Yoga: How to Practice “Belly Breathing”

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I know that deep breathing or “belly breathing” is important when I’m doing yoga, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it properly. How can I tell?

That’s a great question and one I hear repeated often. There are various types of breathing techniques (referred to in yoga as pranayama) used in different yoga classes. When a yoga teacher talks about “belly breathing,” they are usually referring to diaphragmatic breathing.

Diaphragmatic breathing involves taking in deep breaths that push the diaphragm downward and allow the lungs to fill with air. When practiced correctly you will feel your belly and ribs expand like a balloon being filled (hence the name “belly breathing”).

In terms of how to know whether you’re breathing properly, you can gauge it best if you practice the “belly breath” while lying down on your back. When we lie in a supine position, our body is able to completely relax. As a result, there are no restrictions or physical tensions to inhibit us from breathing into the diaphragm. If we are sitting upright, we may have tightness — in our hips, back, chest or neck, for example — that restricts us from taking a deep inhalation.

When lying on your back, place one hand (palm face down) on your stomach below the belly button and one hand above the belly button. When you inhale, your hands should rise as your belly and ribs expand. When you exhale, you should feel your hands lower back down. And, although it’s called “belly breathing,” this breath should involve the back of the torso as much as the front. Along with the belly and the ribs, you will also feel as if the back of the torso is expanding toward the floor.

Once you’ve mastered the “belly breath” lying down, move up to a cross-legged seated position or easy-seated pose. Place the hands in the same position as before and aim to repeat the breath with as much ease as you practice it when supine. Keep the shoulders and neck relaxed. Be aware of the back of the torso as much as the front.

The next challenge is to maintain the diaphragmatic breath as you move through difficult or more challenging yoga postures.

There are a couple of signs you’re doing the “belly breath” incorrectly: If your shoulders creep up toward your ears as you breathe in or if your chest tightens and you’re only able to take short inhalations. This is considered shallow breathing or chest breathing. If you’re breathing in this manner, you will not be able to breathe down deeply into the diaphragm.

I hope this helps, and that you’re able to breathe easily through your yoga practice!

About Fitness Expert:

Annabel Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer, runner, yoga and Pilates teacher and a mother of two young children. She blogs — as — about taking yoga off the mat and into motherhood.

 

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