Breathe easy with these yoga poses

Many of us do not breathe right and the reasons range from genetics, bad posture, diet lacking in key nutrients like vitamin C and zinc, and hypersensitivity to external triggers ranging from allergens to stressors.

In yoga, the slower you breathe, the longer you will live. The more efficient your respiratory rate, the more energy you will have.

Shameem Akthar, a certified yoga acharya with the internationally acclaimed Sivananda Yoga Centre, Kerala (headquartered in Canada) guides you through six poses designed to expand your lung capacity.

Some tips
  • These poses can be modified to suit individual capacity. For chest expanders like the fish pose, use a cushion under the back to ease difficulty in breathing. You can use props like cushions or folded mats whenever you experience difficulty doing the poses.
  • At the hint of the slightest breathlessness, stop and relax before proceeding.
  • Deeper poses like Ushtrasana (camel) must be done gradually, easing into it slowly and steadily until the body gets accustomed to it.
  • Always breathe through the nose unless indicated otherwise.
  • Those with severe breathing problems must avoid synthetic fabrics, at least while doing the poses.
  • Complement these practices with conscious breathing and a sustained pranayama practice.
Some recommended books are Yogic Management of Asthma and Diabetes by Dr Swami Shankardevananda (who himself learnt to control asthma with yoga) and Yoga therapy in Asthma, Diabetes and Heart Diseases by Sadhakas for the Yoga Institute, Santa Cruz, for those who wish to power themselves further through lifestyle changes dietary habits, relaxation techniques.

Shashankasana (Hare pose)

Sit on your knees in the namaaz position, big toes lightly touching each other, while heels are flared out. In case of difficulty, you can try this sitting cross-legged. Beginners must keep a cushion or stool where their forehead is likely to touch the floor.

Inhale. Raise hands overhead.

Exhale. Slowly lower head and torso towards floor. Rest forehead on floor. Those with breathing problems should rest forehead on a high cushion. Continue breathing normally. Maintain the pose for a few seconds. Over the next weeks increase the duration in the final pose to a minute or so.

Benefits: This strengthens the shoulder and neck muscles which in turn support muscles that power our breath. This pose is among the most powerful stress-busters in yoga. This helps remove or control the psychosomatic triggers behind our breathing woes.

Caution: Avoid if you're suffering from lower backache. Those suffering from high BP and heart ailments must learn this with guidance in a phased fashion and with props.

Pranamasana (Prayer pose)

Sit on your knees in the namaaz position. Inhale. Exhaling, lean forward placing palms on the ground and go on all fours.

Inhale. Exhaling, place head on floor and continue breathing normally. Ideally the crown should touch the floor. This may be difficult for beginners. Those with stiff bodies may use a cushion initially.

You may place your palms on either side of the head or reach back to hold your ankles. The second version is more advanced, and may be attempted after mastering the first stage. Initially hold for a few seconds. Release and raise head to return to the starting position.

Benefits: According to the Bihar School of Yoga, this pose may be practiced immediately after an asthma attack for relief. It is used in anger and stress management.

Caution: Avoid in high case of high BP and neck problems.

Ushtrasana (Camel pose)

This is an intermediate level pose, suited for those already doing some exercise. Sit on your knees as in the previous two poses, feet slightly apart.

Inhale. Exhaling, raise hips so that you are now on your knees.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhaling, reach back with your right hand to grasp right heel. Exhale. Inhaling, now reach back with left hand to grasp left heel.

Exhale. Inhaling, drop head back. Hold the pose for a few seconds. Continue breathing.

Advanced practitioners may deepen the spinal arch by pushing the chest out in front further. Release and gently return to starting position.

Benefits: Tones the spine, powers the neck and shoulder muscles that support our breathing. Expands the chest. Fights depression.

Caution: Avoid if having hyperthyroidism and lower backache.

Matsyasana (Fish pose)

Lie on your back, keeping hands at the sides or under your hips, with palms on the floor and thumbs slightly touching.

Inhale and exhale deeply a few times. Inhaling, lift your head off the floor (remember to take the entire weight of body on your elbows).

Exhale deeply. Now inhaling, slowly drop your head backwards, resting crown on the floor. Beginners may not be able to arch this far, so attempt only up to capacity. A cushion under the upper back can make it easier.

Deepen the arch by pushing up the chest, all the while breathing normally. Hold for a few seconds, with sustained breathing. Exhaling, raise the head, looking at your toes before slowly lowering your spine back to the floor.

Benefits: Expands chest, tones spine and boosts metabolism, which helps with absorption of key nutrients needed to keep us healthy.

Caution: Avoid if having neck problems, ulcers and heart ailments.

Lolasanasa (Swing pose)

Stand with feet about a metre apart (toes flaring outwards). Inhale, raise hands overhead (they must be touching lightly).

Exhaling, swing down so the head is facing the floor, the torso bends, and hands swing in between the legs. The entire movement must be slow and relaxed. Do up to five to ten rounds initially.

Benefits: It is a mood-booster. Powers breathing by decongesting the lungs.

Caution: Avoid in all forms of backache.

Dwikonasana (Double angle pose)

Stand with feet a metre apart. Inhale, reaching hands behind to interlock fingers.

Exhaling, lower head as low as possible. Hands must remain extended up. Continue breathing, holding the pose for a few seconds initially. Slowly extend duration to half a minute or more.

Benefits: Expands the chest, powers the shoulders and neck. Like most downward facing poses, it cools the mind, helping to relieve stress.




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