Bellows Breath: A simple practice to meet and elevate depression

*Updated June 2018

Let’s create a little more space around the depressed mood or lethargy, with a short, safe adaption of a yoga breathing practice called bellows breath (bhastrika).

This breath is especially good for depression. The subjective experience is one of mild elation, followed by a feeling of relaxation. During practice, the sympathetic nervous system is briefly stimulated. However, following practice, the parasympathetic system is awakened. Blood pressure and heart rate usually drop to or below the resting rate, and the autonomic nervous system comes back into balance.

NOTE: Please do not practice Bellows Breath if you have un-medicated high blood pressure. If you have low blood pressure, you might feel a little light headedness afterwards, so be sure to practice in a seated position. If there is shoulder soreness or injury, practice Bellows Breath with the arms coming forward and back in front of the chest, or even opening and closing the fists.

Various yoga traditions teach Bellows Breath differently. But in all traditions, both inhalation and exhalation are deep and forceful. The breath is safest when practiced at a rate of one inhalation and one exhalation per second. Increasing the speed risks producing an over-stimulating effect that can actually raise anxiety levels.  If you live with bipolar disorder 1 and have a propensity toward mania, too many stimulating practices like bellow breath can trigger a manic response.

  • Sit comfortably with your spine erect. Bend your elbows and make fists with your hands, bringing fists to your shoulders so that the knuckles face out, with the forearms and upper arms hugging the torso. Take a normal natural breath in and out.
  • As you inhale through the nostrils, send your arms straight up, over your head with great force, opening your palms to face outward and spreading your fingers wide.
  • Exhale with great force through the nostrils as you bring your arms back to the starting position again, making fists with your hands.
  • Do this at a pace of one breath per second, 10 – 20 times.
  • When you have completed the practice, bring the palms open on the lap and sense the fingers of the left hand, sense the fingers of the right hand.
  • Adhi Mudra for grounding

    Bring the thumbs into the palms of the hands and turn the knuckles down on the knees, this is called Adhi Mudra. Take a full breath in and out. Inhale to 2/3rds capacity and sustain the breath. In this retention, experience yourself as a container of awakened energy. Listen to your body, when you need to, release the breath, release the hand gesture, and breathe normally.

  • Observe the effects of the practice by sensing the left cheek, the right cheek, the lips, the arms, the left palm, and the right palm. Perhaps feeling a little lighter. Maybe there is a sense of more room inside.
  • Inhale to the crown with the phrase, “I am.” Exhale to the sitting bones, “here.” Do this two more times.


About the Author

Rose Kress

Rose Kress ERYT-500, C-IAYT, YACEP, Owner/Director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, and author of Awakening Your Inner Radiance with LifeForce Yoga. She directs retreats and training programs on using LifeForce Yoga to manage your mood.

3 thoughts on “Bellows Breath: A simple practice to meet and elevate depression”

  1. Laura Orth says:

    Thanks for posting these clear instructions. It is so helpful to be able to refer my clients to the web site for out of session support for these practices.

    1. Rose Kress says:

      You are welcome 🙂

  2. […] Breathe: Extending your inhale so it lasts twice as long as your exhale will energize your body. Breath in slowly, expanding through your ribs and abdomen and then exhale quickly and fully. Stretching to open the chest while inhaling, such as in Senobi breathing or bellows breath can increase the effectiveness of this technique. Pausing for a second or two between the inhale and exhale will help avoid hyperventilation. […]

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for our Research Newsletter


What People Say

“I have gained a softer heart, more receptive mind, and tools to enrich both personal and professional aspects of my life.” – Regina Trailweaver, LICSW, clinical social worker, Hancock, VT.
“I feel profoundly transformed, both physically and emotionally. The connection between mind, body and spirit was clearly evident to me, but revealed to me through this workshop as an integrally vital link to overall health.” — Nadine Richardson, program manager at rehab agency, Monroe, CT
“I utilize the LFY techniques in both a class room setting and one-on-one environment. The skills have infused my teachings with compassion, mindfulness, and awareness.” — Kat Larsen, CYT, LFYP
I absolutely love this stuff! I have been using it with my clients and I am just finding it to be so incredibly helpful. There seriously something for everything. Although I am not as skilled as I hope to be someday, even at my level of training I’m finding that I am beginning to figure out what to do. It just blows my mind! - Christine Brudnicki, MS, LPC
“I gained perspective of who I am in the world and this will change my life significantly.” — Mary Ford, artist, Southport, CT
“My personal practice will change, as well as my yoga classes. I have a better understanding of yoga!” — Andrea Gattuso, RYT, Yoga Teacher, Hackettstown, N.J.
“I have found the LFYP training to be incredibly useful in giving people specific tools to use in maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, and further opening their intuitive abilities.” — Nancy Windheart, RYT-200, LFYP, Reiki Master, Animal communication teacher, Prescott, AZ
“This workshop has changed so much — my self-image and my life. My own heart’s desire is 100% clear. I gained tools to help myself and others to live life fully.” — Marcia Siegel, Yoga teacher, therapist, Carlsbad, CA.
“I integrate strategies like mantra tones and pranayama, but above all I invite myself and those I teach to cultivate svadhyaya, to practice self-observation without judgment.” — Barbara Sherman, RYT 200, LFYP, Tucson, AZ
“My patients can now have the same effects as many medications without having to actually take medication!” — Deborah Lubetkin, PSY.D, LFYP, West Caldwell, NJ
“Yoga Skills for Therapists is the ideal resource for those who want to bring yoga practices into psychotherapy or healthcare. Weintraub, a leader in the field of yoga therapy, offers evidence-based, easy-to-introduce strategies for managing anxiety, improving mood, and relieving suffering. Helpful clinical insights and case examples emphasize safety, trust, and skillful adaptation to the individual, making it easy to apply the wisdom of yoga effectively in the therapeutic context.” — Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author, Yoga for Pain Relief, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Yoga Therapy
“Words do not do justice to all that I learned. This workshop changed my life!” — Jen Nolan, Teacher, Cortland, NY
“I gained tools for working with my own depression and with my clients’ depressions.” — Robert Sgona, LCSW, RYT, psychotherapist, Yoga teacher, Camden, ME.
“I have found the pranayama (breathing practices) especially easy to introduce in a clinical setting. Some people have benefited quickly in unexpected and transformative ways.” — Liz Brenner, LICSW, LFYP, Watertown, MA
“I have gained an incredible opening and clearing of old obstructions. I hope to return to my life and fill this opening with things I love to do and that give me joy!” — Lisa Shine, administrative assistant, Ballston Lake, NY
“Giving my clients a strategy and permission to quiet their minds and rebalance the sympathetic nervous system has been very beneficial to them and in our work together.” — Sue Dilsworth, PhD, RYT 200, LFYP, Allendale, MI
“My life is already changed! I will use the tools I learned in my own practice and in my work. I feel safe and seen.” — Susan Andrea Weiner, MA, teacher/expressive arts facilitator, El Cerrito, CA.
“I began a fantasy during the meditation exercise... almost as if I’d been there. It’s now an on-going work of fiction.” — Serian Strauss, Tanzania
“I have been reminded that I am not on this path alone, that others are sharing the journey that sometimes seems so difficult. I have also been reminded of the importance of daily practice and I will do that. The whole program has been an incredible experience for me. Thank you!” — Lorraine Plauth, retired teacher, Voorheesville, NY
“This program changed my life in a significant way. It helped me connect with the spirit which is something you can’t get from psychotherapy and medication.” – G. W., artist, Pittsburgh, PA
“A client who returned said, "When I came before, you helped me understand and get where I wanted to go. Now you show me yoga practices I use to help myself understand and get where I want to go.” — Sherry Rubin, LCSW, BCD, LFYP, Downingtown, PA
“I learned lots of ways to reduce the anxiety and depression of my patients and myself.” – Aviva Sinvany-Nubel, PhD, APN, CNSC, RN, psychotherapist, Bridgewater, N.J.
“This workshop helped me rededicate my energies and begin to work through some of the blocks I’ve felt creatively.” — Steve Mark, college professor, New Haven, CT
“I came hoping to learn to move past some of the obstacles blocking my creativity. Over the course of this weekend, I feel I’ve gained a certain measure of faith in myself and in my ability to change. I also had some realizations that I believe will be very helpful to me. I feel encouraged. Both the content and presentation of this program were so well-thought out that I can’t think of any way to improve it.” — Andrea Gollin, writer & editor, Miami, FL
Scroll to Top