from the BreathGuru

Most of us take our breathing for granted, but with a little attention and practice, our breath can revitalize us and restore our peace of mind.

Finding the hidden tensions in our bodies and releasing them, facilitates good breathing; and when a body breathes well, the natural movements that occur, not only calm our minds, they also promote the flow of oxygen-rich blood that keeps our muscles and joints strong and supple.

There are three subtle tensions that could be hiding in your body and causing shallow breathing.

  1. breathingThe Clamped Jaw

Jaw tension is a syndrome that plagues many of us.

One of the main reasons jaw tension creates such a problem for our breathing is that any time the upper body becomes locked, so too does the lower body. Our cranial nerves, (located in our heads) and our sacral nerves, (located in our pelvis) detect tension as the sign of a threat and set off our “fight or flight” response – this disturbs out breathing. If you grit your teeth you will feel a corresponding sensation of tension in your lower body.

In order for our breath to flow freely again, we must learn to release our jaw tension; doing so will reverse the negative domino effect, return peace to the body and restore deeper, fuller breathing.

Tip #2:  I have found that the most effective way to soften the jaw hinge is to imagine that the muscles from the temples to the jawbone have gone completely limp. Ideally you want to create a feeling of complete softness that pervades the entire head, in particular, the back of the neck, the jaw and the throat. If you’ve ever received Novocain at the dentist, then that sensation of complete and utter numbness will come in handy.

The idea here is to allow your jaw hinge to literally be hanging from your skull and then observe your breathing body. Observe any differences in your breath’s ability to affect movement in your lower body. Gradually bring your jaw back to a more normal position but without the tension.

  1. Butt Muscles Working Overtime

I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that your butt muscles were not intended to be tense 24/7, and believe it or not, a good number of us are going through life with a tense butt and we don’t even know it! Any tension in the gluteus shortens our breathing. It’s one of the ways our body gets stuck in “fight or flight” mode.

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and try it. Grip your buttocks muscles and then try to take a deep breath. Our diaphragm muscle is not free to descend into the body as long as our butt cheeks are tight. If your butt is even slightly tense, you are unknowingly preventing your body from breathing well.

Tip #1:  Close your eyes and actively try to completely release your butt muscles. Imagine that the deepest layers of muscle are relaxing; the ones right near your butt bones. It may help to visualize these muscles as a fisted hand that is slowly unfurling each finger until it becomes an open palm. Visualizations are a great way of connecting the mind to the body.

If you can discover and let go of any tension in your seat, your inhalations will become deeper and fuller. (Breathing Lesson is an amazing app that shows you HOW to breathe correctly.)

  1. The Heavy Heart

Your heart resides under your breastbone and this area of the body is very susceptible to emotional wounding. When something takes our breath away, it has either offended our soul or reminded it of its origins. The holding of the breath from emotional wounding can cause a permanent tension in our chest. Even with all the attention being given to deep breathing these days, I find that many people are trying, but not succeeding, because of hidden tension in the chest cavity.

Our chest contains our most precious internal organ. When we feel emotionally wounded, our breathing becomes shallow. If we were never afforded the opportunity to release that hurt, then it’s likely that our breathing is still being affected by that moment in time.

Tip #3:  Place your hand over your heart and let out a long sigh. Sighs are exhalations that soothe, and are wonderful for restoring movement to our chest cavity. It’s not just the belly that should be moving when we breathe. Even our most gentle breathing, as when we are resting or wrapped up in a good book, should involve subtle movements throughout the body. Good breathing is a holistic experience.

The difference between breathing and good breathing is the difference between being alive and truly living life.


Carla Melucci Ardito is a New York City based yoga teacher who has been helping people breathe better for over 20 years. She teaches a breathing workshop at The Integral Yoga Institute and can be heard from time to time on the Sirius Radio show “Doctor Radio.” You can follow Carla on Twitter @breathguru or at her Facebook page, Breathing Lessons named for the app she developed to guide people through the basic principles that comprise healthy breathing patterns. For more information go to