In fitness, breath is more physiological. In yoga, breath is about energy. Learn when and how to use your breath during exercise, and about how pregnancy can change your use of breath.
Life and breath are inextricably linked. Breath is life. When you are breathing between 17,000 and 30,000 times per day, it can begin to seem so second-nature that we hardly spare a thought for it.
Until we’re doing a strenuous workout, feel anxiety, stress, or feel our ribs pushing up against our diaphragm to make way for baby - then suddenly the power of breath comes into sharp focus. Sometimes just watching your children breathe can help bring home the power and simplicity of breath: watching the gentle rise and fall of their chests when they sleep, the deep sigh as they relax against you, or the panting, excited breath of a baby looking in a mirror or a toddler making mischief.
As a yoga teacher, I know the potency of focusing on the breath. I learned how to teach yoga in 2009, and then I learned to teach group fitness classes...and had to re-learn how to teach the breath. Because the breath in yoga is different than the breath in fitness classes. Fitness, which is more physiological in its approach to breathing, emphasizes exhaling while the body is in exertion. You use the breath to assist the movement.
For example, you would inhale down into a squat and exhale up. Yoga has an entirely different approach to the breath, as yoga is not technically meant to be a workout.
How we use our breath during yoga
In yoga, the breath is about energy. The energy of the inhale is the energy of life, creation, evolution, transformation. We are born and we take our first inhale. It naturally has upward and expansive energy to it. The energy of the exhale is the energy of surrender: letting go, being with what is. We die and we let out our last exhale. It naturally has a downward and grounding energy to it.
In yoga you are not breathing to do the poses better, it’s the opposite. You are actually doing the poses to learn how to breathe better. Yoga is a practice for life. It's not just about the poses; it encompasses thousands of years of philosophy, meditation, food/nourishment, breath, and sleep hygiene.
In life, you breathe 24 hours a day.
Your breath is connected to your thoughts (you can manipulate breath with the mind).
Your breath is connected to your emotions (you know the crying breath where you're almost hyperventilating).
Your breath is connected to your physical body (we need to breathe to keep the body alive).
And your breath is connected to the subconscious (you can either be conscious of the breath, or your subconscious will handle it for you).
So in yoga, the breath is really about this whole self. When we are connected to breath, we are connected to all the layers of self.
Each inhale is a fresh start, a new life, a new moment full of creative possibility. Each exhale is an opportunity to let go, to feel into what is. Because of the power of the breath in yoga, we move with the breath. We rise in our creative potential on the inhale. We surrender to the earth on the exhale. For example, in yoga, you often come up into chair pose (which looks like a squat) on an inhale, and fold forward out of the pose on the exhale.
How breathing preferences can change with pregnancy
When I was pregnant, I found I was actually wanting to reverse the breath and do it as exhale on the exertion. You can always breathe the way that makes sense to you - we always encourage you to tap into your body, assess what it needs, and adjust your breathing or poses as required. I do know that when you are trying new movements and yoga styles offered by different teachers there can be quite a bit of variation and it isn't always easy to know how and when to breathe. This makes it even more important to tune into your body and do what feels good to you at that moment (and this can change pretty rapidly as well during pregnancy!).
Check out Yoga Sculpt, a pre and postnatal friendly program that includes weights and therefore offers a combination of these two breaths. Studio Bloom also has a new beginner's class coming soon that talks you through feeling this breath specifically - so watch this space!