Breath Education Myth #2 – "Deep Breathing is Always Better"

As promised, here’s our next breath “mythbusting” contribution courtesy of my esteemed colleague and co-presenter Amy Matthews

MYTH: “Deep breathing is always better.”

It is NOT true that we should always breathe as deeply as we possibly can. There is not one single ‘right way’ to breathe, and the most effective breath is the one that is most suited to that person, in that moment.

Sometimes a shallow breath is the most effective choice – in biological systems the qualities of being deepest, longest and biggest are not necessarily indicators of success. Success arises from being effective . . . just good enough. So taking a deeper breath than we need might literally be a waste of time and energy.

Instead of always going for deeper and stronger breaths, can we instead cultivate adaptability and responsiveness?

Our October 24 & 25 symposium is filling up fast, so be sure to register now!


Breath Education Myth #1 – Diaphragmatic vs. …?

Lung Tree Early Bird
Our amazing symposium “Breath Education — Art Science and Soul” is starting to fill up.  Don’t miss your last chance to attend at the early registration rate, which expires in one day (Sept 12).

As a lead-up to the event, our presenters will share their favorite breath education myths, which they will debunk at the event.  For me, myth #1 is probably the most pervasive one in the field: the term diaphragmatic breathing itself. If I had my way, I’d completely banish the term from breath education.

ALL breathing is diaphragmatic.  No living person should ever be told that they aren’t using their diaphragm unless they suffer from paralysis (and in that case, why would you say it to them in the first place? — they already know).

The term “diaphragmatic breathing” is as redundant and silly as the term “foot walking.”  When that term gets used, it’s intended to distinguish healthy breathing (diaphragmatic) from some other pattern an educator has judged to be unhealthy, but it would be absurd to say the unhealthy pattern is “non-diaphragmatic.”  The real issue isn’t whether the diaphragm is working or not, it’s whether it is able to work to its full efficiency without undue obstruction.

For a fuller explanation, and SO MUCH more, sign up now for “Breath Education — Art Science and Soul” at The Breathing Project!


Join me for a symposium: Breath Education: Art, Science & Soul

lung-tree_422-v2Ten years ago, I produced a weekend symposium for Kripalu called “The Future of Breathing.” To celebrate the anniversary of that wonderful event, I’ve put together a lineup of friends and esteemed breathing experts who will join me at The Breathing Project in October.
Event details are below and early discounted registration is now open. There is limited space at this intimate event, so sign up soon! Future e-Sutra posts will feature interviews with all of the presenters.

Saturday & Sunday, October 24–25, 2015, 9:30am – 5:00pm

The Art of Breathing Coordination and the Kinesthetic Voice
with Jessica Wolf & Lynn Martin

The Physiology of Healthy Breathing
with Dr. Robert Fried

An Embodied Inquiry into Internal Respiration
with Amy Matthews

Essentials of Diaphragmatic Biomechanics
with Leslie Kaminoff


  • Do you teach or coach voice, acting, yoga, movement or fitness?
  • Do you work in a therapeutic context as a bodyworker, physical therapist, respiratory therapist or trauma therapist?
  • Do you engage with breathing as part of your therapeutic, teaching or personal practice?
  • Are you interested in what’s going on in related fields and modalities on the topic of breath?
  • Are you curious about where flawed assumptions, inaccurate anatomy and limited perspectives might be affecting your choices?

Join us for a special weekend symposium on breath education where we’ll dive into an expansive and inclusive inquiry into working with people and their breath. Leslie Kaminoff has gathered fellow practitioners and innovators from multiple disciplines who, like himself, are deeply engaged in questions around breathing and embodiment. Each presenter will present and share about what they’re curious and passionate about in the realm of breathing. The weekend will include lecture, interactive sessions, experiential learning, movement explorations and opportunities for Q&A.

The Art of Breathing Coordination and the Kinesthetic Voice
with Jessica Wolf & Lynn Martin

Join Jessica and Lynn as they co-present the following topics:

  • Introduction to Breathing Coordination
  • Animated film created by Jessica Wolf
  • Common misconceptions about breathing
  • Guided practices to enhance awareness of body, breath and voice
  • Development of kinesthetic voice related practices

lynn-martinLynn Martin teaches functional anatomy, Ideokinesis and Breathing Coordination at New York University, in the Tisch Dance Department, Tisch School of the Arts. Lynn has studied functional anatomy and Ideokinesis extensively with Irene Dowd, who teaches at The Juilliard School and who studied there with Dr. Lulu Sweigard.

For many years, Lynn Martin also studied Breathing Coordination with Carl Stough. As a member of the Board of Directors, she worked with The Stough Institute on special educational projects and was Associate Producer of a documentary video, Breathing: The Source of Life.

Her background also includes studies in AfroCaribbean music and dance with Montego Joe, Pamela Patrick, Pat Hall, Jean-Léon Destiné and Serge St. Juste. She studied voice with Conrad L. Osborne and has sung much of the great choral-orchestral repertoire with The Cecilia Chorus of N.Y. at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

A summa cum laude graduate of Fordham University, Lynn has also taught at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, the Westchester Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College, the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She maintains a private practice in Ideokinesis and Breathing Coordination and teaches workshops in New York City and Switzerland.

jessica-wolfJessica Wolf, M.AmSAT, is an internationally recognized teacher of the Alexander Technique. She completed her training at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in 1977 and is one of the few Alexander professionals who have been teaching for more than 35 years. Throughout her career, she has explored and conducted research in respiratory function.

In 1998, Jessica established the Alexander Technique program at Yale School of Drama, where she now holds the position of Associate Professor. In 2002, she became the founder and director of the first post-graduate training program for Alexander teachers in “Jessica Wolf’s Art of Breathing.” She has certified 60 Alexander teachers around the world. Other faculty appointments include the Aspen Music Festival, The Juilliard School, SUNY Purchase, Circle in the Square Theater School, Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Verbier Music Festival.

Jessica created the first three-dimensional animated film of the respiratory system and published Jessica Wolf’s Art of Breathing: Collected Articles in 2013. She coaches many performing artists who appear on and off Broadway, as well as in film and television. Jessica travels extensively giving workshops to performers and health care providers.

The Physiology of Healthy Breathing
with Dr. Robert Fried

Dr. Fried will help us to define healthy breathing in terms of its physiological characteristics. He will explain and demonstrate the basic instrumentation for monitoring the measurable parameters of lung and blood gases, and heart rate variability. With the insights provided by such monitoring, Dr. Fried will show how it’s possible to identify common patterns of breathing that could adversely alter respiratory function, and reveal the adverse consequences of abnormal lung and blood gases on a variety of physical conditions ranging from heart and kidney ailments to anxiety and hypertension.

robert-friedRobert Fried, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor, Doctoral Faculty in Behavioral Neuroscience, City University of New York (CUNY) and Emeritus, American Physiology Society (APS) (Cardiovascular and Respiration Div.), and world-renowned expert in the treatment of stress and anxiety.

He is the author of The Arginine SolutionThe Hyperventilation Syndrome, and The Breath Connection, and is former Director of the Stress and Biofeedback Clinic of the Ellis Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy in New York City, where he lives.

An Embodied Inquiry into Internal Respiration
with Amy Matthews

Amy will explore the movement of the breath after it enters the lungs, as it travels through blood to its final destination in the cells. This journey of internal respiration can be explored in relationship to any pattern of external breathing.

Embodying the processes of internal respiration can be a way to expand the experience of breathing from the landmarks of external respiration (thorax, lungs, ribcage and diaphragm) into an experience of breathing in every tissue of our body. We can also use this full body experience of our breath as a foundation for the exploration of a wide variety of specific approaches to breathing, and as a way to ground and orient our sense of self.

amy-matthewsAmy Matthews, CMA, IDME, BMC Teacher, RSMT/RSME has been teaching movement since 1994. She is a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, a Body-Mind Centering® Teacher, an Infant Developmental Movement Educator, and a yoga therapist and yoga teacher.

Amy co-authored with Leslie Kaminoff the best-selling book Yoga Anatomy, and together Amy and Leslie co-direct The Breathing Project, a non-profit educational institution in NYC.

Amy directs the BMC® & Yoga programs in NYC and Portland, OR for the School for Body-Mind Centering, and was on the faculty of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies for 10 years. She teaches embodied anatomy and movement in the USA and internationally.

Essentials of Diaphragmatic Biomechanics
with Leslie Kaminoff

Leslie will provide an in-depth look at the structure and function of the diaphragm from a unique perspective – its oft-neglected role as a muscle of postural support. With so much popular attention being paid to the concept of “core support,” there is actually a dearth of well-defined, functional definitions of “core” that take into account the enormously powerful role the diaphragm plays in modulating our relationship to gravity. Through audio-visual presentations, kinesthetic and experiential exploration, and dynamic interaction, Leslie will lead participants in a transformative journey into their breathing, thinking bodies.

leslie-kaminoffLeslie Kaminoff is a yoga educator inspired by the tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar. For over three decades he has led workshops and developed specialized education in the fields of yoga, breath anatomy and bodywork. His approach to teaching combines intellectual rigor, spontaneity and humor, and is always evolving.

Leslie is the founder of The Breathing Project, a New York City based educational non-profit dedicated to teaching individualized, breath-centered yoga. His unique year-long yoga anatomy courses are now available online at He is the co-author, with Amy Matthews, of the best-selling book Yoga Anatomy.


Saturday & Sunday
October 24 – 25, 2015
9:30am – 5:00pm


The Breathing Project
15 West 26th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10010


$375 early price/$350 TBP Members before Sep 12
$425 full price/$400 TBP Members

Email us at  with questions or for more info.

*  *  *

Cancellation Policies

  • Up to 2 weeks before – REFUND. Deposit will be refunded, minus a $30 processing fee.
  • Up to 7 days before – CREDIT. Deposit minus a $30 processing fee may be transferred to another workshop or course at The Breathing Project.
  • Less than 7 days before – No refunds or credits.
  • Transfer between in-person and online courses is not allowed.

…and now, "you were here* : the video!"

My last post about honesty in yoga credentialing has gone a bit viral. It was natural then, to discuss it in last Wednesday’s post-Yoga Anatomy, on camera Q&A.

What emerged was a rather interesting exploration of my views on how we train people, and what it takes to really absorb the kinds of things we teach in yoga trainings.

Enjoy!  If you’d like to join the discussion, please leave a comment.


Egg On My Neck, part 2 of My 2 Cents about ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’

Last week’s video got quite a lot of attention on YouTube – over 12,500 views as of this writing.  This week’s follow-up includes an apology to William J. Broad, the author of the NYT article and the book “The Science of Yoga”, which was sent to me by the publishers this week.

In last week’s video, I had taken Broad to task for under-reporting the “normal” range of motion of the cervical spine in axial rotation as 50º. In fact, that is the same number I give in the 2nd edition of Yoga Anatomy! Oops. Egg on my “neck”.

In retrospect, I believe I used outdated numbers in the book and I’m in the process of researching how to revise that page (34). Here’s one of the research articles I’m referencing that gives a good overview of just how variable these range of motion (ROM) measurements can be. For example, compare the lowest ROM—for a male in his nineties—at 26º. The greatest ROM was a teenage female with a whopping 94º! So, what’s normal?

I’m about halfway through Broad’s book now, and I’m pleased to report that it’s a great read. I will have a full review when I’m done but even at this point I can safely say I’m going to recommend every serious student of yoga read it.



Small Cell, Big Questions, by Edya Kalev

You thought you were breathing in Trikonasana, but that was only with your lungs.  When you tap into cellular breathing, as we did in the second session of The Breathing Project’s Yoga Anatomy: Practices course, then a whole new arena of sensation – and potential frustration – opens to you.

Taught by Amy Matthews, an expert in not just anatomy but in the “embodiment” of all the body’s systems, this asana class invited the cells in your hands and feet to breathe, just as much as the lung tissue.  How can we access these seemingly unconscious cells?

Amy began with a review of basic cell anatomy, providing visuals for the complex processes happening deep within us at every moment.  On the most basic level, every cell must inhale nourishment from it’s surroundings, and exhale waste. It is dependent on its environment to supply that nourishment and carry that waste away, so it can continue to burn energy while not becoming toxic.

The cell wall is the semi-permeable barrier that can either allow or reject incoming matter (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates) much like the bouncers at a popular nightclub.  The place between the velvet ropes where decisions get made is the place where we, as yoga students/embodiment novices, got to explore.  What do we let in?  What gets to sit and wait on the edge?  What do we let go of?  What identity do we create in the process?

With images of cellular respiration in mind, we could think about the more subtle sensations in our toes, imagining that those cells were participating in our down dog as much as our spine or sit bones.  Crossing those velvet ropes into a new inner universe, we might even stop “thinking” about the cells, and be able to listen to them.  Indeed, several students found that they had altered states of consciousness while moving and breathing into all their cells.

However, some of us felt confused or disoriented, daunted by the sheer number of cells (trillions?) we could listen to.  Lest we thought that we were unsuccessful in the practice if we couldn’t hear them speak, Amy reassured us that everyone was “100% successful” in cellular breathing.  There was no wrong way to breathe;  our cells are doing it all the time or we would not be alive.

Yet, “along with no wrong way, there is also no right way, and that can be terrifying,” Amy pointed out.  As professional teachers used to instructing our classes how to do a pose, this was a huge philosophical shift.  Can we find another way to teach asana, one that encourages exploration rather than imitation?

These are the big questions posed by our smallest units.  Let’s take a moment and listen to what they have to say…


An “Advanced” Practice

Reflections on the inaugural class of Leslie Kaminoff’s “Yoga Anatomy – Practices” at The Breathing Project, NYC.  October 5, 2011

by Edya Kalev

In a sold-out asana class full of professional yoga teachers, one might expect that the practice would include splits, scorpions and other poses deemed impossible by the vast majority of lay practitioners.  Not so in the first day of Leslie Kaminoff’s brand-new Yoga Anatomy: Practices course at The Breathing Project.

Standing, breathing, and concentrating awareness; these were the surprisingly complex challenges given to the class.  Starting out, we sensed the movement of the breath with hands on belly and abdomen. Then we focused on the top hand as we inhaled, and the bottom as we exhaled.  Taking that into movement, we floated into a forward bend from a lunge position. Maddeningly, Leslie provided no specific instruction as to how to breathe, just where to focus the attention as we moved.

After settling into a comfortable pattern of movement, focus and breath, Leslie of course swapped the area of focus.  Now we were to shift attention to the belly region on the inhale and the chest region on the exhale.  Many experienced momentary confusion as we arched into cow and rounded our spine into cat…why did this familiar movement feel so different?  Could changing the focus of our breathing really change everything?

At the end of our brain-scrambling sequence, just when we were looking forward to a predictable winding down, Leslie proposed “freestyle counterposing,”  encouraging students to figure out what they needed to feel complete in the practice and do it on their own.  Yet another diversion from the expected, honoring the unique individual over the “routine.”

During the last 5 minutes, the class meditated on a figure of overlapping triangles with a center point.  Leslie asked us to sit with our “associations, insights, and connections between the visual image and the practice,” just as he had to 25 years ago in the presence of his teacher, the great TKV Desikachar.  He then shared with us his private journal and drawings from that lesson, showing how broke the symbol apart into two separate triangles and reconstructed it again.

Back in that room, Leslie found meaning in the separate parts of the symbol before making it whole again, as one would examine the two distinct parts of the breath, then flow with the full breath.  An apt parallel to both what his teacher incited in him, and what he has begun to stir in us.  With Desikachar’s lesson in mind, Leslie had created an Advanced Practice without advanced poses, for yoga teacher and yoga student alike.


New York Book Release Party for Yoga Anatomy next Wednesday July 11th!

Come get your copy of Yoga Anatomy and meet co-authors Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews at The Breathing Project in New York City on Wednesday, July 11 starting at 6PM.

Snacks, drinks and personally signed copies of the book will be available. As a fundraiser for The Breathing Project, two one-of-a-kind prints by the book’s illustrator Sharon Ellis will be raffled off.

Bring as many friends as you like, but PLEASE RSVP by Monday, July 9th.
Location: The Breathing Project, Inc. 15 West 26th Street, 10th floor (between Broadway and 6th Ave.)