01.12.2015 Yoga

Mindful Breathing

Breathing is so vital to health that it is the central focus of yoga, says Jen Kaz

We can go weeks without food, days without water, hours without heat however only minutes without air. Irreversible brain damage occurs if we are deprived of air for more than a few minutes.

The Sanskrit word for breathing is pranayama. Prana means 'life force' and ayama translates as 'extension'. Pranayama is the extension and assimilation of Prana energy through breathing techniques. Yoga is practised with the focus on pranayama.

Breathing is a natural function of our body that happens without conscious effort but most of us don't breathe to our full capacity. This impedes the removal of waste matter, which results in retention of toxins. It is in our best interests to become mindful of this life sustaining process.

Quick, shallow breathing results in oxygen starvation which leads to reduced vitality, premature ageing, weakened immunity and a multitude of other factors.

Correct breathing has never been as important to master as it is today. Our way of life is very different to the slower pace of only 50 years ago. There has never been such rapid advancement in our social structure as we're currently experiencing. We're being swept along and left feeling stressed and anxious in the wake. Mindful breathing can come to the rescue. A traffic light can create stress or even someone pushing in front of you in a queue. Although these may be 'little things', they accumulate and, together with toxins from poor food choices and the environment, add up to stress. Correct breathing will help eliminate these pollutants and stress!

Abdominal Breathing (Diaphragmatic Breathing)

Babies and animals breathe this way. Watch a baby breathe and you'll observe the abdominal area rising and falling. This way of breathing is one of the most effective steps you can take to protect your health and prolong a healthy life.

It is in our best interests to become mindful of this life sustaining process.

Be mindful you're not holding tension as you breathe a long, steady breath through your nostrils. Relax your shoulders. Visualise prana being drawn in through your nostrils, through the trachea (windpipe) to the bronchial tubes then the base of your lungs. Feel your ribcage rising up and out as the intercostal muscles stretch and the diaphragm expands. The abdominal area will gently rise and fall.

Movement of the diaphragm massages the stomach, small intestine, liver, pancreas and heart. This stimulates blood circulation to these organs.

Additionally, apply the abdominal lock by squeezing the perineum/vagina then the abdominal muscle (transverse abdominus that goes from hip to hip). Hold while exhaling. Release the locks as you begin to slowly breathe in. This exercise is known as kegel and helps prevent incontinence for men and women, as well as massaging internal organs and toning and strengthening the pelvic floor that supports reproductive organs and the bladder. Your back muscles will also thank you! Mindful breathing is calming, soothing and healing, bringing feelings of calm, cleansing, lightness and clarity.

Watch a baby breathe and you'll observe the abdominal area rising and falling.

To control our breathing is to have the skill to control our body and mind to create the feeling we want for any given situation.

Correct Breathing

Breathing in a deliberate, slow and controlled manner will:

  • Increase our energy levels
  • Assist in the removal of toxins
  • Oxygenate our brain tending to reduce excessive anxiety
  • Release stress tension on a cellular level
  • Make for a more efficient and stronger heart
  • Increase efficiency of digestion and assimilation of food
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Stimulate our pituitary and pineal glands in particular
  • Rejuvenate our skin
  • Improve the nervous system
  • Strengthen lungs warding off respiratory infection
  • Prepare our mind for meditation

Kapalabhati Breath (Skull Shining)

Cleansing the cranial sinuses. Alternating short, explosive exhales and slightly longer, passive inhales. Not to be used if pregnant, have high blood pressure or hernia. On how to practise refer to - www.yogajournal.com.au/pose/skull-shining-breath/

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breath)

Purifies the blood and respiratory system. This deep breathing enriches the blood with oxygen, strengthens the respiratory system and balances the nervous system. It helps to relieve anxiety and headaches.


Take your mind to how you breathe when tired. You might yawn to increase oxygen or may bring on a sigh, expelling air from your mouth and nose. When frustrated, your breath becomes shallow, and when fearful the breath becomes short and sharp. Stress also brings on shallow breathing.

Rectangle Breath

Extending our inward and outward breath (eg for seven counts on the inhalation and seven counts on the exhalation) we become calmer. When our breath is slow and deep we're able to calm and soothe the nervous system and lower our blood pressure and heart rate. However practise no more than 10 rounds at a time.

For lots of helpful breathing tips go to: http://www.qiyogafoundation.com/yoga-breathing-how-to-breathe

Breathing in Yoga Class tip: When you open the body, inhale and when you compress or twist, exhale.

Jen Kaz is a QiYoga instructor based in Perth, Western Australia

Jen Kaz

Jen Kaz trained and taught yoga in London in 2008. In early 2010 she returned to Perth and began teaching QiYoga. www.qiyoga.org