Practising yoga? Know your Breath first!

By A. G. Mohan and Dr. Ganesh Mohan

It tells a lot about your physical and mental well-being

The first step is to cultivate the skill of comprehensively observing your breath. You can begin doing this right away, whatever position you are in. Take a pause as you read this list and observe each of these parameters. Notice that just observing the breath often changes it. The breath is sensitive. Then make it a point to bring awareness to your breath parameters during your asana practice and at different times during the day. Do not judge your breath as being good or bad. Just cultivate the practice of learning to sense the breath easily.

For this exercise, you need to have a useful list of breath parameters that you can observe. Here it is:

Pattern of breathing:

Are you breathing through the nose or your mouth?

Where you are breathing physically – mainly watch the upper chest, lower ribs, abdomen, lower abdomen and back of the body.

Quality of breathing:

Rate: how fast or how many times a minute.

Depth: how full is the inhalation and how deep is the exhalation?

Rhythm: how does the breath vary over several repetitions, say over some minutes.

Smoothness: is the flow of the breath even and steady or is it jerky?

Sound: is there any sound from the throat or nostrils when breathing?

The components of the breathing cycle:

Inhale, exhale, pauses. Each part has its own effect. Watch the quality, length, smoothness, and effort of each of these components.


Holding patterns and tension in the breath and tension in the body (face, neck, jaw, shoulders, chest, abdomen, legs, fingers).

Restlessness or inability to remain still.

Other signs of psychological distress

Effort and ease:

The more effortful the breath, the less likely it is that your body and mind are well. Even when you are exercising, it is wise to breath as easily as possible.

Watching over your breath comprehensively by going through these parameters is one of the most important skills you can cultivate for your yoga practice and for your well-being. As you continue to master more techniques of breathing, try to always come back to breath awareness and observe these parameters repeatedly. You don’t have to observe all of them at once. Just notice one or two parameters at a time.

The Starting Point:

Natural Breath

The breath is not a blank slate upon which we write patterns. It is an involuntary function. The breath is happening whether we are aware of it or not. So, we are always creating a breathing pattern on top of an existing breathing pattern.

What is that existing breathing pattern? That pattern is your natural or involuntary breath.

When you are resting, your natural breath is usually easy and shallow, with your abdomen moving, mainly. This breath is quite short, maybe around ten breaths a minute. The rhythm of your natural breath changes; it is somewhat unpredictable, with some deeper breaths and chest breaths happening every now and then.

Make it a point to notice your natural breath whenever you can. It changes depending on your posture, stress levels and tension, diet, sleep quality and more. Therefore, it can tell you a lot about the state of your body and mind!

This article appeared in The Hindu newspaper.