Book Review: Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff – Chapter 1 Dynamics of Breath

I have suffered from chronic pain for a long time.  As I understand it, a lot of it has to do with muscle spasms.  I try t stretch but seem to not get the muscle the right way.  I have been to physical therapy numerous times and many used many other techniques like medication, Trigger Point Injections, nerve block shots, etc.

I really feel like this is something that can be healed.  I have to believe that.  This is my attempt at finding a solution.

Chapter 1: Dynamics of Breath


The author begins by discussing how a cell functions.  Without going into all the detail, the point is that wastes are generated after a cell metabolizes nutrients.  If these wastes are not able to escape the cell it dies.  All living things take in nutrients.

Prana refers to what nourishes a living thing.  It refers to nourishment brought in AND the action it brings in.


This is the complementary force to Prana.  This refers t what is eliminated by a living thing and the action of elimination.

Sthira and Suhka:

Successful function is essential in this when related to a cell or any living thing.  There needs to be a correct balance.  A cell must be permeable and so should we.  Not too permeable but just enough.

“All succesful living things must balance containment and permeability, rigidity and plasticity, persistence and adaptability, space and boundaries” (pg 2).

Prana and Apana:

We eliminate waste in several ways: liquid, solid, gas.  The Apana needs to be able to move up and down.  Liquid and solid waste go down and breathe goes up.  “…any inability to reverse apana’s downward push will result in an incomplete exhalation” (pg 2).

Sukha and Dukha:

Sukha = good space

Dukha = bad space

Pathways need to be cleared of obstructing forces.  This refers to blockages.  Yoga therapy is 90% waste removal.

Your First Breathe:

After being severed from the umbilical cord, your life-force for 9 months, you declare “your physical and physiological independence” by taking your first breathe.

The first inhalation begins essential changes to the circulatory system.  Blood surges into the lungs, the right and left sides of the heart separate into two pumps, and specialized vessels of fetal circulation will shut down and seal off.


Inside the womb we are weightless.  At birth you need to start DOING things like sucking, swallowing, and breathing to obtain nutrition.  This creates your “first postural skill – supporting the weight of the head” (pg 4).

Eventually we learn to walk and the completion of your lumbar curve takes place around the age of 10.

“To summarize, the moment you’re born, you’re confronted by two forces that were not present in utero: breath and gravity.  To thrive, you need to reconcile those forces for as long as you draw breath on this planet” (pg 4).

Breath = Prana/Apana

Posture = Sthira/Sukha


Breathing involves movement in two cavities: thoracic and abdominal.

Thoracic and Abdominal Cavities

They have shared properties and distinctions.


Both cavities contain vital organs.  Thoracic contains the heart and lungs and the abdominal contains the stomach, liver, gall bladder, spleen, pancreas, small and large intestines, kidneys, bladder, etc.  They are both bounded posteriorly by the spine.  They are both open to an end to the external environment.  They share an important structure: the diaphragm.  They are both mobile or change shape.


The abdominal cavity changes shape fluidly.  It is like squeezing a balloon of water, it bulges at one end.  It is dependent on the measurement of volume.  When this cavity is compressed by breathing it bulges at the other end.  It is harder to breathe after a big meal because this decreases mobility of the thoracic cavity.

The thoracic cavity changes in shape and volume.

Volume and Pressure:

These are inversely related.  Air flows towards areas of low pressure.  Increasing the volume of the thoracic cavity will decrease pressure and cause air to flow in.  This is inhalation

Air is pushed into the body by atmospheric pressure, we do not PULL in a breathe.  It is like an accordion stacked onto a water balloon (how is that for simplicity).

During relaxed breathing (for example while sleeping), exhalation is a passive process by which the chest cavity and lung tissue bounce back after a stretch.  Active exhaling uses the musculature surrounding the two cavities to contract so that the abdominal cavity is pushed upwards or the thoracic cavity pushed downward.

The Diaphragm:

This divides the torso into the two cavities. It has a deeply domed shape.  This is completely dependent on the structures it is attached to and the organs it supports.  It is attached slightly to bone in a few spots but 90% originates on flexible tissue.  The muscular fibers are oriented primarily along the vertical.

“The muscular action of the diaphragm is most often associated with a bulging movement in the upper abdomen” (pg 9).  This is what we call “belly-breathing”.

NOTE: I remember reading an anecdote once about how there was someone who did breathing during their seminar and they found that woman, more than men, don’t do the belly-breathing right from years and years of “sucking it in”.

“If the central tendon is stabilized and the ribs are free to move, a diaphragmatic contraction will cause an expansion of the rib cage” (pg. 9).  This is “chest-breathing”.  The issue is not whether you are using the diaphragm or not, but whether you are using it efficiently.

In yoga asana practice or breathing exercises accessory muscles are used.  You don’t steer your breath with the diaphragm.  The idea of “diaphragmatic training” ia thus flawed.  Breath training is really “accessory muscle training”.  Also, saying that chest breathing indicates a flaw in your breathing is ridiculous.

Accessory Muscles in Respiration:

In a belly breath, the origin of the diaphragm is stabilized by the muscles pulling the rib cage downward.  These are classified as “exhaling muscles” but still participate in inhalation shape: internal costals, transversus thoracis, etc.  The central tendon is stabilized by the abdominal muscles (also called “exhaling muscles).  Here though, they are acting in a pattern used for inhaling.  In both of these, one region needs to be relaxed for the other to work.

Abdominal and Thoracic Accessory Muscles:

The shortening and lengthening of elastic fibers that run in all directions, produce the infinitely variable shape changes in respiration.  You need to relax the tone of some abdominal muscles for the diaphragm to move.  they also directly affect the rib cage’s ability to expand.  The transversus abdominis have the most direct effect on breathing.  Its fibers are interwoven at right angles with those of the diaphragm.

Other layers have similar counterparts in the thoracic cavity.  Only the external costals are capable of expanding thoracic volume.

Other Accessory Muscles:

Chest, back, and neck muscles can also expand the rib cage.The location and attachment of these muscles however, make them far more inefficient.  Improved breathing is a result of a decrease in tension in the accessory mechanism.

Other Diaphragms:

Pelvic diaphragm:

mula bandha is the action of lifting in the pelvic floor muscles  Mula bandha moves apana upwards.  To inhale while it is active requires a release of the attachments of the upper abdominal wall.  The diaphragm can then lift the base of the rib cage up.  this is called uddiyana bandha.

Vocal Diaphragm:

The glottis is a space between the vocal folds or cords.  At rest, the muscles can be relaxed so that the glottis is not restricted or enlarged.Exercises involving deep and rapid breaths the muscles of the vocal folds pull apart to create a larger passage, like in kapalabhati or bhastrika.  When long, deep, slow breaths are taken, the glottis can be partially closed.  This is how you create whispered speech and in yoga is called ujjayi.

During chanting in yoga, the cords are pulled together.  The air pushing through vibrates them.

The Bandhas

All three diaphragms and ujjayi come together and are coordinated with inhaling and exhaling.  The “valve” of the ujjayi creates a back pressure throughout the abdominal and thoracic cavities that aids in protecting the spine  These bandhas create more stability in the body and protecting it from injury.

Brahmana is an additional effect of moving the body through resistance which creates heat in the system that can be used beneficially.  It is als associated with inhaling, nourishment, prana, and the chest region.

Langhana is the relaxing side of yoga associated with cooling, condensation, relaxation and release, development of sensitivity and inward focus, exhaling, elimination, apana, and the abdominal region.

The best advice given in this section is that there is no single way to breathe.