Breathe Into Your Kidneys: Verbal Cues in Yoga Explained

“Breathe into your back ribs.”


“Breath into the space around your kidneys.”


“Breathe into your big toe.”

Ok. Now you’re just trying to be funny.

How many times have you been instructed to take your breath someplace considered physiologically impossible? Yoga teachers give this instruction all the time, but it doesn’t really make any sense, does it? Our breath moves into our lungs. Period.


And no one takes the instruction to breathe into the soles of the feet literally.

Do they?

Because I’m one of those yoga instructors. I’m one of those instructors who will ask you to breathe into places where the breath doesn’t travel. But I’ve got my reasons.

When I provide the verbal cue to breathe into the back of the ribs I’m asking you to bring your awareness to a specific part of the body in a more efficient way than the cue “relax.”

Furthermore, by breathing into the back during a pose like Balasana (child’s pose), we become attuned to the physiology of breathing. We gain an awareness of the muscles involved. The lungs may be the workhorse of breath, and the diaphragm our ‘third lung’, but there is so much more to consider. Our intercostal muscles, for instance, extend and contract with each breath to move the ribcage. Our internal obliques work in opposition to the contracting diaphragm. The gift of breath – the art of breathing – is more than filling the lungs like a balloon. It is a complex event with an interrelated team of muscles, organs and bones.

So if I ask for the impossible.  If I offer the verbal cue “breathe into your kidneys” just go with it.  I have my reasons.