For many students new to Bikram Yoga (and for some that aren’t so new!), breathing properly in class is a challenge. It’s very easy to let the heat overwhelm you and the effort of the postures get in the way of anything that feels remotely like normal breathing. In fact in many postures, for example Eagle when you’re constricting your whole body, it’s quite common to forget to breathe at all!
When new students ask how other people can get through class so much easier than they can, it’s usually because they’ve just mastered how to breathe.
So we’ve asked our Bikram teachers to shed some light on the secret to breathing in a Bikram Yoga class…
Try to remember to breathe – it’s so easy to forget to breathe that a good piece of advice is to just try to remember it in the first place. Set your intention before the class, listen to the teacher’s dialogue and tell yourself to breathe, breathe, breathe before anything else in there. Keep coming back to this every time your start finding things difficult, you’ve probably been holding your breath!
Breathe through your nose - apart from the two breathing exercises your breath should be normal, in through the nose and out through the nose, throughout the whole of the class. Don’t breathe through your mouth. This will trigger a release of adrenalin, which will make your heart pump even faster and stimulate feelings of stress and anxiety.
Listen to your breath – it sounds simple but it really helps to actually listen to yourself breathing. Try to hear the sound it makes in your head during every inhale and every exhale. Count them if this makes it easier to focus and concentrate on making each one the same length. If you find it getting really tough in there try and make the exhale twice as long as the inhale. This will help calm your breathing down.
Take your time – think about what you’re doing in class, don’t just do it like a robot, this is especially true if you’ve been practicing for some time. Your breath should initiate every movement enabling you to move deeper into every asana. When you move in unison with your breath oxygen will reach every tissue and every cell in the body feeding it with the energy it needs for class.
Make your breathing comfortable – your goal is to to reach a state of relaxation, despite all the effort that is going on in your body. It’s the same feeling of contentment that you might get after eating a Sunday roast, when you are sitting back on the sofa with your feet up. Your breath should be natural, easy, comfortable, effortless.
Picture it – try to visualise what a natural breathing state is like. May be it’s that Sunday lunch feeling, or a baby sleeping, or you lying in the sun somewhere beautiful listening to the sound of the ocean. See it, hear it, picture it in your mind and come back to that image every time the postures get tough.
Try 80/20 breathing – in some postures where your chest is constricted for example in the backward bending part of Half Moon, Full Locust and Floor Bow, 80/20 breathing can really help. This is when you take in a full breath before you go into the posture and let out just 20 per cent of the air through your nose with your mouth remaining closed. Then keep taking in and exhaling just little sips of air using up your 80 per cent lung reserve throughout the duration of the posture.
Take it as it comes – finally don’t make breathing the be all and end all. Just like the class itself, remember some days are good and some are not so good. That’s ok. You tried. And you can try again tomorrow. This is yoga practice not yoga perfection. The breath will come, we promise.