Until you start doing yoga, you may never pay much attention to your breath. But with the coaching of yoga teachers—or perhaps just because of your new awareness of your body—you start to see all the ways your breath can vary. Is it quiet or noisy, heavy or soft? Where does it originate and how does it move through you? Is it relaxing, energizing, or making you tense? Helping or hindering your asana practice?
Yoga teaches that the breath exerts a powerful influence on the body and mind—and vice versa. When you're tense or guarded, for example, you may first hold the breath and then take fast, shallow breaths. Relaxed breathing is slower and softer and has a steady, even pattern. This deep, slow, relaxed breathing, used in Savasana (Corpse Pose) and other restorative poses, is most commonly associated with yoga. But to supply oxygen to the hardworking muscles in an active series of poses like Sun Salutations, we need a breathing pattern that is faster but nonetheless deep. And most subtle of all is the finely controlled deep breathing of pranayama. For best results, all three patterns require openness of the breathing space (the rib cage and abdomen) and fine coordination of several muscle groups.