Nico Sarani practicing yoga breathing

I’m a Peloton Yoga and Meditation Instructor and These Are My Favorite Yoga Breathing Methods

Strengthen your practice and squash stress by learning how to control and master your breath.

By Nico SaraniAugust 2, 2023


Peloton yoga and meditation instructor Nico Sarani explains how to match your breathing and movement in yoga class and ways to bring yoga breathing off the mat and into your life.

Every yoga practitioner has had this experience: It’s the middle of a class when they realize they are doing the pose with the instructor, but their breathing is completely off. Perhaps you inhale when you’re supposed to exhale, or vice versa. It’s possible to still do the poses, but not syncing up your breath can really knock your concentration off for the remainder of class.

Yoga really is a two-part practice. There are the poses, which take time and patience as you learn how to do and hold them. And then there is also the breathing component of yoga—learning when to inhale and exhale in poses and throughout the practice. This might seem like something that should come naturally. We all breathe air, right? Yet breathing in yoga is different, and learning how to do it properly will deliver more oxygen to the body and help you control your mind.

Here's a look at why yoga breathing is so important, and some methods that will help you during your practice and in daily life.

The Connection Between Yoga and Breathing  

In yoga, we use breath as an object of meditation. As we flow through the poses, we stay in the moment by consciously focusing on our breath. This process makes us present, which some would say is the most important goal of yoga, and can help us let go of stress.

Plus, consciously connecting breath and movement physically supports us in the postures. Learning how to breathe correctly will improve your stamina when it comes to difficult poses you may otherwise want to come out of.

The Basics of Breathing During Yoga

Ready for a crash course in yoga breathing? Try these easy steps to get started:

Make the Breath Smooth

If you're not aiming for any specific energetic outcome (such as intentionally calming the nervous system or becoming more alert), try to make inhales and exhales equally long.

Link Movement with Your Breath

The mechanics of the breath support us in certain postures and movements. For example, we inhale when we go into a backbend. The backbend itself creates more space in the upper body and chest. As we inhale, we expand the ribcage which helps deepen the backbend. Similarly, we want to exhale when we twist, for example. Since we naturally draw the navel slightly in when we exhale, we use this knowledge to our advantage and combine twists with the exhalation. This specific dynamic helps us to go deeper into a twist and supports the spine as we do so.

Breathe Before You Start Your Pose

One of my teachers loves teaching his students to begin the inhale before they start the movement and finish the movement before they end the inhale. Same with the exhale and the movement. It's a wonderful way to capture your mind's attention and can help you learn how to link movement and breath together.

3 Yoga Breathing Techniques to Try

There are many ways to breathe during yoga, no matter how experienced you are. Here are some techniques to help you get started:


Also referred to as ocean breath, this is a great technique to use if you’re aiming for a heating effect in your body  For this type of breath, you’ll inhale and exhale through the nose. With a closed mouth, inhale, filling, the diaphragm up. Then constrict your throat, as if you were breathing against a mirror (which makes that ocean, rushing water sound), and exhale - slowly releasing the air from your diaphragm. Keep your throat constricted as you inhale and exhale, and keep the timing of your inhales and exhales equal.

If you notice your breathing is shallow (this can be a sign of stress) and the breath is happening more in your chest, try guiding your breath into the abdomen. Place your hands onto your belly and feel the navel rising and falling. Establish the connection between your mind and body that way, using your breath as the bridge. Then try to make the breath nice and smooth. As you get used to the breath, you can pair it with simple movements, like raising your arms up and down with your inhales and exhales.

Kumbhaka Pranayama

If you want to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety while quieting the mind and improving concentration, incorporating breath holds through kumbhaka breathing can help. You can even incorporate it with ujjayi breathing. To practice this type of breath retention, you’ll hold your breath after the inhale for a few seconds, and hold the breath after the exhale twice as long, slowing the breath down. This breathing technique is great for seated poses and twists you want to hold, such as downward facing dog, cat-cow, and half prayer twist.

Kapalabhati Pranayama

This is an energizing breath and one that’s perfect before a flow class. It is usually practiced in Sukhasana (cross-legged) at the beginning of class. It will activate your core center and stimulate the navel chakra, which is believed to empower us to stand our ground and trust in ourselves. This breath uses rapid exhalation to create heat within the body. Take a long inhale and when you exhale, quickly pull the navel in toward the spine. Release the navel back into a neutral position, and repeat for 10 to 20 breaths. 

The Benefits of Yoga Breathing

No matter which mix of yoga breathing you do, they all have physical and mental benefits, including:

  • Less overall stress and anxiety

  • Improved mindfulness

  • Increased lung capacity and blood circulation

  • More focus and concentration

Bringing Yoga Breathing Off the Mat

You don’t have to be in a yoga class to practice yoga breathing. What personally helps me most in everyday life is just focusing on and lengthening my exhale. We live in stressful environments, so finding ways to calm the nervous system and lower your heart rate is crucial. You can do that so easily by just taking a few conscious belly breaths and lengthening the exhale. (Similar to ujjayi breathing, which naturally lengthens and deepens your breath, just perhaps a little quieter, so you don’t startle anyone around you!) Wherever you are, that's always something you can do. I often teach this at the beginning and at the end of class when I want my students to settle and ground.

If I want to be more alert, such as in the morning or when I get tired in the afternoon but still need to be productive, I focus on my inhales and practice making them a little longer and deeper This can have the effect of an espresso shot when stretched out over a few minutes!

The Takeaway

One of my own yoga teachers always says, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” In this way, yoga truly is for everyone because a yoga practice has so much more to offer than just the poses. Start slow and if you can only remember one thing, try to stay focused on your breath. This is challenging at first because the mind likes to wander. Make it a point to bring it back to your breathing to stay calm and collected whenever you need to during the day. With practice, connecting to, and working with, your breath on and off the mat will come more easily to you over time.


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