The Breath of Joy is a warming and energizing yoga breathing practice (pranayama). It uses rhythmic body motion, coordinating arm movements with breath, in order to facilitate deep breathing. The motion of the arms helps to fill all areas of the lungs (lower, middle and upper) with fresh oxygen. This charges the entire body with energy making it a great practice to use either as a warm-up before other yoga postures or on its own on mornings when you don’t have the time to roll out your yoga mat. It would also be a great addition to a Vinyasa style yoga class as the intention is similar — to allow breath and movement to work together resulting in a fluid motion.
- Use of the arms with inhalation encourages deep and full breathing infusing the body with oxygen :
- first inhalation (arms forward) encourages diaphragmatic breathing
- second inhalation (arms to the side) encourages thoracic breathing
- third inhalation (arms up) encourages clavicular breathing
- The deep and complete exhalation at the end helps to detoxify the body (via the respiratory system)
- Energizes the entire body.
- Strengthens arms and shoulders.
- Will make you smile.
A Few Cautions
- Because the head is below the heart at some points, you may feel lightheaded. If you are otherwise healthy, this is not a major concern. Just take a moment to relax and find your natural breath again.
- If you have low blood pressure, practice slowly and go less deeply into the bend on the final exhalation.
- The Breath of Joy is not recommended for anyone who has untreated high blood pressure or any injuries of the head (such as migraines, glaucoma).
- Having the knees flexed helps protect the low back against the slight bounce that is a part of this rapid and dynamic breath. If you have issues with your low back, you can still use this technique but minimize torso movement and go at a slower, gentler pace.
Stand with your feet hip width apart with a gentle bend in the knees. The inhalation is done in three parts. Each part corresponds to a movements of the arms. Inhale through the nose and gently swing your arms up in front of you, parallel to the floor. Continue to the second part of the inhalation while swinging the arms open to the sides in a T-formation. Feel your shoulder blades coming together in the back as your chest opens to the front. On the third inhalation, swing your arms overhead, fingers to the sky. On the exhalation, swing the arms towards the ground letting your torso fold forwards as you let out a breathy “Ha” sound. Yoga doesn’t always have to be quiet … Start off slowly until you find a rhythm that is appropriate for you.
As you practice, remind yourself of the technique, either the arm movements or breath movements by repeating them.
- The arm movements are: front, side, up and down.
- The breath movement is: in, in, in, out.
Breath of Joy is often practiced in kids’ yoga classes. This may be because they are naturally less inhibited and just love to move. I showed it to my kids today and we ended up in fits of laughter – it certainly lived up to its name! This is also a great practice for adults and perhaps in the process we’ll rediscover some of our own playfulness and childlike energy.
Amy Weintraub is a leader in the area of yoga and mental health and the author of Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga. She describes the benefits of Breath of Joy: “(this) breathing exercise can sweep away cobwebs of lethargy and bring more energy into your life.” Have a look at the video below to see Amy demonstrate Breath of Joy.