Before you keep reading, stop and take a deep breath. There is so much benefit – and instant improvement – mentally and physically in taking a deep breath. So go ahead and breathe deeply before we continue. 🙂
Pranayama – from “prana,” meaning life-force energy and “yama,” meaning control – is a yogic practice dedicated to the manipulation of the breath. It is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali.
This breath manipulation is theorized to extend the vital life-force within us and increase vitality. For this reason, it is common for many yoga postures to help move the breath throughout the body.
The Science Behind How Yoga Breathing Exercises and Poses Create Deeper Breathing
Among the many studies on the subject, yoga has been shown to reduce asthma attacks in healthy young people and improve COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) distress along with basic functionality in elderly patients.
These examples show that no matter your age or ability, yoga can be a great tool for expanding your body’s ability to breathe. In these studies, the practitioners moved through particular postures that were chosen for appropriate capabilities and desired therapeutic effects.
To target a specific bodily function (such as helping you breathe better), the postures we focus on are more anatomy-based. This is because tight muscles can inhibit breathing.
According to Dr. Rene Cailliet of The University of Southern California’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, something as common as poor posture can reduce lung capacity by 30 percent.
But luckily, there are yoga poses that center around expanding the heart space and back of the ribs, engaging the diaphragm, and using big movements to help bring your awareness to your breath.
Practice These 6 Yoga Breathing Exercises and Postures to Open Your Thoracic Cavity for Deeper Breathing:
These six yoga breathing exercises and poses link yoga and breath perfectly to encourage deeper breathing.
1. Supported Fish Pose
A constricted chest, due to anxiety or muscular tightness, can make it feel harder to breathe deeply. This posture helps to passively open up the muscles in the front body.
Let’s try it:
- Set up two yoga blocks to make an “i” shape on either their short or tall height at the top of your mat
- Sit in front of your blocks and lay back over them
- Place the base of the “i” shape between your shoulder blades and have the top block supporting your head. You should feel like the blocks are supporting you evenly
- Open your arms as wide as you comfortably can
- Either bend your legs, extend them long, or draw the soles of your feet to touch
- Stay here for three to five minutes, breathing deeply
Tip: If the blocks, even on their lowest setting, create too much sensation, you can modify your props. Roll up a blanket and place the blanket beneath your shoulder blades, letting your arms and head rest on the floor above the roll.
2. Reclined Twists
The diaphragm is a muscle responsible for drawing air in and pressing air out of your lungs. A strong and healthy diaphragm can help make each breath feel more complete.
Reclined Twists can help draw blood into the surrounding area and bring awareness to the diaphragm region.
Let’s try it:
- Start laying down on your back
- Inhale and draw your knees into your chest and extend your arms wide with your palms facing up
- As you exhale, drop your knees to the left
- Inhale to draw your knees back to your chest
- Exhale and release your knees to the right
- Continue for a few breaths or choose to hold each side for longer if it feels good
3. Flowing Mountain Pose
Simply focusing on our breath has the ability to change the depth and quality of it. In this flowing yoga breathing exercise, we can get more connected to the in-breath and out-breath while finding more space in the chest cavity and spine.
Let’s try it:
- Start standing with your feet together or hip-width apart
- Inhale and reach your arms up, expanding your side bodies
- Exhale and bring your arms to your sides, moving consciously with the flow of your breath
- Continue flowing like this for two to five minutes
Things to notice: What is the energy in your fingers? Are you grounding down through your feet? Can you lift your chest with your inhale without arching your back too dramatically? How do your shoulders move? How does your throat feel? What else do you feel as you flow?
4. Gate Pose
Similar to how chest constriction can make breathing feel more difficult, tight intercostals (the muscles between the ribs) can create a sensation of limiting expansion of your lungs. Gate Pose helps to open and expand these muscles for deeper breathing.
Let’s try it:
- Come to kneel on both knees. You may wish to place a blanket under your knees for more comfort
- Step your right leg out to the side and level off both of your hips
- Reach your arms up, root down through the floor as you lengthen your spine, and lean your torso to the right
- Keep length through both sides of your ribs as you feel your left side body expand
- Stay here for five to 10 breaths
5. Supported Savasana
This variation is an excellent passive stretch for both the front and back side of your body, which ultimately allows for deeper breathing.
Let’s try it:
- Roll up a blanket (you might have to experiment a little with how much to roll up the blanket to feel a comfortable opening in this posture)
- Place the blanket roll on your mat so that it’s parallel to the short edge
- Lay back over the blanket and line it up so that the roll is underneath the bottom tip of your shoulder blades
- Extend your arms out wide and relax your legs into a traditional Savasana shape
- Breathe here for five to 10 minutes
6. Box Breathing
This yoga breathing exercise helps you explore breath retention to help you find deeper breathing overall.
Let’s try it:
- Sit in a comfortable position and encourage your spine to be long from the crown of your head to the base of your spine
- Take a few sighing breaths to become aware and present with your breath
- Inhale for four counts
- Hold at the top of your breath for four counts
- Exhale for four counts
- Hold the exhale out for four counts
- Repeat for two to five minutes
Tip: You can change the count to any number that feels comfortable for you: 2, 6, 8, or more if it feels okay! If at any point you feel lightheaded or anxious or like you aren’t getting enough air, release the Box Breathing technique and return to your natural breath before you begin again.
The Takeaway on How Yoga Breathing Exercises Can Create Deeper Breathing
When using yoga poses for particular reasons – injury, energy shifting, or optimizing bodily functions – it’s important to remember the integrity of each pose.
These postures help you create deeper breathing because the anatomy required for breathing expands and you focus your awareness on conscious breathing.
There are so many amazing ways to improve your breathing naturally. Meditation and pranayama as well as asana all work toward stronger and deeper breathing.
These poses and yoga breathing exercises are just a few options for expanding your breath in your body. We’d love to hear what postures have helped you breathe better! Let us know in the comments below!
Ready to Link Breath to Motion for Deeper Breathing?
With Ashton August
20-Minute Class | All Levels