Take a Breathing Break

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While teaching one of my senior privates recenty, she started off telling me how stressful her weekend was since she had some problems with co-workers.  She needed something to help her to calm down.

I proceeded to do some very slow, 3-minute poses that help to unwind and regenerate. Half way through she told me that in the midst of her upset she realized that she wasn’t breathing. What a great realization!  First hurdle, down! Then she went on to tell me that in her distress she couldn’t breathe even as she saw that she wasn’t breathing. Hmmm, I thought to myself.  This told me that she was still harboring stress even though she had the insight of her lack of deep breathing.
In cases like this student, it is the lack of deep breathing that keeps her stuck in her emotional mess, locking her out of her body and away from true peace of mind. My clients are mostly fifty and older, successful type A personalities who rarely stop to eat, no less breathe.  So, my new prescription for them is to TAKE A BREATHING BREAK.
When seniors start yoga, many of them have no concept of what it is to take a full breath. Starting to explore yoga later in life, their body is usually pretty well established in holding patterns and bad habits. Without a full breath, it is very difficult to get movement to penetrate into the upper thoracic/chest and side ribs.  Because of this, the attempt to wake up the upper back, chest and ribcage becomes intellectual, contrived and distorted.  When they begin to see how taking a deeper breath will reshape the architecture of their body, without a lot of effort, lights start to flash and big smiles are beaming.

Taking a breathing break is simple.  Nothing is needed but awareness to stop and breathe for 5 or 10 breaths. So many students have the feeling that they need special props, a beautiful environment, or special talent to practice yoga but the breathing break only requires oneself and a quiet moment.  It is available to every one regardless of what level of student they are.

Remember the Sanpalka ‘I am a student of my breath.’ It goes beyond the classroom, beyond the asana, but it is our very spark of life and we are simply harnessing a power that is going on all of the time.
I always want to enlighten my seniors on the common sense of yoga.  During your breathing break why not experience how the Yoga Tune Up® pose Bridge Arms (standing or sitting) enhances your breathing break experience.  Bridge Arms is a pose that embodies the elements of a backbend, but can be employed at any time, any place, and in any situation to partner with simple deep breathing, to bring you out of the slouchy mood, or just too much work and remind you to remember your breath and take that breathing break. It’s included in the second half of the video below and on the 5 Minute Quick Fix for Shoulders video.
I recently read a quote by an actor being interviewed.  He was asked what was his favorite saying. He responded: “Breath in Breathe out… and repeat.”

Once every hour remember your breath, feel the energized transformation, the magic shift from chaos to calm and have a nice day!

Learn about our stress relief products.

Read how to breath away stress.

Read more about your diaphragm.

Shelley Piser

Shelley Piser has been teaching yoga since 1972. Her teaching and studies have taken her to Australia, Europe, and India. Living, studying and teaching at a Zen Buddhist monastery for a year in Upstate New York, she practiced intensive meditation while teaching yoga to visitors and students. She has completed 3 teacher's courses, and holds advanced certificates from The Ohashi School of Shiatsu and Jin Shin Jyutsu acupressure. Shelley's teaching style is inspired by 30 years of extensive study of Hatha yoga in the Iyengar tradition, Zen Buddhism and meditation as well as her deep understanding in the art of Japanese healing.

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Jessie Dwiggins

I was reading this and realizes I wasn’t breathing myself! I love this “prescription.” The trick, I think, is getting people to believe that they are worth breathing for. That breath is not only vital for life but an essential self care practice. Perhaps then they are more likely to practice breath breaks and that will translate to taking time to eat lunch or go for a walk.

Amie Alapeteri

Well said. Can’t say enough about bringing the breath into the practice!


Inspired to add this to my naturopathic repertoire of recommendations for all new clients… once an hour STOP breathe in, breathe out! Not sure who initially said this but have heard the saying “breath is a bridge between consciousness and the mind”. In my experience breath has the ability to bring awareness to the present (whether that be awareness of physical sensation, proprioception, thought, emotion), and once awareness is available, we are more able to make conscious changes (changes in movement patterns, thoughts/perception, releasing emotion). On the contrary holding the breath, can take us away from the moment and the… Read more »


This article was a great reminder that the senior population is indeed special and since they have been living in their bodies longer than we have, they have ingrained movement patterns or lack there of. Reinforcing the importance of breath 1st then layering on simple movements to coordinate with the flow of breath is valuable in reprograming their bodies to breath through effort. When you mentioned that you did very slow 3 minute poses with them, were you doing them statically or dynamically?

Stacy Jackson

Yes, whenever I need to reset from one activity to the next during my day, taking a few minutes just to focus on my breath by watching the natural rise fall of the breath helps to bring me to the present moment.

Bridget Hughes

Thank you for the reminder that the breath is available to all of us and no fancy studio or special props are needed, just the willingness to experience a quiet moment, no matter what level of yoga. Well said.

Bianca Albrecht

At the beginning of my yoga practice I didn’t use my breath very seriously. I think the reason was, that I didn’t had a good introduction/explanation about the importance of the breathing practice. As I’m now teaching students, I always remind them about the importance to get fresh oxygen into the body. Never thought that this would be one of the most important benefits.

Marla Brackman

For the past year I’ve made a more concentrated effort to focus on deeper breaths during times of stress. My previous habit was to be unaware of my shallow breathing habit (thoracic, clavicular breaths) and just keep worrying ahead. Since becoming more aware of my breath, especially when connected with stress (whether it be exercise or life), I’ve noticed instant calmness and a lot less headaches. 😉 Breath = Life. Thank you for sharing.

Heather Lindsay

I was in a accident yesterday where I was in a hit and run accident. I was on my way to my YTU level one training and was hit by a dump truck a few hours before class. I was greatly shaken and started having thoughts of going home and skipping out of the training. All I wanted was the safety of my home and my loving family. But as I waited for the State Trooper, a 45 minute wait, I began to focus on doing breathing. It took longer than three minutes to fully calm down but I was… Read more »


Love that no matter what happens in our outside world we can always control and come back to our breath. It is incrediable how we can have monkey mind one minute and just tuning into our bodies and focusing on our breath we recieve a new perspective. Breaking breaks are the key to a stress free life.

Matt Sharpe

I love taking what are effectively breathing breaks in the office almost always adding some sort of shoulder opening along with the breath. I like to use a simple technique of inhaling into the place that I feel tension and then exhaling out of the mouth. Exhaling out of the mouth, effectively sighing, just adds a nice level of down regulation and resetting of perspective in stressful environments. These little breaks are the best reset button.

Linda Abt

I will be teaching a class on relaxation to a group of college freshmen in the week before finals start. Breath will be the core of the class. Stress is not just an adult issue. Young people also lead lives of frenzy and pressure. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in and the flight or flight response becomes a steady state. My goal is to encourage these students to take a breathing break multiple times during the day. A simple tool with lifelong benefit.

I Ju

“Breath goes beyond classroom, beyond asana”. I couldn’t agree with this more. I am grateful that in the beginning of my yoga practice, a teacher taught me the importance of breathing. I later on found that breathing is not only important during yoga practice, but in my daily life. As in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, sutra 33 “Or that calm is retained by the controlled exhalation or retention of the breath”. Focusing on breaths makes mind tranquil. It brings me calm at work and makes me fall sleep easy in the night. Very simple but very powerful practice for a… Read more »


When I have been reading the YTU blogs it seems I am drawn to anything to do with breath. I have seen in some people the amazing power of breath. From deep relaxation to being able to let out years of pent up crap. I do hope with the right training and practice I will be able one day to unleash the power of breath for a student of mine.


I am continually amazed by the power of the breath, and that it’s available to us 24 hours a day. I think we tend to want more elaborate fixes for the stresses in our lives, and yet it always comes back to the breath. Simply by dropping everything else and focusing on the breath, an immediate sense of calm can wash over one’s entire nervous system. I love the thought of a simple breathing break. So simple, yet so effective.

Allison McCready

What a great idea to incorporate the Bridge Arms into a breathing break! I think of breathing breaks as moments of “mini-meditation” that can be enjoyed at any time throughout the day to help quiet the mind and relax the body, but I really like this idea of adding the Bridge Arms into that brief routine to bring in the physical aspect of opening the chest for better breath expansion. I will definitely add this into my own breathing breaks as well as suggest it to my students.

David I

I love breathing breaks, I’ve been doing them since I was first exposed to Thich Nhat Hanh in the late 90’s, he truly is a master at disseminating mindfulness so poetically and simply. And it is so true, we forget to become aware, I teach it, I practice it and for over 15 years too now and still there a moments that I can catch myself almost forgetting to breath, that’s how close I am! Lol. But it feels great to be there and it always gets better.

vivian nguyen

So often I’m amazed as a yoga instructor that part of what we do is teaching people to take a pause and breathe. That learning to relax and take deep breathes is sometimes all we need. I like what you said “it is the lack of deep breathing that keeps her stuck in her emotional mess”. Some people wear a heart rate monitor in class, maybe we should wear breathing monitors, when we start to shorten or lose the breathe it starts to beep.

alysa farrell

its crazy how simple AND SO NOT Simple breathing is! I too find most of my clients-regardless of age- with life long habits and mind sets entrenched in their being completely prepexed and shocked they are Not breathing! ( ha! I even find myself Not breathing due to the same causes!) Then the WHAT?! I can change that?! sets in with a huge relief that its as simple as a taking a Breathing Break or trying the 5min quick shoulder fix to enhance their capacity of a full thoracic breath. I am in continued awe of how powerful the breath… Read more »

Luke Sniewski

I like it. Great job. Movement heals. Simple statement, but most do not understand the importance and significance of that statement. When our body moves, whether through exercise, stretching, breathing, or massage (yes, this is movement too), it circulates the good stuff to the boy part (nutrients, oxygen, water) and simultaneously removes waste products and inflammation. Breathing will do this for people while also activating the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing a state of relaxation and calmness. Thanks!

Andrew Hoffman

I can definitely relate to the story in this article about realizing that you are not breathing in class! It’s almost like I am wondering why a certain pose is more difficult today than it was yesterday, and then I realize i haven’t been breathing at all. I really enjoy the video and the breathing break idea. I just tried it and it really calmed and relaxed my mind and nervous system. I will definitely recommend it to fellow yogis and others.


As someone who’s had issues with anxiety and panic attacks for years I can attest to the importance of breath! For me, really focusing on and being aware of my breath has made an amazing difference, and I am now medication free and able to pull myself back through breathing techniques when I feel anxiety coming on. Such a simple fix, yet so overlooked.

Alicia Wang

The breath is literally a transportation system into the tissues of the body as we exhale and a release system as we exhale. No matter what the stressor is, if I stop breath in positive awareness and exhale out negativity and stress; i am transported to a more peaceful state of being.


As a type A non-breathing perfectionist, I can attest to the power of a breathing break. I now ‘require’ myself to do this at least twice a day. “This” being a conscientious breathing break. I close to the door to whatever room I’m in, close my eyes and …breathe in, breathe out…and repeat. Works every time! 🙂


What I see in yoga classes is that people can finally pay attention to their breath. I love the bridge arms into prasarita as a way to connect further with your breath.


If only we could implement this into the school system like we do recess!! Think about how we could help our children develop coping mechanisms to relieve or/and decrease stress. I believe this is my new Sankalpa, “I am a student of my breath.” The breath is relaying constant information. But too often we don’t stop to listen and attend to the breath. This breathing break is the perfect reminder!


It’s truly amazing that no one has ever really taught us to breath properly. Being in my mid 40’s I feel I’m just learning to pay attention to how I breath or don’t breath. Between yoga & mindfulness meditation I think I just may be starting to get the hang of it and realize how important the it is to stay present & pay attention.


What a great technique to simply take a breathing break! It’s basic and of course completely necessary to life, but so often I just fail to remember to consciously inhale and exhale. The two exercises on the video are a wonderful way to really open the chest and bring awareness to the pecs and shoulders and set up for big, expansive breathwork. I love the sankalpa “I am a student of my breath.”
Thank you!


The biology of stress causes our breathing to become shallow. When I was a kid playing on a basketball team my mom noticed that just before jumping for a toss, I’d yawn. She asked my doctor why in a very high energy situation I was looking sleepy. He explained that this was my body trying to down regulate in the face of stress. I’ve been an avid breather ever since!


Thank you Shelley for this timely reminder. I just learned Bridge Arms, and I was aware of the chest opening, and the back strengthening, and of course shoulders stretching, but until I read your blog entry I had not connected it to fuller breath! Of course. Thank you for helping me to connect the dots. And as everyone above has mentioned, we need all the help we can get with this essential and most often forgotten action of breathing. I feel more relaxed just reading this.

Ada-Reva Spae

Over the years I have taught yoga to huge cross section of people and the question I get most often is how do I fit yoga into my busy, crazy, difficult _________ (insert favorite descriptor here). The one answer that is universally accepted without any hesitation is BREATH. It might be the only home practice they embrace and it might also be the best!


Ever since a friend told me in college, “YOU HOLD YOUR BREATH. BREATHE!” I’ve been aware that my breathing has always served me well in the past. Yoga has certainly helped raise my consciousness to my breathing, but I still catch myself in class, out of class, forgetting about my breath. Yes, it’s harder when someone is older to train them how to breathe properly after all of those years of not, but I feel like, it’s almost even MORE important to bring these exercises to our youth! Especially with the piano lessons, ballet classes, horseback riding, music class, soccer,… Read more »


Remembering the breath is so important! The breath is the life force that keeps us alive, and yet most of us are not using it properly, and even more unbelievable is that most of us don’t even know how. Learning how to breathe has been a big part of my yoga journey. It guides me through my practice, my day, my life, and when I neglect it, it reminds me. When that happens and I feel out-of-sorts, I close my eyes, turn inward, and take a few breaths. Thanks for the article!


A few years ago I was in an unhealthy relationship and had moved to a new city. It was a very difficult time and I was wound up tighter than a drum. I’ll never forget standing in the kitchen one stressed out evening and as I began to cry I realized I could barely breathe. I was able to compose myself and sat down. After 10 deep inhales and exhales I could feel my body open up little by little, my heart rate lower, and the clenching in my throat release. I will never forget those 10 breaths and how… Read more »


Wow! I love this concept: A breathing break. So necessary for me. Like your client, I too harbor lots of stress and am not always breathing consciously. Sometimes I even feel like I am constantly gasping for air, as if I cant get a full breath in. This happens in my everyday life but also on the mat during my yoga practice. I am now setting a goal for myself to practice being more mindful of my breath and if I need to, stop and take a breathing break!


Thank you Shelly for sharing your techniques. It’s funny, without breathe you can’t function, you take about 21.600 breathes a day i believe, and yet i can name tons of people that definitely don’t stop to recognize their breathe.That’s the problem in today’s day and age. Everyone is moving so quickly in this fast paced life that their minds are non-stop working and thinking about the million things that need to get done.If everyone loved themselves enough to take time out of their schedule to focus on taking a few deep breathes in and out, I’m sure that they’d be… Read more »


I often teach private clients ion the evenings, and as we warm up and bring focus to the breath, it’s often the very first time they’ve even given thought to their breath that day. It’s mind blowing that we can go through days at a time without thinking to breathe.

Amanda Tripp

Thanks Shelley. This is so timely. I was just talking to a new yoga teacher last week who taught her first public class ever – to a group of seniors. She received feedback after the class, and without exception, every one of her students said that they found breathing the most challenging part of the class! I’m going to send her the link to your article.

Cari Devine Bjelajac

My daughter was away at her first year of college and called me one day hysterical. She thought she was having a heart attack. I could hear that she was describing a panic attack. I asked her to stay on the line, but lay down and focus on taking ten breaths that started in her belly, expanded her ribs in every dimension, and gently allow the breath to slip out. By the 4th breath she was noticeably more calm and able to share what might have triggered the attack. She couldn’t understand it! She had taken her final a few… Read more »


I was at dinner yesterday with friends and realized it was hard for me to breathe at times so I started to quietly take deeper breaths as I was now aware of it like your client but felt it was difficult to take in the deep breaths. I did have a stressful day and after reading this confirms it was stress related. Wow!


Sometimes, I’m having the same experience as your student you’re writing about. However, after having practised yoga for a couple of years now, I contiously pay attention to y way of breathing. And as a result, I often realize in especially stressful situations that the first thing I do to keep calm is to – almost automatically – take some very deep breaths. And it really helps!

Alexa Silvaggio

ahhhh… thank you for this. I currently live in New York City, in a very busy part of town, and probably the simplest thing I can do for my self hourly is stay conscious of my breath. I am currently doing my Yoga Tune Up Training through Pure Yoga, and Sarah Court our instructor was just telling us yesterday how breathing is both voluntary and involuntary, and how when we consciously choose to breath diaphramatically our cortisol levels drop and we can get out of “fight or flight”. Pretty amazing!


On the first evening of the Anatomy Tune Up weekend, we practiced isolating the breathe in and through the diaphragm, the thoracic, and the clavicular. We then integrated the three into one long, full deep breath. It was interesting for me to notice the isolation of the breath through each part of the body as well as the experience of taking one whole breath. As a teacher in training, and a youthful, practiced yogi, I found this exercise challenging, rewarding and relaxing. I imagined that it would and will be an interesting exercise to teach to older clients in the… Read more »