Breath of Life

To breathe might seem like something automatic, which requires no effort, something that everyone knows how to do. Yet many health and wellness experts agree than many of us don’t know how to breathe correctly.

Studies show that due to factors like stress and sedentary lifestyles, the way many of us breathe is too shallow and too short. To continue breathing this way will in turn contribute to creating more tension and stress in the body, leading to a vicious circle, of tension, shortness of breath, anxiety and even panic attacks.

Starting a regular yoga practice is a great way to take charge of how your breathe, and in time you will start to notice that when you are in charge of how you breathe, you are also in charge of how you feel. It all starts with learning to control your breath in class. In time you will be able to apply some of these techniques also outside the yoga room.

Here are some tips on how to breathe in a hot yoga class:

  • Nose breathing: Always, always breathe through the nose! Apart from during specific breathing exercises, you should always breathe through the nose in yoga class. Breathing through the nose is anatomically connected to your body’s Parasympathetic Nervous System, the “rest and digest response”. This means that when you breathe through the nose, you send signals to your brain to slow your heart rate down and to relax your muscles. On the other hand, when you breathe through the mouth , you stimulate the “fight or flight response”. This will bring your heart rate up and release stress hormones in your body. So always remember: breathe through the nose!
  • Breath and movement in harmony: This may take some time, but as you continue to practice the same postures again and again you will find that there are certain movements that work well with and exhale, and others that work with an inhale. Bringing your arms over the head will naturally expand the ribcage, this is a good place to inhale, and arms down side is good for an exhale. Listen carefully, the teacher WILL give you some verbal cues, but don’t worry too much if you miss some of them. Finding your own natural breath in class can be a lifelong journey!
  • 80/20 breathing: This is a good breathing technique to use in backbending postures, where it might not be possible to take big deep breaths. Take just one big, deep breath as you go into the posture, filling your lungs to 100%. Then hold 80% of the air in your lungs, and just take small breaths in and out, using only 20% of your lung capacity to inhale and exhale. This is particularly useful in the deep backbends like Camel Pose and the Half Moon backbend.
  • Kapalbathi Breathing: The final breathing exercise in Bikram class. This is a really great one for practicing deep breaths that come from the stomach, rather than from the chest. Keep the body still and relaxed, the only thing you should engage is the abdominal muscles. Think “stomach, stomach, stomach”! Relax your face, relax your jaw, mouth open.
  • Pranayama Breathing: The first breathing exercise in Bikram class. This breathing exercise is a little technical, and would need several pages by itself to explain in detail! The most important thing to point out is that it often feels strange and uncomfortable to practice in the beginning, and can take several months to get used to. This is usually due to tensions that many of us carry in our arms neck and shoulders. Don’t worry if your Pranayama doesn’t look like the teacher’s does when they demonstrate, you will still get the benefit when you try your best!