The way you breathe can either help or hinder your asana practice. When you breathe smoothly and evenly, you’ll notice that your breath helps you relax into a pose, gives you more stamina, and eases tension. In fact, it’s because of the relaxing effect of the breath that we’re often told to “take a few deep breaths” when we get angry or upset. It’s also true that full, deep breathing clears the head and improves concentration. Actually, breathing right helps improve the functions of all the systems in the body.
On the other hand, taking short, shallow breaths can be detrimental to our health, decreasing our vitality. When you practice asanas, if your breathing is uneven, too shallow, or if you’re holding your breath when you don’t need to, your body will be tense and probably uncomfortable, you’ll be more likely to strain, and you won’t get the full benefits of the poses.
Asanas are meant to remove blockages and increase the flow of the subtle energy, or prana, in the body—which improves our overall health. Because your breath can really enhance the flow of this energy, become aware of your breathing as you practice asanas. If your breath tends to be shallow, uneven, and fast, try to slow it down a bit and make it a little smoother and deeper. With practice, it will improve quite quickly because you’ll notice how much better it feels!
But don’t get so caught up in your asana or breathing practices that you forget to do your yoga meditation. After all, the purpose of asanas and pranayama is to prepare you for meditation. And it is in meditation that you’ll reap the greatest rewards of yoga—inner peace and true happiness.