Misconceptions about breathing (yoga therapy perspective)

Normal breathing, in the physiological sense, means that our everyday respiratory activity is consistent with our metabolic requirements. Since our metabolism changes with activity, so must our breathing patterns. Any inability of our breathing to accommodate changing conditions is, by definition, disordered breathing. -Leslie Kaminoff

I’ve had a lot of people tell me how to breathe. Yoga teachers, pilates teachers, bodywork instructors, voice teachers, my mother. All these different opinions, even when very well informed, can get confusing. When I’m confused about body advice, I always do two things: take a look at the relevant anatomy, and play around with tuning in to that anatomy in different ways, just to get a sense of the range and find out how to support my own body.

To help out with the former, Leslie Kaminoff, a big name in yoga anatomy, therapy, and breath work, has a wonderful article called What Yoga Therapists Should Know About the Anatomy of Breathing. It’s long (grab a snack to sustain you or read it in chunks or something), but totally worth your time because:

  1. Knowing what’s going on inside your body when you breathe helps you towards a highly functional, dynamically responsive, and capable breath mechanism. It also helps you curate the commands you get from others.
  2. The article is one of the clearest explanations I’ve read in a while about those physical mechanisms of breathing and the difference between how the thoracic cavity and abdominal cavity respond as part of that.
  3. No one kind or style of breath is called for all the time. That’s really important. Kaminoff reminds us of that and tells us why.
  4. You can never have too many reminders of how badass the diaphragm is.

Yoga teachers, how have you been cuing and explaining breath? Is this article useful for you?