Yoga Challenge – Pranayama (Breathing): Diaphragmatic Breathing

Daily Yogi - brown tree trunk and green leaves showing upper and lower Limbs of Yoga - Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Ishvara Pranidhana
Limbs of Yoga – Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Ishvara Pranidhana

Happy Day 12 of our 30 Day Yoga Challenge – Pranayama – Diaphragmatic Breathing

Congratulations Challengers, we have made it to the end of the LOWER 8 Limbs of Yoga – Pranayama!

4th Limb of Yoga – Pranayama (Breathing) – Diaphragmatic Breathing

Before we get into detailed breakdown of the Asana Series poses from yesterday, we will take two days to cover the remaining 8 Limbs of Yoga – Pranayama or breath, and the Upper Limbs.

Pranayama (PRA-na-YA-muh) literally translates from Sanskrit to English as Energy (Prana) Expansion (Ayam). The most common translations of Pranayama are breath or breathing. The literal translation, along with the fact that breathing is its own Limb of Yoga like Asanas / poses or Yamas / ethics, should indicate how important breath is for Yogis. Most of us who have attended classes at Yoga Studios learn quickly that Yoga is more than exercise, and Breath is both a focus and frequently its own portion of studio Yoga classes. 

I wanted to cover Pranayama and Diaphragmatic Breath before getting to the detail of each Asana, because breathing is as much a part of Sun Salutations as the poses themselves! If you do not typically focus on breathing during your Yoga practice, please consider setting Breath as your intention at the start of your next session.

Today’s Positive Practice suggestion

Today’s Daily Yogi Practice is Diaphragmatic Breath, a Pranayama Practice. We recommend incorporating this Diaphragmatic breath into your Asana practice, and bring it forward into meditation!

light blue breath graphic on dark blue background

Diaphragmatic Breath

When I first started practicing Yoga, I was shocked to learn I was breathing “wrong.” This shallow chest breathing seems to be the American Way – try for yourself! Put one hand on your chest, and the other on your belly. Breathe in and out, and notice when the hands resting on your belly and chest move to indicate expansion. You SHOULD use your diaphragm and breathe into your belly, so your belly expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale. Most of us breathe shallowly into our chest only, and our belly hand never moves!  

Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, as you did in the breathing test above.

Breathe in and make sure your belly expands, pushing your hand out as your entire torso fills with air

Breathe out, contracting the belly, making sure you empty the lungs completely

Continue breathing in to a full count of 6, and out to a full count of 6, using your diaphragm to fill your lungs with air, and contract the belly to empty lungs completely. Focus on keeping your chest hand fairly still, and using your diaphragm to breathe into your belly.

This is the first part of Three-Part or Yogic Breath!

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Share your Practice

Please comment and let me know what you thought of this Pranayama exercise! Do you incorporate diaphragmatic breathing like this, or other Pranayama into your Asana practice? Do you have another Pranayama practice you particularly enjoy? Always remember, be kind!

5 thoughts on “Yoga Challenge – Pranayama (Breathing): Diaphragmatic Breathing

  1. I’ve just recently started to focus on my breath during my yoga practice and it makes a hug difference for me. As I’m focused on my breathing I’m able to get deeper into my poses. I’ve done a few breathing classes and one of my favorites is 5sec inhale 5sec hold full breath 5sec exhale 5sec empty hold.

    1. Cool! It took me literally years to realize how important breath was for physical yoga practice… holding a comfortable spot and deep breathing does a lot more opening than pushing yourself. It seems counterintuitive but it’s totally true.

      The breath retention you are talking about is a technique called Kumbhaka Pranayama. We will definitely talk about that one a bit later too 🙂

  2. I’m a terrible breather, both in everyday life and while working out. I’m always shocked at how much calmer I feel after I do some deep breathing like I did just now! I’m also going to try to incorporate these strategies when I lift (instead of just forgetting to breathe). I’m also shocked at how much easier heavy lifts are and how much more I can lift when I’m not holding my breath 😂

  3. I have had so many issues develop due to shallow breathing. Every time I get a massage I need my neck and diaphragm released and my neuromuscular therapist always tells me the problem is shallow breathing. I bought a five pound sandbag weight to rest on my tummy for the belly breathing exercises and this post is further motivation to start doing them every day (ideally more than once a day!)

  4. I love breathing! Best part of yoga, well that and the stretching. This made me feel super relaxed at the end of my yoga practice today which I totally needed.

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