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The Science of Breath - Some Suggestions for Yoga Teachers

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Breathe. It's a simple yet profound act that we perform roughly 25,000 times a day, and yet many of your students take it for granted. In recent times, however, the importance of conscious breathing has gained well-deserved attention. James Nestor, the author of "Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art," has highlighted how our breathing habits have changed and how mastering the art of proper breathing can positively impact our overall health. As yoga teachers, understanding the science and art of breathing is pivotal to our teaching. In this blog post, we will explore how mindful breathing can elevate not only our yoga practice but also the lives of our students.

1. The Breath-Mind Connection

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are recognizing the significance of their breath. The way we breathe affects us at a cellular level, influencing various aspects of our health, including weight, athletic performance, allergies, mood, and stress levels. As yoga teachers, it is our responsibility to help our students understand the profound connection between breath and well-being.

  • Teach your students to breathe through their noses, as nasal breathing filters, heats, and treats the air. It also increases oxygen intake and raises nitric oxide levels, which enhances circulation and influences immune function, weight, and mood. Breathing through the mouth has uses and benefits too - think about releasing an exhale through pursed lips and the relaxing effect that has.

  • Yoga offers help for congestion in the form of neti pots, or even the inhalation of essential oils like eucalyptus or peppermint.

2. Deepen the Breath

In our daily lives, we often engage only a fraction of our diaphragm, leading to shallow chest breathing. This shallow breathing can strain muscles, burden the heart, and keep us in a state of constant stress. Diaphragmatic breathing, sometimes referred to as belly breathing, can retrain students to breathe deeply, allowing their bodies to absorb more oxygen and nudge their nervous systems towards a more restful state.

  • Teach your students belly breathing techniques. Have them lie flat on their backs with one hand on their chest and the other on their belly, focusing on expanding the abdomen while inhaling through the nose. This technique not only promotes deep breathing but also helps in reducing stress.

  • Encourage your students to incorporate mindful belly breathing into their daily routines, whether they are lying down, sitting, or standing.

3. Release Upper Body Tension

Many of our students unknowingly hold tension in their upper bodies, which can restrict their ability to breathe deeply and comfortably. As yoga teachers, we can guide them in relieving this tension through simple exercises.

  • Suggest using tennis or massage balls to massage the upper body. These exercises can help loosen, lengthen, and relax the muscles of the neck, shoulders, upper chest, and back.

  • Recommend specific ball-rolling exercises, such as pectoral rolls, intercostal rolls, upper back rolls, and neck releases, to target areas of tension and improve breath capacity.

4. Improve Posture

Poor posture can restrict the diaphragm and impede proper breathing. Yoga offers excellent solutions to correct posture and enhance breath control.

  • Teach your students postural exercises like the cat/cow pose, wide-legged forward fold, and supine spinal twist. These poses can stretch the legs, lengthen the back, open the shoulders, and improve posture, ultimately aiding in better breath control.

  • Emphasize the importance of maintaining good posture throughout their daily lives, as this habit will have a lasting impact on their breathing patterns.

5. Control the Nervous System

As yoga teachers, we understand the intricate connection between breath and the nervous system. Breathing consciously and focusing on the exhale can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and overall well-being.

  • Educate your students on how the breath directly affects the nervous system. Explain the "fight-or-flight" and "rest-and-digest" responses and how conscious breathing can switch between them.

  • Guide your students through breath control techniques that promote relaxation, such as deep, slow breaths and mindfulness practices.

Breathing is not just an automatic bodily function; it's a tool for transformation and improved well-being. As yoga teachers, we have the privilege of sharing the gift of mindful breathing with our students. By incorporating these exercises and teachings into our classes, we can help our students connect with their breath, reduce stress, and embark on a journey of self-discovery through the art of breathing. So, let's take a deep breath together and embrace the profound impact it can have on our lives and the lives of our students.

We want to hear from you. How much do you know about the anatomy and science of the breath? Do you incorporate science and anatomy into your classes when it comes to pranayama? What are your favourite pranayama techniques to practice and teach and why? Are you curious to explore more about the science of breath, as well as the ancient techniques of pranayama in your training?

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Just learning about the breath and anatomy this year and have known for some time about diaphragm breathing versus chest breathing. My physio and RMT have been trying to get me to breathe from my diaphragm for years. When I get stressed, I breathe from my chest. Deep breathing from the belly is the key. No wonder I have neck issues and back issues. Anytime you can deep breath its restorative. In my chair and yin classes I have done so far, I have incorporated Pranayama. Bhramari breath, slow deep breathing, and Nadi Shodhana. I will continue and always use Pranayama in my classes and interested in learning more techniques.


Aurelie Ferrero
Aurelie Ferrero
17 hours ago

I really enjoy conscious breathing, It helps me a lot with my anxiety. It's a very efficient way to bring me back to the present moment and to my body : bringing my attention to the sensations in my body. I am excited to learn more about the science of breath and pranayama techniques and yes I plan to share it with others when I feel confortable enough :)


I loved the book "Breath", it was truly a game-changer for me when it came to recognizing the importance of our breath (outside of just staying alive). What I found really fascinating in the book was how breathing affected our teeth and changed our skull over time. I was also amazed by stories of how breath helped those suffering from scoliosis of the spine. After reading that book, I began to imagine that my breath was lengthening and creating space in my spine, and I believe that it is a big part of what helped with my chronic back pain.

Something interesting I've noted, both personally, and working with members of my support group for health and wellness, is how…


Mary Chang
Mary Chang
4 days ago

Although I breathe every day, I didn't know that we breathe about 25,000 times a day! I'm just learning more about the anatomy and science of the breath. It's great to learn the connection between breath and well-being.

After reading the article, I know more about why breathing through my nose is important. I understand that deepening the breath is important, but I didn't know that shallow breathing can strain muscles, burden the heart, and cause stress! I think I need to breathe deeper:)

I plan to incorporate science and anatomy into my classes regarding pranayama, but nothing too "technical." My favorite pranayama techniques are one-nostril breathing and lying on the floor on my back with one hand on my…


Hua yu jill Ji
Hua yu jill Ji
4 days ago

Slow deep breathing could improve our blood oxygenation. Although the lungs are the major breathing organs, our skin could breath as well.

I'd like to put my hands on my ribs and feel the rhythm of my breath. It could also help me to open my chest and engage a deeper and slower breath.

I enjoyed practicing different breaths like breathing in and out through the nose, or breathing out through the mouth and Nadi shodhana which was new to me before I took the 200 YTT program.

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