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Yoga Starts With Your Breath

After much thought and deliberation, I’ve decided to take the plunge and become certified as a yoga therapist. We’ll meet for two weeks, two times a year for two years so it’s a big commitment. Chih_flower_waterfall

I’m excited about the opportunity to deepen my knowledge, particularly from a therapeutic aspect. There is a great deal of ground breaking medical research being conducted that proves the power of yoga therapy to heal. Science is now proving what our ancient ancestors knew centuries ago.

Therapy Starts With Breath

As part of our pre work for the upcoming session, we were asked to read Yoga for Pain Relief by Kelly McGonigal. She is a yoga teacher and psychology professor at Stanford. A life long sufferer with chronic pain, she wrote the book to give people the tools for self-healing through yoga.

It’s not just for those with chronic physical pain but also for those suffering from chronic emotional pain such as anxiety and depression and those with a lot of stress in their lives.

In her book, Dr. McGonigal says a great place to start is with the breath because we are all breathing, making it easy for everyone to access. Her suggestions are relevant and practical.

Using Your Breath

Maybe you are under a lot of stress or experience physical or emotional pain. Yoga defines our breath as the link between body and mind. In other words, how you are breathing indicates your physical and emotional state.

Think about a time when you felt angry, anxious or sad. Or, think about a time when you felt some physical pain like hitting your elbow. Do you remember what happened to your breath?

Recently I was packing and getting organized for a flight home from vacation. I couldn’t find my keys anywhere. I remembered putting them in a “safe place” because I didn’t need them on vacation. I started feeling really stressed as I tore everything apart looking for them. What would I do if I couldn’t find them?

Then I noticed my breath – or the lack thereof. I’d sucked in my stomach and was holding my breath. I know from experience and observation that’s my habitual reaction when stressed.

What happens to your breath when you’re stressed or not feeling quite right? How does your breath reflect the state of your mind/body? Do you …

  • hold your breath?
  • breathe shallowly?
  • breathe rapidly?
  • some combination?

It’s good to pay attention to your breathing patterns and habits. (See my blog Yoga Breathing: 3 Fundamentals) After the first step of noticing then you can make a conscious effort to break old habits. Your breath can help you break the habitual reaction that reinforces your stress reaction and pain cycle.

A Breath Awareness Practice

You can practice breath awareness anywhere … sitting, standing or lying down. I’ll sometimes do this practice when I’m standing in a long line and getting impatient. (Take airports for example) I did this practice when I lost my keys.

You can practice for a short time (a minute or less) or a longer time. You can practice when you’re feeling stressed or even feeling calm. The whole idea is just to become aware of what it feels like to breath. There really aren’t rules.


  • Breathe naturally with no attempt to control or change your breathing pattern.
  • There is no right way to breathe. It is what it is.
  • Notice each breath as it happens
  • Notice that you are inhaling.
  • Notice that you are exhaling.
  • Notice if air is coming in through your nose or your mouth
  • Notice how your breath feels as it moves through your nose, mouth and throat.
  • Notice if you feel any tension as you breathe in your face, mouth, tongue, throat, or jaw. Let them relax if you do.
  • Notice if you make any sound as you breath and listen to it.
  • Notice if your breath changes as you practice

At the end of your practice, assess your state of mind. Do you feel more calm? The more you do this simple practice, the more natural it will feel and the more rapidly you will break old, debilitating habits and access a state of calm.

Enjoy and Breathe Easy

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Joanne Thompson

Joanne Thompson

Founder/Owner at Yoga for Self

Health is a precious gift and my goal is to help you live a healthier, happier life through yoga. Every private session is uniquely designed just for you. For a free telephone consultation call me at 303.818.4181. Discover whether personalized, private yoga instruction is right for you.
Joanne Thompson

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4 Responses to Yoga Starts With Your Breath


    Hola. Hello Joanne. My name is Margie and I live in Aurora Co
    I am interested on learning and finding a Yoga class that would be a good fit for me. I would prefer finding a group session and perhaps have a consultation on the phone with you. My telephone number is 720 936 4446. Thank you. Margie


      Hi Margie – thanks for your message. I am in the process of moving from Denver so we wouldn’t be able to work together. However, there are several studios in Denver that would be worth checking out. Try Dancing the Soul or Harmony. Also, Kosha Yoga in Littleton might be a fit. Best of luck in your search … Joanne


    Will you be doing the Viniyoga therapy training with Gary Kraftsow or elsewhere?
    I took the foundation course with Gary one year ago prior to my 200 RYT training and have now completed that in San Diego for Gentle Yoga. Deciding what is next….


      Hi Kathy – I decided to take the training from Robin Rothenberg of Essential Yoga Therapy who is Viniyoga trained and certified with AVI and Gary. Was interested in getting some other perspectives within the Viniyoga training umbrella. Good luck to you – Gary’s training is excellent too and both are accredited programs which is very important

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