How To Breathe Better

By Liza Pitsirilos, MS, E-RYT, Yoga Instructor at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami and Certified Wellness Inventory Coach

Learning how to breathe better is important for all our body’s major systems. Yoga and breathing exercises can make a tremendous difference in lowering stress levels, developing patience, and improving heart health. Here are 4 common questions about yoga and breathing, plus answers.

Liza Pitsirilos Teaches Breathe and Yoga at the Pritikin Health Resort

Liza Pitsirilos, MS, E-RYT, Yoga Instructor at Pritikin: "In our ever-busy, always accelerated modern way of living, many of us have lost the ability to breathe well."

How To Breathe Better | Question #1
“In many yoga classes, instructors tell us to breathe in and exhale. Why?”

The emphasis on taking deep breaths in yoga and quite frankly through all of life is vital. Our bodies are designed to carry breath to every cell. Without oxygen, the cells die. Breathing properly is what cleanses and feeds our cell tissue.

Yoga Breath Classes and Pritikin

Liza Pitsirilos’ yoga classes are tremendously popular at the Pritikin Longevity Center. She holds her Masters in Education and certification as a Wellness Inventory Coach and Registered Yoga Alliance (RYA) Teacher.

So when yoga instructors tell you to breathe in and exhale, they are helping you learn to use the pathways of breath to nourish cells, and, in doing so, access more life and vitality.

Do not get hung up on the mental racket of “I can’t really do this breath thing.” Be patient with yourself. Learning to breathe into different parts of the body to sense, feel, and heal is an advanced skill that we only develop when we are committed to practicing it.

It’s true that in generations past, breathing and awakening the senses was a normal thing to do. But in our ever-busy, always accelerated modern way of living, many of us have lost that connection.

Learning to connect or re-connect to this vital skill of deep, conscious breathing is something that the practices of yoga and meditation offer us.

Yoga and Breathing | Question #2
“When holding a pose in yoga, how should I time my breath?”

Let’s begin by having you answer this question:

Which is more valuable in a yoga pose: 1) Counting the number of breaths while you’re in that pose, or 2) Learning to breathe into specific areas in order to develop mindfulness, awareness, and aliveness into previously dull or dying areas?

When we think about it this way, it’s pretty obvious which is more beneficial.

Yet many of us are living our lives counting the seconds or minutes for an experience to end. Far more beneficial (and enjoyable) is shifting our attention to a new way of looking at and experiencing our reality.

New to Yoga?

Liza Pitirilos, MS, E-RYT: "The majority of our guests at Pritikin are new to yoga... I get the greatest satisfaction from helping them grow." Yoga For Beginners Classes at Pritikin

That said, learning to put the breath into an injury or an emotional issue (for example, learning to direct healing and relaxing breath to the stomach for people with bulimia) is a more advanced skill that is crucial for healing.

With emotional and attitudinal work, we can begin to locate where the issues reside in the body, because they’re always there. Then the work begins by breathing into those areas. With the inhale, we bring new energy in. With the exhale, we dissipate and dissolve old, unhealthy patterns.

In short, our neuromuscular patterns change. Just like a computer, when input changes, output changes.

Using our breath to feel and heal is a foundational pillar of Forrest Yoga, the style that I am certified and trained in. After taking yoga classes all around the world, it is still the only style I’ve ever come across that teaches such deep, transformational healing through the breath.

How To Breathe Better | Question #3
“What is Ujjayi breath?
And how do you do it?”

Ujjayi breath is also known as victorious breath because of its capacity to calm the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the mind.

Get the How to Breathe Better DVD

You can purchase Liza’s Yoga DVD “Your Greatest Gift: Awakening the Magic Within” online, in the Pritikin Market.

Ujjayi breathing also heats us up internally, which is important for heightened awareness and deep stretching.

The effects are incredible and feel, after several breaths, like instantaneous relaxation.

In Forrest Yoga, we open up our yoga ceremonies with a Ujjayi breath and then a specific pranayama (breath work) that connects to the theme of the class. Then, for the remainder of the class, we continue to breath in Ujjayi breath.

Breathing Ujjayi-style during a yoga class (or even outside of it) makes breathing a conscious activity and keeps students in touch with their bodies, emotions, and overall well-being. Throughout the day, Ujjayi breathing can be called upon to help calm anxieties and other stressors, soothing both body and mind.

This is why Ujjayi breath is used in virtually every yoga class from New York City to Tokyo. By breathing in a conscious way, students are more alert to changes and breakthroughs during their yoga practice, and in life in general.

Here is a short video tutorial on how to do Ujjayi breath:

In summary, Ujjayi breath has three stages:

Stage 1:

  • Whisper the word “hello” to feel the back of the throat muscles close slightly. Ujjayi uses these muscles to create a whisper sound while breathing.
  • Open the mouth and inhale, drawing the breath through the mouth while contracting the throat muscles for a whisper sound.
  • Exhale through the mouth while contracting the throat for a whisper sound.
  • Repeat three times.

Stage 2:

  • Begin by inhaling with the mouth open and contracting the back of the throat muscles.
  • In the middle of the inhale, close the mouth and continue to breath in through the nose while contracting the throat muscles for a whisper sound.
  • Exhale through the mouth with the back of the throat muscles contracting. In the middle of the exhale, close the mouth, breathing through the nose, while still creating the whisper sound.
  • Repeat three times.

Stage 3:

(Good news! Stage 3 is easier than Stage 2.)

  • Keep the mouth closed.
  • Inhale through the nose while contracting the back of the throat muscles for the whisper sound.
  • Exhale through the nose while contracting the back of the throat muscles for the whisper sound.
  • Repeat several times.

When practicing Ujjayi breath, be patient. Do not force yourself. It takes time to master.

If you are able to create a little sound on the exhale, that’s a win for the day! Sound on the inhale will likely come in a few sessions.

What’s most important is that you continue to listen for and feel the breath through the duration of your yoga class.

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Yoga and Breathing | Question #4
“For Vinyasa or Power Yoga classes, how should I breathe?”

One of the difficulties many students face in faster flowing classes like Vinyasa or Power Yoga is that the fast, nonstop movements seem to get in the way of deep, conscious breathing. So unfortunately, many students fall back into their typically short and shallow breathing.

But always remember what’s most important: Your breath is the bridge between your body and mind. Therefore, it is vital to slow your breath down and pace your movements according to your breath, not the other way around.

A good way of doing this is to pace a long Stage 3 Ujjayi breath for every movement you take. If this means you are at a different pace from the class, that’s okay! Learning how to breathe better, and learning to differentiate and meet your needs, are highly advanced yoga – and life skills – well worth learning.


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