Honestly, I get this question a lot, way more often then you’d think. And even from people who have been doing yoga for ages. “Why is the breath important?” Or some variation of this question. Like, “you give a lot of breath cues, it takes away from the flow.” Or “Do you need to say every inhale and exhale?” Which I mean, no I really don’t need to say to inhale to table top or exhale to sit. But the breath cues play a huge role in the practice and yes I really do need those inhales and exhales for twists and other postures that you don’t just dump yourself into.
So why is it that the breathing is such an important role in your yoga practice? And while I was taught in a very active from of yoga that requires breathing cues the entire time, it’s still a key element to every practice. Look up any well loved, and respectable, yoga instructor on youtube. They take a few minutes at least to chill out before practice and come to your breath and honestly its for good reason too.
Okay so let’s break this down then. First off the very definition of yoga is literally postures to breath. A form of active meditation, and honestly the postures are just a tiny bit of the yoga. A huge part of yoga is actually the breath work, meditation and all in all a good mind set and solid focus. It’s main goal is to bring in relaxation and meditation, maybe calming someone after a stressful day or bringing the focus that they need.
a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.
I mean, the google definition of yoga is literally just that. Breath control, its a discipline for specific purposes. The thing is, breath is the LEAST talked about in a yoga practice. Like sure, we do little breath warm ups before we start, take some time coming to a good solid (deep) breath that will guide through the postures. But we don’t talk about it. And honestly that’s something that should be talked about, but when people come for a class that is 45, 55 or even 60 minutes long they don’t want time wasted talking about the breath. Because all in all, it’s not what matters to them and it’s not why they came. But it’s something that is huge, major, so important so we should at least mention why we do the breath and not just guide people through it hoping for the best or hoping that it somehow sticks.
Okay, so we know the definition, we know that technically it’s super important and huge, but why is it that way? Why is our breath the key?
First off, it does help your practice. Like a lot. Focusing on the breath can bring in a sense of peace and calm and really bring a person to that meditation mindset. Which sounds so cheesy, but honestly the best practices that I have had are the ones where I focus on my breathing and get into that mind set and just let everything else go. It’s empowering, and just really ties a practice together.
Second, it takes the focus off what you’re doing vs what you need. So instead of focusing on the posture that you need to hold for a frustratingly long time, you breathe. And while it’s still not a simple task to chill out in side plank you can at least breathe through it and in turn strengthen yourself in the long run.
Third, strength. You could hold your breath during your side plank, but then your muscles are kind of just chilling out super tight. But if you add in the breath work, it’s just that. Work. Your muscles end up doing even more work, and while it doesn’t actually seem like it you can see results. I have had so many great side planks when I just remember to breathe it out.
Fourth, it actually makes postures easier. GASP! I know that this kind of ties in with the second point, but have you ever done crow pose and just couldn’t do it? Yeah, same. I struggled with it so much. Or a headstand? Yeah those too. But once I learned to breath my way through it (also ENGAGE those abdominal muscles) then I found my balance to be much better and more steady. I am a pro at crow now, and while it took a ton of work to get there my breath work certainly helped me a lot.
Fifth, it literally matches flowing or vinyasa yoga perfectly. Each breath you take you do a pose. Inhale rise, exhale fold etc. It makes the practice flow quite beautifully, and while the constant reminder to breath during your practice seems tedious and quite annoying there is a point to it. Trust me, yoga teachers aren’t just saying it for kicks. If you’re into vinyasa style yoga then you need to have the breath, otherwise your just moving around on a mat.
All in all, breath plays a huge role in yoga. If you’re simply just looking for a workout that is fine, yoga can provide that as well. Breathing can help make it more intense for you though. But if you’re looking to expand in your yoga practice then work on the breath. Explore the different options that are out there and find the best one for your practice. It will make all the difference.