You Already Know How: Yoga and Breathing

By Susan Kraft

Hello Asheville Yoga Community!

Did you know that Ada Limón, the extraordinary 24th Poet Laureate of the United States, loves yoga? And yet, in a recent On Being podcast, she laughed while sharing the following:

When I lived in New York City, my two best friends, I would always try to get them to go to yoga with me. And they would say, “I don’t want to go to yoga.” And I was like, “Why?” And they said, “I just don’t want anyone telling me when to breathe.”

I know, right?! Breathe in—do this. Breathe out—do that. Enough already!

Anyway: The breath. It’s personal and it’s political. It’s essential and luxurious. It’s energizing and calming. It’s the sound of our singing, the music of laughter and the very source of life. One thing that maybe it shouldn’t be, is a source of worry.

A couple of years ago, a student of mine at Brooklyn College confided, “I’d like to learn to meditate, but I just don’t think my breathing is very good.”

Yikes, talk about self-judgement! I wanted to hug her, but you know, Covid. Breathing.

Does this student’s concern resonate with you at all? If so, I’d like to offer some reassurance.

Since we breathe approximately 25,000 times per day, you’ve had a lot of practice and I’m guessing that you pretty much know what you are doing. If we really had to focus on doing it right, that would take a whole lot of micromanaging and be altogether exhausting. Mostly, like so many other things, it’s a question of getting out of our own way.

My wonderful anatomy teacher, Amy Matthews, offers a beautiful perspective on breathing in her book Yoga Anatomy. I invite you to read the following paragraph slowly, and then close your eyes for a minute or so and feel your breathing. Just that.

…in spite of how it feels when you inhale, you do not actually pull air into the body. On the contrary, air is pushed into the body by the atmospheric pressure…that always surrounds you…the energy expended in breathing produces a shape change that lowers the pressure in the chest cavity and permits the air to be pushed into the body by the weight of the planet’s atmosphere. In other words, you create the space, and the universe fills it.

You are shape change. You are the universe in a human body. You are perfect.

With love,


PS: If you are having difficulty with your breathing, Yoga can potentially help peel away layers of stress and patterns of holding. So can a hug. Why? Because hugs can calm the nervous system and when our nervous system is regulated, our bodies are more likely to function with ease.

PPS: I’m focusing on the breath all month long, so come check out my new class (Slow Flow and Meditation) Fridays at 6:00. I think it’s going to be just the right combination of elements to start your weekend right.

Let's Practice Together!