Harness the Power of Breath

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Course Overview

Breath training is a foundation of yoga practice and is also an important part of inner healing.

The breath holds the body and mind together and has a major impact on both. Learn how the body actually breathes and how breathing is connected to the nervous system, mind, and emotions.

During this one-hour digital workshop, you will learn about the organs and mechanics of respiration, pathways that govern breathing, the role of breath in the Yoga Sutra and Bhagavad Gita, and much more.

"The way you present your knowledge is priceless! It has been a huge part of my learning and sharing with other people who are keen to work on and with their breath to improve their health, therefore their life! Thank you so much!"

— Workshop participant

Rolf Sovik

President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute and a clinical psychologist in private practice, Rolf Sovik has studied yoga in the United States, India, and Nepal. He holds degrees in philosophy, music, Eastern studies, and clinical psychology. Former Co-Director of the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo, NY he began his practice of yoga in 1972, and was initiated as a pandit in the Himalayan tradition in 1987. He is the author of Moving Inward, co-author of the award-winning Yoga: Mastering the Basics, and a contributor to Yoga International.

Certificate of completion

3 CEU’s Upon Completion

Self Paced Learning

Course Outline

1hr to complete

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Section 1
  • Knowing something about the theory and structure of breathing will make it easier to understand a discussion of how to breathe and the advantages of breathing well. Rolf explains that the breath holds the body and mind together in such a way that it gives them life. It activates the body’s nine physiological systems (remembered using the mnemonic NECDURRLI) and gives life to our mind and emotions. Working with the breath in yoga has two layers: breath training and pranayama. Relaxation is built on breath training.
  • Using slides, Rolf describes the respiratory passageway—the path air follows into and out of our lungs. This movement of air in and out is known as outer respiration, in contrast to inner respiration, the transportation of air through the bloodstream to our cells. Breathing supplies oxygen to our body’s inner fire of metabolism, which burns energy to keep us warm. The lungs are actually passive. It’s the diaphragm muscle that really does the breathing by making the lungs expand when it contracts.
  • Rolf shows slides of the muscles of respiration. The main muscle of inspiration is the diaphragm, which accounts for 75% of normal breathing. No muscles of expiration are needed for normal breathing, but the abdominal muscles are active in forceful exhalation such as coughing. Rolf explains how air is pulled into the lungs when the diaphragm contracts and moves down, expanding the lungs, and how the lungs shrink back to their normal size, pushing air out, when the diaphragm relaxes.
  • Breathing is not just about the amount of air we breathe (we only use 1/3 of the oxygen we inhale), but also about the quality of our breathing, which affects our level of contentment. Continuing with slides, Rolf shows the four components of total lung capacity. He also shows the phrenic nerve, which innervates the diaphragm. Since the diaphragm is a skeletal muscle, we have conscious control over it and thus over our breathing, which enables us to use the breath consciously to change the way the mind operates.
  • As you lie comfortably on your back, Rolf guides you in turning your mind and senses inward to become aware of your body and then your breathing. You will become aware of the stream of breath flowing in and out, and of your abdomen rising and falling with each breath. As you continue breathing, relaxing your body and the effort to breathe, you will begin to sense that you are the observer of your breathing, rather than the breather. This feeling of breathing is a resting place for the mind.
Section 2
  • After reviewing the right and left phrenic nerves, Rolf discusses the three influences on breathing. The first is the automatic or involuntary influence, which is largely unconscious and is based on our metabolic need. It controls our breathing most of the time. The second is the voluntary influence—we make conscious adjustments to our breathing, such as for speaking or yogic breath training. The third influence on breathing is non-voluntary—linked to emotions, stress, and pain. Non-voluntary breathing couples itself to involuntary breathing.
  • The three influences on breathing are not simply theoretical. They are biological realities. With the help of slides, Rolf shows the three areas of the brain governing each of the three influences on breathing—involuntary, voluntary, and non-voluntary—and describes how the phrenic nerve serves as a superhighway carrying nerve impulses originating in all three areas of the brain to the diaphragm. Breath gives us access to the whole brain. Working with the breath can help us shift the body from sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system dominance in times of stress.
  • Rolf presents a schematic of the healing process. We don’t have to see distress or pain in our lives as the enemy. We can begin with a deep and true acceptance, or trustful surrender, that allows us to assess our pain and our coping capacity, and then we can turn toward balance and apply universal and specific healing strategies. Breathing is a universal healing strategy. If you take 10-12 minutes a day to breathe in a way that uncouples you from emotional distress, you have a powerful tool for making peace with whatever you’re going through.
  • Get settled comfortably on your back and let Rolf guide you through this deeply relaxing breath practice. As you bring your awareness to your body and breath and begin to weave one breath into the next, you begin to sense that you are not the breather—your body breathes. You observe your breathing, making subtle adjustments if needed, and let the breath flow. Then, imagining the breath as a wave, you let it travel up and down to different points in the body and finally imagine the wave of breath flowing through your body to infinity.
Section 3
  • To explain why breathing plays such an important role in yoga and in refining our inner life, Rolf quotes selections from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the basic text of yoga, and also from the Bhagavad Gita. He explains that yoga is about mastering the operations of the mind. This leads to the discovery of our own inner, or true, Self, which is different from the mind. To do this, we need to rest the mind. Breath work enables us to use the breath as a resting place and support for the mind.
  • Breath training is an integral part of yoga as well as a means of creating a more balanced, healthy lifestyle. Practicing relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing is refreshing and restful, and creates a sense of well-being. It calms the nervous system, helps prevent psychosomatic disturbances, including panic episodes, and centers attention. Because we are always breathing, breath awareness is a self-management tool that is useful even during the busiest times of the day. For students of yoga, breath training is an indispensable preparation for the proper performance of asana and pranayama and for deepening...

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Meet Your Teacher

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Rolf Sovik
President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute and a clinical psychologist in private practice,... Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Absolutely, you can include this course in your Yoga Alliance training hours, with each hour equivalent to one continuing education credit.
This course is entirely self- paced, allowing you to learn at your convenience.There are no imposed deadlines or time constraints for Course completion.
No prerequisites are required; this course is open to anyone interested in deepening their knowledge and practice.
No, the course is accessible to all individuals interested in enriching their understanding and practice of yoga.Yoga teaching certification is not a prerequisite.

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