Yogic Breathing: How to get the most out of your breath

Why is Yogic Breathing so important?

Breathing is a simple, but powerful function. In recent years, the Polyvalgal theory has shown the vagus nerve has implications on everything from complex cardiac functions to more discrete aspects of attention, motivation, feeding, communication, emotion, vocalization, and the entire muscle array of the human face, head, throat and neck.  Since human primary emotions are directly related to various autonomic functions, right brain activity has shown how important breath is in regulating the body’s response to stress. Who doesn’t need a better way to control the stress in their life?

The figure below shows the key muscle and structures involved in abdominal diaphragmatic breathing.  They play an intrical part in alignment, posture and pelvic floor function.

3 Diaphragms:

  1. Thoracic (neck and epiglottis)
  2. Abdominal (lower ribcage)
  3. Pelvic (lower)

How to practice Abdominal Breathing:

Begin first in a comfortable position lying down (yoga couch) or sitting. Relax your body, face and jaw. Exhale through nose, noticing your abdominal muscles contracting and drawing inward. Breath in through your nose and imagine you are filling your lungs like a glass of water. “Filling” begins in your abdomen and moves up to your lower ribcage. You should feel your lower rib cage moving up and out, and expanding in back. You do not want to feel movement in your chest. Repeat aiming for 6-8 breath cycles per minutes.

yoga couch photo credit: ginger garner

Abdominal Breathing with Transverse abdominus activation:

Similar to the above description with abdominal breathing, but now adding a drawing in of the belly button slightly. Think about trying to bring belly button under the ribs. If you place your hand low just above your pubic bone, you should feel a very subtle lifting up which is your pubic diaphragm lifting as you inhale. You can do a slight “lifting up” of your pelvic floor to help activate this. This type of breathing is great for restorative yoga positions and patients with pelvic floor issue. You want to be able to activate your abdominal and pelvic diaphragms at the same time to prevent

Guiding principles in Abdominal breathing:

  • Practice any time a relaxation response is needed, or when needed for core activation
  • Start with exhale, end on inhale
  • Equalize the inhale and exhale breaths
  • Reduce Respirations per minute to <12, ideally 6-8
  • Practice 5-6 cycles or 2-5 minutes


Akhtar, P., Yardi, S., & Akhtar, M. (2013). Effects of yoga on functional capacity and well being. International Journal of Yoga, 6(1), 76-79.

Elneil, S. (2009). Complex pelvic floor failure and associated problems. Best Practice & Research, 23(4), 555-73.

Garner, G. Medical Therapeutic Yoga: Biopsychosocial and Rehabilitation and Wellness Care. Handspring Publishing Limited. United Kingdom. 2016.

Stoker, J. (2009). Anorectal and pelvic floor anatomy. Best Practice & Research, 23(4), 463-75.

Tonhajzerova, I., & Mestanik, M. (2017). New perspectives in the model of stress response. Physiological Research, 66, S173-S185.

Published by Blake Russell

Olympian, physical therapist, mom

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: