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5 benefits of breathwork

Breathwork, by changing our blood’s biochemistry, can influence the function of all body’s organs and systems. As oxygen is essential for aerobic respiration, and all of life’s functions depend on the energy production, it would be no exaggeration to claim that breathwork is a cornerstone of healthy living. The 5 most important benefits, you can expect from a regular breathing practice are:

1 Improve metabolism

Anyone interested in breathing needs to understand that optimal levels of the 3 blood gases: Nitric Oxide, Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen are needed for aerobic respiration from our mitochondria. To that extent dysfunctional breathing contributes to poor mitochondrial function and breathwork can help us restore that.

2 Gain control of Autonomic Nervous System

Of all functions of the ANS, breathing is the one we have most control over. That gives us an opportunity to influence the remaining of the ANS.

3 Improve performance in sports

The way we breathe during physical exercise doesn’t only affect the how well our muscles are oxygenated but also our biomechanics. Breathing well goes hand in hand with high performance in sports.

4 Mediatate

While breathwork is not a prerequisite for meditation, breathing well will make entering meditation easier. Also despite some overlapping effects mediation and breathwork are significantly different, and practicing one will complement the other without making it obsolete.

5 Improve sleeping quality

Sleeping quality is the cornerstone of health and the way we breathe during sleep is a key determinant of sleeping quality. The implications of better sleep are: superior recover, better appetite control and stable energy levels during the day.


While these are the 5 most significant benefits one can get from breathwork, they are not the only ones. Other benefits include: improved posture, balance, digestive health, cognitive function, cardiovascular health (video), lower blood pressure.


What happens to the brain during breathwork?

The source (mouth vs nose), speed and volume of breath will determine which brain regions are activated. Two aspects of breathing that have been well documented to affect the brain in a specific way are:

1 The volume of breath

The most critical and often overlooked factor is the volume of breathing. When the volume is high we will tend towards hyperventilation which will reduce the supply of oxygen (and glucose) to our organs including the brain.

The effect of hyperventilation in the brain

source: Litchfield P M 2003

The reverse will happen during hypoventilation (ie. hypercapnia).

2 Which nostril you breathe through

When breathing through one nostril, there is a small shift in the distribution of hormones in the body with adrenaline having a higher concentration on the side we breathe from. That increases sympathetic activity on that side and parasympathetic activity on the opposite side. Because of that circulation on the right hemisphere of the brain will increase when breathing through the left nostril and the other way around.

Nasal Cycle

source: Werntz et al. 1983


Is it scientifically proven?

There are plenty of studies showing that breathwork as simple as diaphragmatic breathing can benefit both healthy and sick individuals. There are clinical trials conducted among individuals with spinal cord injuries (ref), showing positive results.

What is worth knowing however is that not all scientific studies are of high quality. Some will inflate or twist their findings (video). As a result the claim: “Scientifically proven” has little validity, some times.


How long does it take to see results?

Similar to everything that has value, it takes time and effort to get lasting effects from breathwork. It is not uncommon however, for individuals to see improvements in their concentration levels and quality of sleep within a few weeks and in their physical performance within a few months.


What are the differences between breathwork and meditation?

Breathwork’s goal is to improve respiratory capacity while meditation aims to bring stillness to the mind.


Can breathwork be combined with other forms of training?

For someone to get the most out of breathwork he should be combining it with other forms of exercise.

Breathing plays a key role in posture and core activation. Most healthy individuals will adjust their breathing during exercise naturally. Breathwork can help them get the most out of their training. Running is one of the easiest way to incorporate breathwork in training. However, for different types of exercises different breathing techniques would be appropriate (video).


The pseudoscience of breathwork

Why do people scream during breathwork?

In some breathing practices, participants are encouraged to scream during or after the breathing practice. This is common in techniques that involve hyperventilation and not in breathwork. It would be similar with a cult requesting participants to dance and then scream. Screaming wouldn’t become instantly an essential or relevant aspect of dancing.


Why does breathwork release trauma?

It doesn’t. Claims about trauma release from breathwork diminish the validity of breathwork but given how popular they are I will briefly cover the topic.

Is there trauma at first place?

Emotional trauma can only exist if we accept events as good and bad. In the absence of this dualistic approach there is no trauma to begin with. There is also a serious implication when accepting the existence of trauma and that is that: your way of seeing the world & values is superior to others. The reason behind that is very straight forward: What you perceived as bad and traumatic is based on your values. Based on someone else’s values the same event is neutral or beneficial. While not always easy to see, all events are neutral. We tend to perceive them as positive or negative depending on whether they support or challenge our values.

Can breathing heal an emotional wound?

Hyperventilation breathing practices make such claims with zero scientific foundation other than participants reporting reduction in perceived stress levels (psl). While this is indeed a positive outcome, psl is a subjective marker. Hyperventilation has not be found to result in improvement of objective markers such as HR, HRV, Blood pressure, and thus no healing can be expected from it long term.


Why do I cry after breathwork?

The chances of crying after breathwork are minimal to non-existent. Instead of breathwork you are probably hyperventilating during which you may partly lose consciousness. Crying due to feeling vulnerable at this stage is a possibility but whatever the reason, there is no reason or benefit that stems out of it.



What are the dangers?

Between the 2 pillars of breathwork: hypercapnia and hypoxia, it is the later, which may cause some adverse effects which is why it is best to build up the practice gradually. The symptoms include: dizziness, drops of blood sugar, headache.

Hypercapnic training needs caution for individuals with severe anxiety.


How can I get started?

If you are new to breathwork, starting with 1-2 exercises is often sufficient. Two breathing exercises accessible to most beginners are the: Soft breathing & Improve your exhalation to inhalation ratio.

Ideally prior to starting you should set a goal and run some basic assessments regarding your current respiratory capacity.


How many types of breathwork are there?

There are many breathing brands and franchises, but there are only 2 types of breathwork: Hypercapnia and Hypoxia.

Both of them when practiced regularly will result in improvements in one’s respiratory capacity. While traditionally only breathing exercises have been classified as breathwork, this approach ignores the importance of breathing biomechanics in respiration.

When considering the effect muscles, fascia and neurones have on breathing, we are likely to accept that yoga, pilates, swimming, cycling, running can also be classify as breathwork.


Is breathwork a spiritual practice?

If you align breathwork with a purpose close to your heart and in line with your values, it will be a spiritual practice. There is nothing spiritual about practicing breathing exercises without connecting the activity with a higher purpose.


Can breathwork cause anxiety?

Hypercapnic exercises can cause anxiety in individuals with low tolerance to CO2.CO2 pH relationshipThe problem in these instances stems from the intensity of the exercise. The link between breathing and anxiety is intricate but should not put individuals that suffer from anxiety off from practicing.


3D approach to Breathing Biomechanics

The Biomechanics of Breathing

The biomechanics of breathing involve the function of all the primary and secondary respiratory muscles that are involved in respiration. These can be grouped into the respiratory tract, respiratory support muscles, the abdominal muscles.




The respiratory tract

Yoga practices can affect the function of both upper and lower airways. Neti kriya, a cleansing technique, allows the bathing of the nasal passage. Ujjayi breathing can reduce dead space in the lungs and increase this way, the surface of oxygen diffusion to the bloodstream. While many asanas facilitate the delivery of air in one part of the lungs by restricting it in another, allowing this way the utilization of the entire organ. Finally, the diaphragm which seats at the bottom of the lungs can also get stronger through breathing exercises and/or asanas.


The supportive muscles

Muscles, fascia, and neurons all play an active role in supporting our respiratory function. While these tissues, cells and organs are not always classified as “respiratory”, failure of their function means compromised breathing.


Supportive muscles above the rib cage

Scalenes and sternocleidomastoid are 2 pairs of muscles sitting on either side of our neck. Their recruitment is often considered synonymous with upper chest breathing. It is my observation that when these muscles, alongside the trapezius, are tight there is zero movement possible in the upper chest and upper back, limiting this way the expansion of the lungs in this area.


Supportive muscles below the rib cage

Psoas and quadratus lumborum are 2 pairs of muscles on either side of the spine that attach posteriorly to the diaphragm. Having reviewed 1,000s of papers I am yet to see these 2 muscles mentioned in publications as respiratory or secondary respiratory muscles. There are 2 reasons why I think their structure and function are pivotal in breathing:

  1. As they both attach to the diaphragm, when they are tight, weak, or uneven (between the left and right side) they will restrict the way the diaphragm moves.
  2. Both muscles play an important role in our posture. A compromised posture will most likely cause restrictions in our breathing.   


Our posture

This is an area of the respiratory function that often does not get much attention. Think for a second of an old man bearing more weight on one foot, maybe having one shoulder higher than the other. Or a woman with pronounced scoliosis. How would these postural asymmetries affect the ideal symmetrical movement of the rib cage and diaphragm? Or someone with pronounced thoracic kyphosis. Do you see how the movement of his diaphragm will be restricted (ref)?


Diaphragmatic restriction due to kyphosis


It is my belief that yoga can improve the biomechanics of breath in most elements of this Venn diagram and it’s for that reason a lot of yoga practitioners with respiratory problems have benefited from practicing yoga without paying much attention to the volume of air they breathe which determines the biochemistry of respiration. At the same time, the benefits are amplified when someone pays equal attention to both qualities of breathing (ie. biomechanics & biochemistry).


Buteyko vs Yoga breathing

Buteyko vs Yoga Breathing

Both Buteyko and Yoga breathing techniques have benefited the health of many individuals and especially those with respiratory problems (ie. bronchitis & asthma). To the novice, the two systems may seem to contradict each other but I would argue there are many similarities between them.



While Pranayama is a component of the yoga tradition, which also consists of meditation and physical postures, Buteyko is a system solely focusing on breath training.


Pranayama vs Buteyko Breathing

So far there has been only one study from the University of Nottingham that compared the 2 systems (ref). The study was conducted among 90 individuals (69 of which completed the study) that suffered from asthma and were on corticosteroid medication. At the end of the study, which run for 6 months, the Buteyko group showed improvement in both symptoms and a reduction in bronchodilator use.


Buteyko vs Pranayama Corticosteroid Buteyko vs Pranayama symptoms

How do pranayama techniques compare with Buteyko breathing?

Pranayama techniques, primarily due to the lack of one reliable source, are practiced in different ways. Many practitioners use “Light on Pranayama” BKS Iyengar as a reference. Exercises can be performed in various degrees of difficulty by modifying the duration of the breath. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how this can be achieved but to help you grasp the concept think of box breathing:

Version A:  Inhale for 2 sec, Hold for 2sec, Exhale for 2sec, Hold for 2sec. Perform x5 rounds.

Version B:  Inhale for 20 sec, Hold for 20sec, Exhale for 20sec, Hold for 20sec. Perform x10 rounds.

While most pranayama techniques are (unfortunately) instructed without much reference to the volume of air, by the time the duration of each cycle increases minute ventilation will unavoidably reduce. Reduction in minute ventilation is at the heart of the Buteyko Method which aims to prevent individuals from chronic and acute hyperventilation.

In the table below you can see a list of pranayama exercises. Those with a sign 〰️ can lead to hypercapnia, while the ones with an ❌ are likely to cause hypocapnia.

Hypercapnia is a key element of Buteyko training.


One of the hallmarks of yoga is Ujjayi breathing which often (and correctly in my option) it’s suggested to be performed at all times during asana. Given the different ways that ujjayi breath is practiced, it may appear to be diametrically opposite to Buteyko breathing.

Ujjayi breath is characterized by a sound produced during the exhalatio by the constriction of the throat. The sound, for some unknown to me reason, is sometimes exaggerated making the breath loud. In my opinion, ujjayi should be performed as follows:

Both the inhalation and the exhalation take place through the nose with the tongue at the top of the pallet. The inhalation is soft. During the exhalation, the back of the throat gently constricts allowing the elongation of the exhalation further than normal. The exhalation to inhalation ratio is 2:1 or much higher. The breath is quiet.

When practiced like this, the ujjayi breath will lead to hypercapnia and thus cause an increase in body temperature, similar to all hypercapnic breathing exercises.


How to incorporate Buteyko in yoga?

To the extent that you want to support the oxygenation of your brain 🧠 and peripheral organs during your physical practice, you would benefit by breathing light from start to finish. Breathing this way is likely to cause a sense of air hunger, especially in classes where the pace is fast.


You can also incorporate hypoxic breathing in your practice depending on your level of experience and breathing capacity. It is always important to account for the challenges asanas cause to the breath during yoga.


The role of Control Pause in Yoga

Buteyko practitioners, like myself, like to use the Control Pause (CP) test as an approximation of clients’ respiratory capacity. CP can also be performed at the start of a yoga practice. Below is a list of factors that need to be considered:

• CP will tend to be lower later in the day

• CP will be affected by fluctuations in hormone levels. That is likely to be more pronounced in women.

• If the practitioner is seating on the floor (as opposed to a chair), limitations in his posture is likely to affect the CP negatively.


My take on Breathwork

The Buteyko method is a cornerstone of Breathwork. Not because I am a Buteyko instructor but simply because because its principles are in line the laws of respiratory physiology. Any breathing practice that ignores these principles are unlikely to have long term results as they are ignoring the laws of nature. At the same time the Buteyko Method is NOT complete (video) and yoga, both asana & pranayama can compliment everyones breath training.

Adopting only 1 of the 2 or considering them contradicting is in my opinion myopic. Merge the 2 practices and chances are you will see a significant benefit in your respiratory capacity. You can learn how to two can be combined in the Breathe Right 5d course.


Normal Respiratory Rate

What is a normal respiratory rate?

Our respiratory rate (RR) depends on our age, phase of the menstrual cycle, health state, and heart rate. Having a normal respiratory rate will partially indicate healthy respiratory function but will not be sufficient to identify one’s respiratory capacity.

In this article, you can find out the benefits and limitations of controlling your RR.


Respiration Rate 1.01

How do you check respiration rate?

Respiratory rate is measured at rest. In order for the measurement to be accurate, it is useful to sit in a chair still for a few minutes. One breath will compromise one inhalation, a possible pause, and one exhalation, possibly followed by a second pause.

What is a normal respiratory rate?

Respiratory rate is the number of breaths we take per minute. It’s one of the body’s vital signs, alongside blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. Normal respiratory rate will vary with age.

While 12-20 breaths per minute (bpm) are often used as the normal reference range (ref), it is not necessarily optimal. Optimal breathing is determined by minute ventilation, ie. the total volume of air we inhale per minute. For adults, normal minute ventilation is 6-8.4 L/min. With a tidal volume of 500 to 600mL, if you take 12 bpm your minute ventilation is 6-7.2L/min (500mL x 12 bpm), which is the volume of our lungs. If instead of 12bpm you take 20bpm (at 500mL tidal volume), your minute ventilation is: 10L/min. With that in mind:

Optimal respiratory rate range: 8-14bpm


What does respiratory rate indicate?

Respiratory Rate (RR) is one of the body’s vital signs, and as such changes in RR indicate improvement or deterioration in health. The other 5 vital signs are pulse rate, systolic blood pressure, level of consciousness, oxygen saturation, and body temperature.

What increases respiratory rate?

The respiratory rate will increase due to an increase in metabolic demands but also during anxiety, acidosis (referred to as Kussmaul’s respiration), asthma, COPD, dehydration, fever, heart conditions, lung conditions (including lung cancer), an overdose of aspirin or amphetamines. During pregnancy and the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, RR also increases.

What decreases respiratory rate?

The respiratory rate will decrease when we are relaxed but also from alcohol consumption, brain conditions (including strokes and head injuries), consumption of narcotics (ie. marijuana), and sleeping apnea.


Respiration Rate and Breathwork

When you should focus on your respiratory rate?

Performing breathing exercises based on the respiratory rate offers some benefits, especially for beginners. Respiratory rate can:

• be measured independent of the body position

• be monitored by the practitioner as well as an observer

• be easily manipulated

So if you are starting out now with breathwork or have no experience with breath control:

Try to reduce your respiratory rate; it is likely to bring a profound sense of relaxation.

A lot of pranayama exercises, cadence breathing, as well as asana practices, focus on the number of breaths per minute. An exercise I developed to improve your concentration based on the manipulation of the RR is the following:


Why focusing only on respiratory rate is a bad idea?

During most physical exercises (including yoga) you would benefit by reducing the volume of your breath so that it matches your metabolic needs. This is due to the role of CO2 in breathing. In this case, the focus should be on how much you breathe and not how often.

This is also the cornerstone of Buteyko breathing, which advocates reduced breathing aiming to avoid hyperventilation and improve breathing biochemistry. If you are not yet convinced think of the following 4 breathing disorders:

• Bradypnea: breathing abnormally slow.

• Tachypnea: an elevated respiratory rate. Fast breaths that are usually shallow.

• Dyspnea: shortness of breath, that can occur with a high, normal, or low respiratory rate.

• Hyperpnea: breathing deeply and labored.

Only 2 out of 4 problems can be addressed by focusing on the respiratory rate.

Even Cadence breathing can lead to Hyperventilation (ref).


While reducing the number of breaths per minute can be a great starting point, once confident start reducing the volume of air you breathe in order to become a better breather.

The Breathe Right course is developed to help you breathe better when you are not conscious of your breath.

Reduce high blood pressure with breathing

Breathing to lower blood pressure

To lower your blood pressure by breathing you need to breathe slowly and through your nose. The focus should be on the exhalation which will ideally be twice as long as the inhalation. Breathing this way will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, decrease heart rate and increase heart rate variability.

It’s that simple, or not? The theory is indeed simple, the application isn’t. If you want to learn:

a. How to develop a breathing practice safely while having high blood 🩸 pressure?

b. How breathwork can help smokers 🚬?

c. Which breathing 😤 exercises should be avoided?

Read on…


What is the best breathing technique for high blood pressure?

While a lot of exercises claim to be the best for lower blood pressure, there is not one that works for equally well for everyone. Most individuals suffering from high blood pressure will benefit by breathing slowly and through the nose at all times.

Which is the best breathing exercise for YOU though depends on:

a. How high is your blood pressure currently

b. Your experience with breathwork

c. Your breathing capacity

If are not sure about the above, do the following:

• Lay on your back, with legs or knees elevated. Support your head with a pillow if you feel pressure on your neck. Place one hand ✋🏼 on your chest and the other 🤚🏼 on your abdomen, while both elbows resting on the floor.

• Close your eyes 👀, close your mouth 👄 and start following the movement of your hands. Your goal is to make the hand on your abdomen move as much or even more than that of your chest.

• While you are maintaining nasal 👃🏼 breathing throughout, you want to slow down your breath as much as possible. Practice for 5-10 mins.

• When you finish the breathing exercise, stay laying down for an additional 3-5 mins, observing your thoughts and your breath. When it is time to get up move slowly.

Breathing to lower blood pressure

What to do when breathing feels uncomfortable?

If your breath is labored and you have a history of cardiovascular problems without any delay you should call the ambulance. They will advise you what to do in the meantime.

If you are experiencing shortness of breath your 1st concern should be to reduce your Heart Rate. That’s when previous experience with breathwork or meditation comes in handy.

If you have a meditation practice: meditate. Assuming you have no prior experience, do the following:

• Sit down 🪑 in a quiet place, with your back supported.

• Close your eyes 👀, and try to breathe only from your nose 👃🏼 making the breath as quiet as possible. It might be hard initially but after 1-2 mins it should get easier. Until breathing is comfortable avoid doing anything else. If the shortness of breath persists for more than 10 mins, seek help.

• Once you have established a more regular breathing pattern, start prolonging your exhalation. Do that for 10 mins. Before you stand up, spend 2-5 mins breathing regularly.


A protocol based on your breathing capacity

If you suffer from high blood pressure and want to practice some breathwork, the 1st thing you need to do is determine your respiratory capacity. Do the following 2 tests:

• the Control Pause (video)

• the Maximum Breathlessness Test (video)

If your Control Pause (CP) is below <15 sec and your Maximum Breathlessness Test (MBT) <30 steps.

If your scores are higher than that you should be introducing short breath holds in your breathing practice. The following exercise will help you achieve that.


Can breathing exercises help smokers?

Absolutely. There is actually a common element between smoking & breathing exercises:

During both smoking and breathwork, we recruit our diaphragm to pull more air into our lungs, activating this way our vagus nerve & the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

The more you get used to calming your nervous system down, through breathwork, the less likely it will be to seek the same sensation through cigarettes. Breathing after all offers us a backdoor to the Nervous System.


Breathing Protocol for Smoking

First and foremost you need to get your maximum breath-hold time to 20 seconds if you are a woman 👩🏼‍🦰, or 32 seconds if you are a man 🧔🏻. According to a 1987 study, by achieving these scores you will be more resilient to withdrawal and anxiety symptoms, doubling your chances of success. Practicing a CO2 table once a day can help you achieve that.

The next step is to train your body to breathe right. The Breathe Right 5 day self-paced online course is developed to help you achieve that. The only way to be a good breather is by breathing right when you are not conscious of your breath.

The exercises included in this course have been found in research 🔬 to efficiently deal with nicotine withdrawal [ref. 1, ref. 2].


Why is it hard to breathe after quitting smoking?

Cilia, hair-like protuberances, in the lungs are responsible for capturing microbes and debris so they can get sequentially excreted. Nicotine (in cigarettes) paralyzes the cilia which is why a few weeks after discontinuing smoking coaching may increase.



Can breathing exercises raise blood pressure?

Yes. There are actually too many breathing exercises, for me to list here, that can raise blood pressure. Here’s a list of categories:

• Fast breathing exercises, including kapalabhati, bhastrika.

• Hyperventilation techniques, including Wim Hof Breathing, Rebirthing, Holotropic.

• Those that involve an increase of intra-abdominal pressure including Valsalva Maneuver.

• Breathing exercises that bring the body into deep hypoxia.


Does holding your breath lower blood pressure?

It does. Breath-holds activate the baroreflex receptors in the body that slow down our heart rate and sequentially decrease our blood pressure. At the same time holding our breath for too long will increase adrenaline: a red flag 🚩 for those with high blood pressure.

Those with some breathing experience can use short breath holds to reduce their blood pressure.


Does the 478 breathing technique lower blood pressure?

For most people, it should. Whether it will for you depends on your sensitivity to CO2 and breath-hold capacity. In the 478 breathing you: inhale for 4, hold your breath for 7, exhale for 8. The breath-hold and the prolonged exhalation will activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System.


Can deep breathing help heartburn?

The most efficient exercise when you have heartburn is a breath-hold.

For Heartburn: Inhale – Hold up to 80% of max capacity – Slowly Exhale (Repeat until the pain diminishes)

Belly breathing ( video ) can also provide positive results in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to a 2011 study, but the benefits are more long-term and the relief is not as quick as with breath holds.


How do you know if you have lack of oxygen?

To identify the levels of oxygen in your blood you will need an oximeter. If you don’t have one, and you have cardiovascular issues, it will be worth investing in one. Nonin is my go-to brand.



Those that practice breathing exercises regularly are more likely to:

a. reduce their blood pressure long term

b. drop their blood pressure in an acute spike.

Apart from breathing exercises, that are geared to train our biochemistry, physical exercises, training our respiratory muscles can also be of benefit to those with high blood pressure.

A 2021 study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, showed that 5 mins of inspiratory muscle strength work, performed for 5min, 6 days per week is sufficient to lower blood pressure and improve heart health. For that reason, I advocate a combination of both breathwork & yoga when it comes to lowering blood pressure.

To improve your breathing when you are not conscious of it, check out the Breathe Right 5 day self-paced online course.


How to breathe during yoga

How to breathe during yoga?

The way you breathe during a yoga class is affected by many parameters including :

• our level of experience

• the style of yoga

• our familiarity with the sequence

• how tense you are on the day

• the phase of the menstrual cycle


If you have been practicing yoga for a while you may have noticed how your breathing changed with time. You may have also noticed that beginners and more advanced practitioners will be performing the same poses (even with the same technique/form) but following a completely different breathing pattern.

In this article, I will analyze how the level of experience, style of yoga and phase of the menstrual cycle affect how you breathe during yoga. Let’s start with those starting out.


Breathing based on experience


When one starts practicing yoga (especially in a group class), she/he has many challenges to face. I remember having to :

• perform poses on the limit of my flexibility, if not poses completely inaccessible to me

• hold poses for longer than my lactic acid tolerance allowed me

• learn the name of poses

• remember the alignment my teacher indicated

• breathe in and out based on my teacher’s queues


While the whole experience at the end can leave the novice student with a sense of relaxation, there is a lot to take in. For that reason I suggest the following 3 rules for those starting out:

✔️ Remind yourself to breathe every so often & establish a slow breathing pattern.

✔️ Observe your breath. Usually, the moment we observe our breathing it is slowed down. Refrain from trying to alter it – just observe it.

✔️ Maintain nasal breathing at all times. The best way to achieve that is to refrain from mouth breathing at all costs. This may not be accessible to you in the beginning due to chronic poor respiratory habits, but it is the foundation of any breathwork, so do not give up.



By the time you consider yourself to be an intermediate practitioner, you should be switching to ujjayi breath throughout your yoga (asana) practice.

Ujjayi breath in my opinion is: SILENT • SLOW • INTENTIONAL

This description is in line with that of Timothy McCall (author of the book “Yoga as Medicine”) :

“When you first learn Ujjayi, you will breathe with an audible noise. But as you progress, the sound may become so subtle that someone sitting next to you would not hear it.” Ref 1


If you maintain ujjayi breath at all times you will be able to :

✔️ stay focused

✔️ maintain good energy levels throughout the practice

✔️ oxygenate your muscles and brain adequately



As an advanced practitioner, you can work towards gaining control of your breathing, independent of the asana or vinyasa performed. Breathing can support your concentration and help perform the yoga poses but it can also challenge them. Advanced practitioners can challenge their asana practice through breathing.


✔️ The 2 pillars of breathwork are: hypoxia and hypercapnia and they can both be practiced during any yoga class. in the section


Breathing in different yoga styles

Ashtanga, Bikram, …

In sequences that are standardized such as Ashtanga and Bikram, practitioners are asked to follow a set breathing pattern. The breathing pattern usually requires:

• inhalation during spine extension (ie. upward dog)

• exhalation during spine flexion (ie. uttanasana)

• no breathing holding at the end of the inhalation or exhalation

Three things to keep in mind:

✔️ During a vigorous physical practice, CO2 levels will increase, challenging the respiratory system. If one maintains nasal soft breathing she/he can maintain good cellular oxygenation. if instead there is a shift to hyperventilation the muscle tissue will be deprived of oxygen (due to the Bohr effect) and thus promote fatigue.

✔️ Abdominal integrity may be challenged in poses (asanas) and transitions (vinyasas) that involve both spine extension & flexion. During exhalation abdominal tension is reduced as the diaphragm moves towards the stomach. Over time as abdominal strength increases, it will become easier for the breath and the movement to be synched.

✔️ In studios where yoga classes take place, the temperature is often elevated causing a shift of the Oxyhemoglobin Dissociation Curve (ODC) to the right promoting the release of oxygen to tissue. This should make breathing easier.


Iyengar inspired styles

In styles of yoga where postures are held for long the biomechanics & biochemistry differs from vinyasa style classes. The way we should breathe during poses depends on how comfortable we are with the pose. Breath becomes primarily important when we are learning a pose or when we are holding a pose for periods close to our limit.

✔️ When learning a pose that requires stability in the lower back (lumbar) we should brace our abdominals, as opposed to hollowing.

Bracing our abdominals is achieved by holding our breath aiming for an isometric co-contraction of all abdominal muscles (as if we were about to receive a punch in the stomach). Hollow belly, often cued as belly or naval in achieves the activation of the transverse abdominis (TVA). When the 2 techniques were compared: bracing was shown to achieve higher lumbar stability compared to hollowing [ref 2].

Once someone is comfortable with a pose, hollowing the abdomen and maintaining lateral breathing is good idea as this will maintain a calmer Nervous System and the ability to hold the pose longer.

Certain asanas (such as backbends & side flexions) will require specific breathing patterns to help us access the pose. The progression above is valid for the majority of introductory poses.



When learning a new inversion, in most instances I suggest one tries to find balance while holding his/her breath (on the inhalation or exhalation depending on the transition/ pose). By holding your breath you will:
✔️ increase of abdominal pressure
✔️ maintaining of the chest & abdominal area unchanged
✔️ increase concentration
It also allows the practitioner to establish a pattern through which he approaches the pose. Too often every attempt is completely different which can slow down the learning process.
Once balance is established regular or even better ujjayi breath can be maintained.

Breathing in different stages of the menstrual cycle

In the 2nd half of the menstrual cycle (luteal phase) the sensitivity to CO2 levels increases [ Ref 3 ] due to an increase in progesterone levels. Women during this phase are expected to breathe heavier or faster [ Ref 4 ]. However this will very much depends on their CO2 tolerance (in plain English their respiratory capacity). The better their respiratory capacity breathing can be maintained regular throughout the entire month.


How good is your breathing?

Your ability to breathe right during a yoga class is determined not only by your experience in yoga but also by your respiratory capacity. If you want to find out what is your respiratory capacity at the moment do the following 2 tests:

Controlled Pause

Breathlessness Test




1. McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as medicine: the yogic prescription for health & healing: a yoga journal book. Bantam.

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