I have a confession: I'm a yoga teacher who hates breath of fire. Time and again, the intense yogic breathing technique never fails to make me feel like I'm high-key hyperventilating and on the verge of passing out. Fun times, you guys. The thing is, a part of me knows there are so many benefits to breath of fire, but no matter how many times I try to vibe with the ancient pranayama, it remains my eternal enemy.
Personally, I think it's because I have a pretty fiery personality in general, and breathing in this forceful, foreign way is just adding fuel to my internal flames. However, I know I'm not alone in feeling that the short, quick exhalations that this breathing technique demands can feel extremely uncomfortable and totally awkward, leading many people to opt out during that portion of a yoga class. It's not like anyone wants to hate breath of fire, amirite, yogis? We just want to feel good while doing it.
Now, in case you have no idea how breath of fire is done, here's what you need to know: According to DOYOUYOGA, breath of fire is a breathing technique that consists of quick, fast-paced inhales through the nose, and forceful, fast exhales through the mouth — kind of similar to the breathing you typically see a woman do when she's going into labor. The yoga outlet suggests imagining that you're filling your stomach with air on the inhale, and pushing the air out on your exhale, engaging your core muscles as you do so. As Yoga With Adriene explains in her own video tutorial of breath of fire, think of the inhales through your nose as passive, and the exhales through your mouth as active.
It sounds kind of awkward, right? I couldn't agree more, girl. But, according to Nancy Gerstein, a yoga teacher, author of the book Guiding Yoga’s Light, and founder of Motivational Yoga, apparently, once you get the hang of breath of fire, you won't be able to help but fall in love with it. Now, I definitely have my doubts about this, but I am open to being enlightened — or, shall I say, ~ignited~.
"Breath of fire simultaneously awakens the mind, the physiology, and spirit through a short, concentrated, powerful breathing exercise," Gerstein tells Elite Daily over email. "A heat-inducing, dynamic exercise like breath of fire is simple, fast-clearing, cleansing, and energizing. And it’s way better than a cup of coffee." Say what now? I'm shook.
Look, Gerstein's not actually telling you or anyone else to replace their beloved morning coffee with a rogue bout of rapid breathing — don't panic just yet. What she is saying, though, is that breath of fire stimulates your body in a totally different way compared to other breathing techniques, heating the body, stoking your energy levels, and centering your mind all at once — which, TBH, actually does sound like a whole lot more effective than anything a cup of coffee has ever done for me. Sorry, cold brew. I promise I'm still obsessed with you.
But wait, there's more: "[Breath of fire also] engages and strengthens the sexual muscles and navel center," Gerstein explains. "The practice is called breath of fire because it stokes the fire in the navel center to encourage 'the fire in the belly.' Plus, it builds heat — you may even work up a sweat."
To reap all of these benefits, doing this breathing technique properly is key, says Gerstein. If you're doing breath of fire incorrectly, it could be what's contributing to the overall discomfort with the technique.
Here's how Gerstein says breath of fire is really done: To begin, start in a comfortable seated position with your head, neck, and trunk in alignment. "Take a deep wide breath into the belly, and on the exhale, pull the navel in toward the spine to empty out completely," the yoga teacher says. "Inhale, fill the belly, side waist, and lower back with breath — then, forcibly exhale, squeezing the bathroom muscles at the pelvic floor while pulling the navel center in toward the spine." Continue these movements as you inhale and exhale rapidly through the nostrils, picking up the rhythm and the pace. FYI: It will sound like you’re sniffing loudly, which is normal. Be as extra as possible, friend. Don't hold back!
For beginners, Gerstein says this might feel like a lot of work and exertion. However, after some practice, your abdomen should feel as if it's moving effortlessly, she explains. I clearly have not gotten to that place of abdominal ease just yet, but #PranayamaGoals for sure.
Gerstein recommends practicing breath of fire for about one to three minutes at a time, but she cautions not to practice if you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, breathing problems, or during pregnancy.
"Don’t overcontract your muscles or compromise your breath by transferring tension into your chest, shoulders, or neck," she advises. Go with the flow, and let the flames ignite you. Sounds dangerously wrong, but it's so right.