In the Western world, we tend to think of yoga as an exercise class or a way to get strong and lose weight. While these things can be true, true yoga is much more profound. Asanas, or yoga poses, are just part of the practice. Another limb of yoga that is equally as important is pranayama — or breathwork.
If you hope to achieve a more meaningful and successful yoga session, paying close attention to your breathing pattern can help.
Let’s look at how breathwork could be the missing piece in helping you reach your goals on and off the mat.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork is the intentional manipulation of your breathing pattern. It involves focusing on the diaphragm to inhale and exhale at your lung’s capacity, increasing your oxygen intake. It’s thought to help calm your central nervous system.
Many people think breathwork is meditation, and while the two have overlapping qualities, they are inherently different. Both modalities are thought to help clear and calm your mind, which can be hard, especially for beginners, to achieve through meditation alone. Breathwork helps bridge the gap between the two.
Breathwork is also commonly used throughout yoga practices. We breathe in while switching between poses and breathe out to help settle into them. The cycles of breath are integrated into yoga classes, but we often overlook them. We don’t take full advantage of the benefits of breath.
Is Breathwork Different from Yoga?
In the true sense of the word, yoga is a way of life with guidelines for how to live in harmony with ourselves and the world around us. Yoga breaks down into different sections, including pranayama (breathwork) and asanas (poses).
While yoga and breathwork can be performed individually, they have a duality and partnership. During and between asanas, we bring focus to our breath. This helps draw us into ourselves and stay centered. We also use breath to get deeper into positions.
When we sit to practice breathwork, we can choose to sit in different positions, including on our knees (Vajrasana), lotus pose (Padmasana), or even lying on our backs (Savasana). It is impossible to truly practice asanas or breathwork without the other.
What Is Breathwork Good For?
Breathwork offers many benefits for mental and physical health. Many people are adding breathwork sessions to their routines after they learn how it can help elevate their moods, alleviate symptoms of anxiety or depression, lower blood pressure, improve immunity, increase mental focus, and improve sleep.
In addition to these great benefits, breathwork at its core is an exercise. Your diaphragm and lungs are muscles; like all muscles, they get stronger the more you use them. Creating a breathwork habit helps increase muscle tone, allowing you greater control over your breath and more efficient oxygen flow.
How Does Breathwork Improve Your Yoga Practice?
With all the great benefits breathwork can offer, it’s easy to see how focusing on your breath can help improve your yoga practice.
During yoga sessions, breathwork helps you stay in the present moment, release deeper into asanas, and move seamlessly from position to position. Since continual breathwork can help increase your lung capacity, you can breathe deeper, allowing more oxygen into your body to help nourish your muscles and blood.
Many people aim to get further into their asanas to help stretch muscles, release tension, gain resiliency, and increase muscle strength. Breathwork can help you achieve these goals. Adding props can aid your progress.
Incorporating a yoga swing or aerial hammock allows you to add variations to current poses, explore new poses, and enjoy the benefits of a low-impact and adaptable yoga experience. Yoga swings or hammocks are inclusive as they help take the pressure off the joints and can be adapted for any level of experience.
How Do You Practice Breathwork?
You can practice breathwork in different ways. Your abdomen is one of the most important things to focus on during breathwork. During an inhale, your belly should extend as it fills with air and collapse back into itself on the exhale. This is why breathwork is sometimes called belly breathing.
The most simple form of breathwork is when the practitioner breathes in for 5 seconds, holds for 5 seconds, and exhales for 5 seconds. This slow but intentional breath manipulation can help calm the mind and set the tone for a successful day or session.
Today, many yoga studios offer breathwork classes. And it’s essential to find instructors you can trust. One good example is Soma Breath, a holistic system of Pranayama techniques, which aims to correct your breathing. Its program helps you manage stress, reduce inflammation, achieve mental and physical resilience, and boost confidence and self-esteem.
It’s also important to note your surroundings and check how you feel during your sessions, especially in the early stages of your journey. If you begin to feel light-headed, lay down and breathe normally until you feel better and use caution when standing.
What Do You Need For A Breathwork Session?
Breathwork can be practiced as a part of a yoga session or added to your daily routine. You don’t need to be seated on a mat to enjoy the benefits of a great breathwork session. But you do need to be consistent to experience the desired results.
Have the proper set-up to get the most out of your breathwork exercises. Finding a quiet and safe place to practice, wearing loose clothes that allow for total expansion of your abdomen, and proper guidance will help ensure you get the most out of your session.
Staying committed to yourself and your breathwork journey is vital to seeing and experiencing long-lasting results. One of the best things about breathwork is that it retrains your brain and body on how to breathe. Soon enough, you’ll feel the difference between deeper and more impactful breathing.
Breathwork Helps You Achieve Your Goals
Breathwork has been an integral part of yoga since its inception centuries ago in ancient India.
With millions of people throughout history utilizing this ancient technique to help calm their minds and strengthen their bodies, it’s no wonder the rest of the world is adding breathwork into their daily routines.
With its long list of benefits, it’s hard to ignore breathwork. Perhaps it’s the one thing missing from your current routine that will help give you that final leg up to achieve your goals.
With consistency and patience, it can help you learn to master your emotions, thoughts, and even that asana that seems out of reach. We hope you will enjoy incorporating breathwork into your life!
About the Author
Sara Sabharwal is a writer, poetess, wife, and mother. She has authored five books and has been featured in numerous literary publications and anthologies.
While poetry is her passion, she also has a deep wanderlust and spends her free time traveling the world and writing about it.