Yoga Tune Up® Blog


Abdominal Breathing for Better Living

If you’re not breathing, you’re not living. Literally.

And if you’re not breathing well; you’re not living as well as you could be.

If you pay attention to your breath, you can learn a lot about how you’re taking life in.  The breath is an amazing instrument for reporting the state of your internal weather systems.  Take a moment to close your eyes and observe your breath.  How would you describe your current internal ‘weather’?  Calm, warm sunny skies? High winds and thunder showers?  Once you’ve answered the question, read on.

Your breath is the link between your conscious and unconscious mind.

Amazingly, by taking control of your breath you can exert a measure of control over the state of your mind and emotions – you can control the weather inside!

If you are living in a state of chronic stress, your breath is likely shallow, rapid and clipped.  You can actually choose to use shallow rapid breathing to induce a state of stress and anxiety, shifting your nervous system into fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system dominance).

Go ahead, try it!

You don’t want to live your life breathing this way.  When the sympathetic nervous system dominates, adrenaline goes surging through the blood stream overtaxing your systems, putting you on edge and impeding the body’s ability to repair itself.

Conversely, you can address states of stress and anxiety by breathing deeply into the belly.  This down-regulates the nervous system (activating the parasympathetic nervous system) and stimulates the body’s relaxation response.  When the parasympathetic nervous system dominates the body heals and repairs itself and the mental/emotional weather pattern is calm and still.

Breathe better; feel better; heal better; live better.

If we can choose how we breathe (and we can!), we should opt for deep, abdominal breathing in times of stress.

Watch our stress relief videos instantly.

Read how to breath away stress.

Read more about your diaphragm.

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About This Author

It was love at first Sun Salutation for Amanda Tripp ... who was introduced to yoga as a teen when her mom brought home a video. Eventually, she sought out living, breathing teachers to help direct and deepen her practice. Her teachers have been inspirational; her yoga practice: transformational. Amanda felt the call to share the healing benefits of practice with others and completed a 250-hour teacher training program at the Yoga Centre of Burlington. Continuing studies led her to the work of Jill Miller and certification as a Yoga Tune Up® teacher. Amanda's classes speak to the body, breath, mind and heart as she guides students toward greater ease of being.

86 Responses to “Abdominal Breathing for Better Living”

  1. Katherine Deicke says:

    Thank you for the reminder of the importance of breathing! I do find that in most classes when the teachers cues “are we breathing?” Or “how is your breath?” I quickly take in a deep inhale as if I totally forgot because I was so focused on the asana! I am hoping to get to a point where my breathing comes first and the difficult of the asana follows smoothly.

  2. Nancy says:

    With the holiday season approaching we (sometimes) induce stress and anxiety . Amanda Tripp in her Yoga Tune Up Blog describes a very simple way to reduce these sensation. Turn your seasonal breathing into a life time of Ease !
    Thanks Amanda. I am glad I found this blog at the beginning of my teacher training to reduce my stress and anxiety for this week and the rest of my life ! Gratefully Nancy Drope. x

  3. Bev Hotchkiss says:

    I am in the midst of reading a book on breath by Larry Rosenberg and I just picked up Iyengar’s book “Light on Pranayama”. I find as a teacher that when I am leading my students through a Svasana I am guided to speak by there breath. If it reverts to shallow chest breathing or rapid belly breathes I am compelled to guide them back either through counting or metaphors or simply by stating “inhalations and exhalations” in a soothing slow tone. Also, recently while teaching a full Restorative class I find that I am moving my hands in a rhythmic motion to simulated the rolling waves of breath or gently sway of breath.

    I learned so much this past week on the sympathetic and parasympathetic states and approaching the latter without a felling of stress “I need to do this…why do thoughts keep interrupting my breathing….fuck I’ve lost count again” and the realization that the parasympathetic state is not the state our bodies are conditioned to be in but rather a state that we teach our bodies to accept.

    Here’s to big long happy breathes!

  4. Vickie says:

    During the 3 day YTU training I was once again reminded of just how important the breath is, in my yoga practice as well as in my daily life. A yoga teacher of mine always used to say ‘it’s the breath that brings the pose to life’ and I cannot agree with her more. Thank you Amanda for this most informative post. I will definitely share this with friends and family.

  5. Merissa says:

    Learning more and more about our breath has been one of my favorite parts of yoga teacher training. Since YTU class, it’s been even more important to focus on your breath. For example, if I’m not breathing well while using the YTU balls, I’m not getting as much as I could be. When I have control over my breath, I have the control to turn a painful situation into an enjoyable massage :)

  6. Alicia Martinez says:

    Thank you for this post! It is so interesting! How breathing affects our nervous system and is linked to our emotions and state. Learning how to do abdominal breathing has helped me to cope with very stressful situations, and has given me control over my body and mind. Be able to place my hands in my belly and feel my breathing has given me a powerful tool. I had three MRI this year, and I was surprised how practising my abdominal breathing helped me to be able to relax and not be setressed with all the noise!

  7. John says:

    I love how you gave the physiological aspects of breathing and their connection to activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Succinct and to the point, you’ve given the reader simple tools to observe their breathing and simple tools to help deal with stress.

  8. Cindy says:

    Thanks, Amanda. This is a very important lesson! Yoga has helped me deepen my breath and pay much closer to attention to it. As a high-stress individual this has helped me beyond belief! More people could benefit from slowing down and focusing on their own breath when in a stressful situation. It can help so much.

  9. Jessica Sleiman says:

    I love how you talk about our “internal weather system” that we sometimes do not believe we have control over. The more we allow our bodies to remain under stress, the more we are letting it dominate our emotions and actions. We don’t want our bodies to get into fight and flight mode, especially since we have the tools in our hands to instead use stress as a positive thing. Stress is there to get us moving, but to do so calmly. Using the proper breathing methods, we give ourselves the time to meditate and appreciate our bodies and everything that life has to offer, helping us take things one step at a time. It’s a great reminder to never take any breath for granted!

  10. Johanna says:

    Is breathing into the belly more stress relieving that breathing into the chest? I understand that long, slow breath is calming, but how does the location of the breath play into the calming effect?

  11. Laurie Streff Kostman says:

    Amen! So much of what is troubling us inside can be address by breath, by literally taking the time to bring the breath inside of us. When the outside distractions and stressors turn our sympathetic nervous system buttons on, it’s within our control to switch those buttons off with deep belly breathing, igniting our parasymapthetic nervous system buttons instead. Thank you for this simple but important message that with abdominal breathing, a sense of calm and restoration can be ours. Self care is just a breath away.

  12. joan katz says:

    Thank you for a great article. It is amazing how deep breathing/abdominal breathing can reduce stress anywhere and at any time. These techniques can also easily be taught to older children and teens!

  13. Diane Walters says:

    Thank you for this concise yet extremely important article! It always amazes me how such a simple technique, deep abdominal breathing, has the power to slow down the stress response and relax the body. I have been using the technique for several years and it has never failed me. Someone explained to me that the body is not capable of being both relaxed and stresses at the same time…..since the abdominal breathing relaxes the body…it quickly relieves the stress. I am a teacher and I share this with some of my students who are experiencing stress and/or anger issues. It is a wonderful tool for self control.

  14. Steeve says:

    It’s amazing how paying attention to the simplest of things, like breathing, is such a fleeting art. Our minds wonder left and right from the demands of our daily schedules, by technology which was supposed to make our lives easier, which has now made life more expansive, invasive and (when I forget to turn off my cell during the night) quite frustrating.

    Like you say Amanda, breathing is THE most important thing we do. Yet, we sometimes forget we’re even doing it.

    I was at the bank this afternoon, and while waiting in line, down-regulating my breathing. My bank account wasn’t smiling when I left, however, I sure was.

    We have the ability to choose how we breath.

    Well put Amanda.

  15. I love the idea of linking the breath to the weather. So many of us live in a foggy, gray state of being but unlike the actual weather, we have the power to change that.

    I find that belly breath is one of the simplest and easiest parts of a yoga practice that students can take off the mat with them. We all deal with stress on a daily basis, but we can stay a little sunnier with abdominal breathing.

  16. Yasmen Mehta says:

    Sitting at a desk all day, is probably the biggest breath defeater. As I find my self slouching sometimes, everything collapses and I find I am breathing in a very shallow way. Don’t brain cells slowly die, because they don’t get enough oxygen. At least that’s what my docter told my husband for his sleep apnea.

  17. Jiin Liang says:

    Yes, I totally agree with you. Abdominal breath also help you find connection with your mind and observe what is occupying and what is drifting through your mind scape. The breath pattern also helps us to become more aware of our emotions. Confidence, calm, sadness and anger express very differently as to the location and frequency of our breath. It is most satisfying for me to sit and meditate quietly with my belly breath! Belly breath is my pal!

  18. Amanda Tripp says:

    Hi Yiselle.
    How interesting! And timely! Just last night, I had a couple of ESL students turn up in my Restorative Class. After class, they asked me to explain some of the anatomical terms to them so they could understand the breath work we were doing. After 15 minutes and much pointing, diagram drawing and Sanskrit to English to Japanese translation, we came to a clear understanding about what a kumbhaka is, what a sternum and clavicle are and how to perform Viloma. Finding ways to explain the concepts that are accessible and interesting is an ongoing challenge!!

  19. Yiselle Blum says:

    Hi Amanda! I love how concise this article is. As I find myself trying to explain the things that I have been learning to family and friends, I see many of their eyes glaze over as soon as I use an unfamiliar word or phrase. The syntax and accessibility of your language in the article is so descriptive yet simultaneously informative – something I have a lot to learn about :-) I also loved the weather analogy – what a wonderful way of objectively and non-accusatively assessing ones inner state. Thank you for this – I will definitely be rereading it again and again :-)

  20. Elissar Hanna says:

    @Lynne & Amanda.

    Thanks for posting. I am so happy to hear that Lynne, you brought deep abdominal breathing into an anger management class! Breath is the first step, it’s the bridge between our experience now and our experience in the next moment. And we can choose to till our garden so the next moment is more capable of receiving happy feelings! The more I read about the diaphragm, the more amazed I am. I used belly breathing when I was nervous this afternoon, preparing for an important conversation. I know that it helped me enter into a parasympathetic state so that I could begin to address what was going on in my tissue and collaborate with the “wound up-ness” in order to unravel my nerves :) ….And thank God, the conversation was great. Thanks belly breathing for a practical way into my soul’s wisdom! And thank you Amanda :)

  21. Amanda Tripp says:

    @ Stephanie.
    Hi Stephanie. No, I don’t breathe abdominally all the time. My natural breath seems to sit around my low ribs.
    I have another article on the YTU blog about the Intercostals (the little muscles between your ribs that create rib cage movement when breathing) that you might enjoy reading. At the end of the article, there is a list of techniques that you can use to make them stronger and more supple. Happy reading!

  22. Thank you for your post and reminder for how to relax in the moment by abdominal breathing. I have a lot of clients who come in having learned abdominal breathing – and that is pretty much all they do. Their ribs don’t move at all and their thoracic spine is thus very rigid and their abdomen is displaced too far forward. I wonder if you abdominal breathe in general, or just as a means of down-regulating? Thank you.

  23. Alison Lloyd-Nijjar says:

    Actively practicing abdominal breathing the past 5 days when i can remember during my daily activities, but especially entering savasana and settling for sleep at night, has been incredibly soothing. It usually takes me a while to settle down for savasana and sleep but abdominal breathing has taken me directly into deep rest.

  24. Diane M says:

    Amanda, while I was familiar with these breathwork/ relaxation concepts -I love the way you paint the picture! As I read this, it reminds me of a general Stress Reduction/Relaxation class I used to teach for a PE Department at a college. I used to collect some pre-semester info re: medical conditions, medications, experience with stress and how it manifested for my students. It always amazed me to learn how many of my 17-24 year old students were taking prozac, zoloft, etc. Additionaly, some of the things they wrote about their stress and (lack of ) coping methods made me contemplate “what are these young adults going to do when they REALLY have adult troubles and need some coping skills”? Hopefully they learned some during the semester in my class. Now – as I read your excellent description of coping with stress in this healthy and most basic way –I wonder why we don’t teach this in elementary schools as a way for our young ones to learn the most basic “coping skills” in this stress and stimuli filled world? Thanks again for the reminder!

  25. Michael Siddall says:

    Great article and a reminder that breath leads the way!
    Thanks

  26. Celeste L. says:

    This is a wonderful reminder that breath is the key to the control valves of the body and mind. I love the concept that breath can alter or shift your internal weather forcast~what vivid imagery!

    I have an ever-evolving experience with my own breath patterns both on and off the mat, and am so incredibly humbled by how powerful and rich, small amount of dedicated attention breathing, can make such a difference in one’s day!

    Thank you:)

  27. Judy Swens says:

    The breath is so beneficial for many reasons! I loved doing this along with Thoracic breathing in Tubular Core taught by Jill in the Yoga Tune Up level one class. I found from breathing more fully I was able to relax and I was simply more aware!

  28. Lori Wieder says:

    It’s empowering for people to learn that they truly can change their relationship with their nervous system through the practice of abdominal breathing. I’ve found that just knowing they have some tools they can use — that they are not at the mercy of these feelings of stress — gives them a greater sense of well being.

  29. Allison Shapiro says:

    The breath is the wind of the spirit. When the spirit is low the breath seems barely there, when the spirit is agitated the breath is out of control, when the spirit is connected, the breath is long, smooth and deep. Can’t live without it!

  30. Cynthia Bunt-Gardner says:

    Today we practiced 5 restorative hip exercises and Jill changed the breath for each exercise. Following the breath and changing it with each exercise had an incredibly relaxing effect on me. I will use this technique in the future to attain this relaxed state for my clients.

  31. Amanda Tripp says:

    @ Marilyn.
    Great question, Marilyn. Before YTU, I mainly practiced and taught a style of yoga that treated pranayama and asana as distinct practices. One of the ways YTU training changed my approach to pranayama was that I felt freed to practice asana and pranayama at the same time! I also felt freed to play and invent new ways to coordinate breath with movement – which has literally allowed me to breathe new life into my asana practice. Enjoy the training!

  32. Lynne S says:

    I teach anger management classes and always teach abdominal breathing in the first class. Generally, the students think I’m a little crazy when I assign home work of taking 5-7 abdominal breaths an hour. When they come back the next week they report being happily surprised that, Surprise! Surprise! It worked and they were much calmer.

  33. Renee holden says:

    Amanda, thanks for the article, I regularly “listen to my clients” breathe and talk before we begin our session, to check their state of mind, and body.
    When we are stressed, and breathing quickly, we also produce a stress hormone called cortisol. In a state of flight or flight , and you are stressed, your body finds it very hard to work correctly and holds on to calories. In saying that…. Breathe deeply to help your body burn calories and loose weight!

  34. Marilyn gibson says:

    How has your breathing practice been enhanced or changed since taking and teaching Yoga Tune Up? I am currently in training and am finding myself challenged to consistsently find my breath

  35. Kate Krumsiek says:

    I love that this article centers on a person’s ability to change their internal weather with focus on the breath – what a gift to give students to feel empowered in the face of difficult times and strong emotions. It is a magical tool to counteract the stressors within our busy lives. In my current training, I’ve learned the expression “bare attention” on the breath and I think it has enormous use for practitioners – by recognizing where the breath is without changing it, we gather information about our internal state and can then use the tools described here to stimulate a sense of calm by generating abdominal breaths that can soothe us during stressful times. Magic indeed.

  36. Michelle Dalbec says:

    Amanda – Thanks for the succinct yet extremely important article on the breath. I practice a yoga that is very breath centered and I cannot imagine how people practice without an emphasis on the breath. After well over 16 year of practice and over a decade of teaching I think of the breath as immediately accessible “aid” that is with me 24/7. I feel like in every situation that I encounter in life the breath can somehow enhance my experience bringing clarity, connection, or calm. The breath has such an immediate and profound affect on the quality of all aspects of life.

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After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.

 

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