Correct Posture for Deep Breathing



I have a question about proper breathing and breathing posture. From the instructions and advice I have read, I understand that pulling the shoulders back and stomach in allows for proper breathing posture, I am wondering if you have any more tips or advice on how to breathe properly or optimaly. and if there is any way to check or test that I am breathing properly troughout the day.

—Victor, Sweden


Dear Victor,

Thank you for your note. Isn’t it odd that something like breathing which we do generally without thought or awareness should have to be re-learned! Indeed: breath is life and we have much to learn in living, so why not in breathing, too?

1. Shoulders: the reason for pulling the shoulders back has more to do with our spine, chest and lungs than our shoulders. Think of this: pull the shoulder blades back just for a moment or two in order to lift the chest and bring the spine into its natural curvature. But don’t hold the back in this position; instead, let it relax into its correct but natural posture. Do two or three times. When we are needing to correct our posture this will have to be done many times a day and from time to time during our meditation because when we slump forward we compress the lungs’ natural capacity to take in oxygen. Long, slow breaths in meditation oxygenate the body to allow deeper relaxation and concentration.

2. Stomach. When we say “stomach” we are actually referring to the large diaphragm muscle in the general area of the stomach cavity. I won’t attempt to describe the anatomy: you would do well to go online to get pictures or drawings to better understand how the diaphragm actually works. But most important: when you inhale, the diaphragm muscle expands out and downward. Do not hold the stomach in when inhaling! It’s just the opposite of what many people do. When you exhale, the diaphragm muscle relaxes and naturally shrinks a little bit back to its beginning position. (Its enlargement with the inhalation is more pronounced than its contraction during exhalation.)

3. A full breath engages three distinct and visible areas of the chest (when viewed from the outside-in): 1) the diaphragm as described above; 2) the “floating ribs” which, after the diaphragm expands down and out, then expand outward to the sides, and 3) the upper chest which expands only slightly (by comparison to 1) and 2)).

4. In day to day, moment to moment breathing, the full breath described in #3 is not generally noticeable. This is why whether in yoga practice, meditation practice, or just breathing, doing multiple rounds of deep breathing each day is important to re-train the body for more complete oxygenation. Deep breathing exercises are especially helpful or easiest when lying down on your back. But for those of us who also meditate, deep diaphragmatic breathing is extremely valuable at the beginning of our meditation: 3 to 12 rounds, for example!

5. As you retrain the body in deep breathing exercises and in learning to sit or stand upright naturally and in a relaxed way, you will increase your oxygenation level in the body even throughout the day when not focusing on the breath or your posture. But it does take re-training exercises as part of (or independent of) yoga or meditation practices.

6. Ultimately the key to breathing is in right posture. When we stand or sit with a “straight” spine, the chest and lungs can breath normally and naturally. (Of course, the actual physical spine isn’t at all straight. That’s just in a “manner of speaking.”)

7. I have access to a training video for this purpose which, if you request it, I or others can send you the link.

8. If you are Swedish, are you tall and thin? Sometimes tall persons develop the habit of “ducking” their heads and thus collapsing the spine and chest and thus inhibiting their oxygenation: partly because of short doorways and partly to “meet people on their own level!” An anatomical hazard, I suppose!

9. One more thing: when outdoors walking, try “marching:” swinging arms opposite to the movements of the legs, standing tall and breathing deeply!

Breath is life and proper posture and diaphragmatic breathing will do wonders for your health and well-being.

Nayaswami Hriman