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What is Relaxed Breathing

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Yogi’s, What is Relaxed Breathing.

I stopped using the term of diaphragmatic breathing when describing a breath that is relaxing a few years ago when I learned more in depth the mechanics of breathing. The diaphragm is the primary respiratory muscle in the body regardless of what type of breath you are taking. Just because you are taking in a nice big breath in doesn’t mean that it’s relaxed. And to take a chest breath doesn’t mean it’s only relationship is about the ‘bad’ stress.

Deep breathing is often associated with relaxation and has a calming effect on your nervous system. The primary reason is having a calming effect on the nervous system is because calming thoughts are preceding the breath. Try taking in calming breaths while thinking about something stressful. It doesn’t work.

There are many different breath techniques in yoga that has great benefits. While the Ujjayi Breath is typically presented and associated with yoga and doing physical postures it doesn’t always mean it will release tension. Often, I see people taking a huge chest breath with the Ujjayi sound and they are creating a lot more tension of jaw, neck and shoulder tension that’s b/c they are not taking a regular breath properly in the first place.

A basic understanding of the mechanics of breathing will help you get a full breath. This basic technique of rib cage expansion is a very powerful for relaxation and important to learn before taking on different techniques. This simple cue for ‘normal’ breathing people find that they naturally will take on the Ujjayi Breath in a yoga practice as the breath naturally begins to deepen.

The diaphragm is the primary respiratory muscle and stabilizing the lumbar spine. It is shaped like a parachute or a dome and the dome part points up to the head. For a relaxing breath, it does not have to be a deep breath. Deep breathing does not mean you are relaxing if driving the diaphragm upwards for a chest breath. The diaphragm ideally moves in three directions. There should be a downward, upward, right and left. This left and right movement will be felt as expansion of the rib cage.

The focus is on the right and left expansive movement of the rib cage. Why? When everyone else says, it should be downward movement. Simply put your hands on the right a left side of your body on the rib cage a focus the rib cage moving outwards right and left. Once you connect and feel this notice that there is not only downward movement of the diaphragm but there is also a subtle upward/downward movement. The breath is also fuller and more calming.

There are three foundation types of breathing. When doing a yoga practice each of them are done for specific poses. But don’t worry because in general your body already knows what to do. Not every posture requires a relaxed type breath. There are also other types of breathing but we don’t need to worry about these yet.

Normal relaxed breathing: This breath is used in surrender type poses, stretches or any pose that does not require that abdominals to be contracted for spinal stabilization. There is no active contraction of the abdominals; normal resting tone of the abdominals is all the spine needs for stabilization.

Paradox breathing: This type of breath is used b/c now we need the abdominals contracted for stabilization. The breath now will be more expansive at the rib cage and the diaphragm moves higher into the chest. Chest breathing is a normal response in these situations to protect the spine.

Valsalva (momentary breath hold): Why hold your breath in yoga? This breath is used as we enter a head stand or arm balances. In Yoga, valsava’s are momentary breath holds because the body needs more stabilization for the spine. The diaphragm has many attachments and one of them is on L2L3 of the lumbar spine. There should be no breath holding in the postures.

This is an excerpt from my book A Yoga Practice Guide for the Everyday Yogi!: A Teacher Training Manual for the Yoga Teacher WithIn

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