Whether you’ve been to a single yoga class or practice on the reg, there’s a good chance you’ve been instructed to flow through poses that “flush out your lungs.” If the phrase has ever had you raising an eyebrow in confusion, allow me to demystify: Certain yoga moves help to open up your lungs for better, more open breathing.
“On the most basic level, it’s aeration of the body,” says Beth Cooke, a yoga instructor with Sky Ting, who says that certain yoga poses work to release stale air and energy. “In Chinese medicine, the lungs are qi masters that take in oxygen, giving us energy and expelling that which we don’t need.” She stresses that the lungs should be kept “as clear as possible” during these yoga breathing exercises to support our everyday physical life.
Through yoga, flushing the lungs can help with more efficient breathing to powers your movement on and off the mat. “Although just breathing more deeply expands your lungs, adding specific movements or shapes in the body that open up your chest and lungs also allow you to breathe deeper,” says Cooke. “When we breathe deeper, we drop into our parasympathetic nervous system.” In your yoga flow, that often means flipping your wrists to open up the chest. “This opens up more space to deepen your breath by opening the collarbones, sliding your shoulder blades down the back, and pushing your lungs forward like a puffing sensation,” she says.
To try these yoga breathing exercises for yourself, Cooke recommends flipping your wrists in towards your body in a cat-cow, low lunge, side angle, and downward facing dog. While flowing through these, pay special attention to spreading your chest wide and looking up to give your lungs space. Lara Heimann, physical therapist and founder of LYT Yoga, also says that moving through sun salutations flush your lungs since you’re expanding and contracting your chest as you flow.
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