing voice. I especially liked the video Jill Miller did that shows the same posture with a hard engagement of uddiyana bhanda to stretch the diaphram further.

Beverly N.

My experience is that the usefulness of bridge lifts in the management of anxiety, is the focus made between movement and breath. It’s not just about alignment and movement but about connection with the present moment during which we breath. Anxiety is related to vata and not being grounded in the present moment. In this culture it is easy to be swept away by thoughts and thinking. This pose and another where Jill emphasizes thoracic-abdominal breathing that engages the para-sympathetic and enteric nervous systems is priceless. Thanks.


I love the combination of the breath to movement in bridge lifts. I find it deeply calming and energising at the same time. I think it is also a sweet little practice for slowly down and embracing the mantra “less is more”.

Jessica Sleiman

As you mention, Bridge Lifts appear easier than they actually are. Although the movement itself is pretty simple, I still find it hard to coordinate my breath with the movements, but I already see how important that is. I’m still practicing and constantly reminding myself to breathe during different poses to benefit more from each pose. Like you said, the breath should always come first, so I will be working more on my breathing but this pose is a great one to work on since our feet and arms on the ground give us more stability and allow us to… Read more »

kim haegele

I find synchronizing breath and movement to be one of the best tools for establishing focus, a sense of integration and, in a class setting, unity within the group. Watching students move from disorganization to organization as a result of linking movement to breath is one of my great pleasures as a teacher and a practitioner. The synchronization of breath and movement provides a simple and profound foundation for all levels of practice. Although I don’t know if this has scientific backing, I imagine that this synchronization is adaptagenic: increasing energy/vitality when and where it’s needed and turning on the… Read more »


Ever since Louis taught bridge lifts in his class a month ago, I have been practicing it myself and recently started to teach it for my classes. It is effective way to start a practice. The shoulders and hips gets lubricated as well as an activation of the core and back muscles; not to mention the tush too. This 1 pose is as effective a 3-4 different poses combined!

Gillian Mandich

I just did this pose yesterday, and I totally agree – Bridge Lifts seem like deceptively simple exercise, but learning to connect and synchronize movement with breath is very challenging! Learning to pattern this and to connect your movement and breath is so beneficial for your body and your practice that I’ve added bridge lifts into my regular practice!

Frances Rothenberg

Keith, I couldn’t agree with you more! I think that linking breath to movement is one of the most powerfully centering components of any yoga practice. Bridge lifts are especially wonderful, since you are on your back you can comfortably focus on the breath/movement relationship more readily.


Does breath and movement simply flow together after a considerable amount of practice? I consistently have to remind myself to breathe during poses- but then lose my concentration over the movement at hand.


This seemingly simple effort of matching breath is meditation in motion at its best. When practiced with awareness and focus, this pose can be transporting us into a calming state or be energizing and uplifting.

annelie alexander

Bridge lifts with arm movements are a great way to end your practice and a grat reminder to focus on your breath.

David I

Bridge lifts is a nice intro to flow that mostly anyone can do, I’ve started adding a lot of variations to it.


We did these in class the other day and I immediately felt a sense of calm and familiarity. I love practicing long, slow movement with the breath. I first learned from Mark Whitwell the importance of the breath initiating the movement, and this pose reminded me of him. I find focusing on the breath is so subtlety powerful because even with very simple asana, I always feel a profound shift of energy. Just one more reminder of how the breath is so key to relaxation, restoration and overall well-being.

silvia marisol

Yes, it is true that this is a movement posture that is popular in beginner’s classes. I believe the breathing aspect is rarely forgotten in this one by any teacher and so the students feel that wonderful parasympathetic response filling them with quiet and peace! But, if you add in the “action” with the arms; with many students the breath may stop! It does so seem that most of us are timid about serious rotation of the shoulders. So if the teacher continues to emphasize the breath throughout the instructions for including the arms that eventually end up clasped underneath… Read more »

Emma Fraijo

I love the bridge lifts! After doing yoga for the past 5 years, I finally learned how to synch my breath with movement. In doing so, my practice changed dramatically from simply moving around to a place where I could let go of my stress and become “present” on my mat. I look forward to continue exploring the idea of synchronizing movement with breath and how it can add a new layer to my asana practice.

Kristin Marvin

I love doing this exercise with Uddiyana Bandha as you let your body down from the lift without exhaling. It feels so good. Just a quick question in regards to your breathing technique in the bridge lift: Do you just do abdominal and thoracic breathing or do you do all abodes of breath including clavicular? And could you explain why or why not? Thanks.


I often use this and cat/cow at the start of practice to encourage students to begin simply with breath. Sun salutations are incredibly complex in and of themselves. Truly involving the breath in total synchronization requires true mindfulness and a solid foundation of breath awareness. This is a great reminder to slow down, catch the breath and wait for it to carry you.

Vrinda Liza Eapen

Bridgelifts are just amazing! Helps release the spine and loosen up the shoulders while being present with the breath anc onnecting to the diaphragm. AMAZING!


Movement and breath in yoga have really helped me to harness and use the power of breath in reaching places in my body that need it during a difficult asana as well as moments off the mat when I need to stop and take a breath before saying or doing something impulsively but rather reflect and then make a decision to effect positive results.


I am discovering that good breathing is dramatically improving my practice as well. Especially now that I am finally understanding uddiyana bandha. Finding and using that abdominal lift during Sun A’s gives my practice a floating quality. It also allows me to fold deeper and twist deeper as well – drawing the diaphragm in and creating that vacuum helps more the organs and adipose out of the way to get deeper into poses!


i have been doing the Brdige Lifts everyday since I took Jill’s training in September. It’s a greatway to get way for get in touch with my diaphragm and my breath and let my breath get away from me as frequently happens when I overdo a yoga class. I start to take shallow breaths and must go into Child’s pose. Bridge Lifts, which engages the entire body, teaches me how to stay within my breath

Monday 2011.10.31 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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Sunday 2011.10.30 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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Nicole Knudson

Until I started yoga my breath seemed noticeably separated from my movement, which made my workouts feel chopped and disconnected as a unit. Having even movement patterns paired with consistent deep breathing brought strength and stability into my everyday life. Once I started feeling the extreme difference between holding my breath and letting it flow I realized that breathing ultimately controls the health and overall wellness of every living structure. Now when I catch myself feeling unrooted and tense during my workouts I know it is because I was breathing shallowly with the absence of my yoga breath!

Tuesday 2011.10.25 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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Louis Jackson

Amen. I’m a witness to the power of the bridge lifts. I find this to be particularly empowering for students. In the beginning of class, I guide students through the practice of belly breathing, thorsic breathing, full yogic breathing, and then bridge lifts. After five minutes of that, they observe the native breath. It’s so empowering for students because throughout the practice they learn to “choose” how they will breath. Even if it means to observe the breath. This is empowering for me as a teacher because it adds specificity to my cues so I’m not just saying “breath” all… Read more »

Monday 2011.10.24 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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melanie sloane

Keith. I also like to teach the bridge lifts to my students for improving their breath with movement. They love it. I also think it improves their sun salutations!

bridgette lurz

I love this! What a great way to teach people to coordinate their movement and breath while demonstrating the differences. You can actually feel your lungs inhaling more deeply with your arms moving overhead. I have found that is sometimes hard to get people to focus on their breath as the most important piece of the puzzle. Many want to just come in and move. They have it drilled in their mind that moving is the most important key in exercise. But it’s only a fraction, it must be combined with breath to reach the full potential.

Darcy B

I am a student of my breath.

Robin Nickel

I enjoy reading and learning about breathing. As a former gymnast, turn runner and group fitness instructor each exercise uses different breathing methods and breathing techniques. In Yoga the breath work was really hard for me to grasp since I never really only used nose breathing. I am finding a very different experience in my practice using nose breathes and doing the bridge exercise it really reinforces proper breathing.


Thanks Keith. Bridge Lifts are such an direct and easy way to get students connected with their breath. The exercise really helps them to understand how to let the breath create the motion not the other around. It’s very easy for beginners (or those who are just unaware) to move then breathe.

nadine wallace

I find that bringing focus to the difference in breathing into the abdominal,thorasic and clavicular regions of the body helps me to correctly breathe more deeply and effectively in asanas.

Saturday 2011.10.22 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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Friday 2011.10.21 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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Thursday 2011.10.20 | CrossFit Virtuosity | New York City

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