Updated: Jul 10
The Importance of a breath hold and why would you do it in yoga or at all.
Valsalva maneuver is a momentary breath hold or a bearing down depending on where and why you would be doing this breath. Before I go on to explain I will quickly recap the other two fundamental breaths.
The relaxed breath the diaphragm should be moving in 3-dimensional manner. The first 2/3’s of the breath should the rib cage expanding right and left and downward; the last 1/3 would be a slight upward movement. If you focus mainly on the right and left expansion the downward and upward movements should happen on their own. This breath is used when we are doing nothing.
The paradoxical breath is used when we need to use the abdominals for stabilization now and the can no longer aid in breathing. The rib cage would expand more and there will be more upward movement. What is typically the quintessential stress breath. So, why would I ask you to do a stress breath in yoga when we are supposed to be relaxing? First, depends on the class. But in a class with strength poses where stabilization is required you are adding a physical stress to the body and the body must respond accordingly to protect the spine and most of us do it naturally.
As mentioned before the Valsalva is a breath hold or a bearing down. Why hold your breath in yoga? This breath comes into play when the body is doing a maximal load or maximal effort. The body senses this max effort and we naturally hold our breath for these movements. This breath is used as we enter a head stand or arm balances. These points where we hold our breath is called a sticking point. This is very important for the protection of the spine. The diaphragm has many attachments and one of them is on L2L3 of the lumbar spine. There should be no breath holding while in the posture itself; what would be mostly used after getting into the arm balance or head stand would be the paradoxical breath and in a calm manner.
It is important to be focused and aware of our breathing and we need to keep in mind that the body does know how to breath by itself and to first watch it before changing anything. That a calm breath doesn’t mean the relaxed breath if you need to be in a paradoxical breath for a pose. I have noticed lots of confusion here when it comes to breathing in yoga classes. This is tough to convey in a group setting. I can be calm with my paradoxical breath while holding a plank pose because I must have my abdominals engaged to protect the spine. I can be calm with a breath hold as I move through my sticking point to get into an arm balance or head stand. This is extremely important!! I have watched many people trying to get into an arm balance and they are trying to breath through the sticking point and fighting the breath hold and I see them sag in their shoulders and then they tell me they have shoulder pain. I have them hold their breath through the sticking point. They find it easier and their shoulders stop hurting.
The body does things for very specific reasons. Some is because it’s natural and the person teaching doesn’t know the mechanics. Or it’s because the body is creating a new strategy because there are muscles that don’t want to fire in the right order or at the intensity they need to and the body creates a compensation. You have to have a keen eye for this and that requires lots of studying of biomechanics, functional anatomy, anatomy trains and most all practicing what all this looks like through all sorts of clients!!