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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This is an elegant expression of the beauty of “evenly metered breath coupled with evenly metered movement results in an evenness of mind.” It speaks to the essence of yoga. The Yoga Tune Up exercise of Bridge Lifts is one of my favorite ways to encourage students to move with mindfulness, of learning to lead with the breath – “the breath should always come first,” of learning to develop a sense of flow of breath and movement and mind.

Claudia Blasimann

“The breath should always come first.” Do you think this applies to all kinds of movement or mostly to vinyasa yoga/pilates where breath is directly combined with movement? I know that breathing “properly” during WODs helps me do the workouts more consistently (not getting out of breath as quickly as I would/might otherwise), but I don’t know if this is more due to the rhythm that it adds to the movement or due to the better oxygenation or due to even something else… And I also don’t know if it would help other people if they learned more about breathing… Read more »


I took my first class at J Brown’s center, abhyasa, recently and they use bridge lifts as a breath centering technique at the beginning of every class. I really enjoyed it for the reasons you’ve stated – the simplicity of of understanding what needs to be done coupled with the presence and precision required to actually sync the two patterns gracefully. I love your succinct line “The breath should always come first.” I think as yoga instructors we often gloss over the breath as given by offering cues such as “engage your ujayii breath” or just cuing “inhale” or “exhale”… Read more »

Stefanie Eris

Hi Keith,

I just finished my YTU level 1 training! Loved your article. As a vinyasa teacher, I appreciate the reminder that the breath should come first. Bridge lifts are a great go – to for students who have trouble finding the link of breath and movement. I love how you mentioned that your student found more grace and poise in her Sun Salutations after your work with her. It’s the quality of movement that matters, not just the action. Good stuff.

Hope all is well with you!


you input is great, because it totally ask to reshape the way we think beginner class. I am not a traditional yoga teacher, but my yoga journey started about 5 years ago, and i can say without hesitation that beginner class focus on poses and how to get them (good alignment is sadly just optional). I think we should teach kids to breath well, and the impact of breathing before maths, or literature… the population would be so much healthier. And for people that do practice other sport, especially at a competition level, mind and breath are over 50% of… Read more »