< Blog

Breath Flow in Yoga Practice

Some of my students are surprised and confused when I teach them the “top to bottom” breath, which is how I learned from my teacher Hansa Knox and from Krishnamacharya’s lineage. Specifically, Viniyoga, the method taught by his son Desikachar, is the system in which this is found.

Some Indian and contemporary yoga teachers teach how to breathe in motion like filling a glass from the bottom upward. In this image one is to inhale expanding the belly first then let the air rise upward into the chest.

It should be pointed out that in Viniyoga, there is no “right” way to breathe; all instruction is given on an individual basis, and “bottom to top” breathing (or any number of other patterns) may be recommended if it is useful for certain students in certain situations.

-Air never rises upward into the chest- A glass or a bucket filling from the bottom upward is a very common image and justification. The problem with it is that the lungs are not a bucket, and air is not water. Actually, what’s more fundamentally erroneous is the entire notion that the order in which you change the shape of your body cavities during inhalation has something to do with the order in which the different parts of the lungs will fill with air. This is simply not the case, and it comes from the almost universal confusion between muscular movements and air movements.

During breathing, air only goes in and out from the lungs, and it can only move through the lungs by means of the bronchial tree. The inhaled air enters from the top downward, branches left and right, then fans out from center to periphery. The path of the exhaled air, of course, follows the exact opposite pattern. This pathway remains the same no matter how you manipulate your respiratory muscles.

-A belly breath does NOT bring air into the belly NOR does it cause the lower part of the lungs to fill first- This stuff gets repeated often in class, & teaching language can be imaged & automatic but in this case does not really make sense, sorry!