One of the first things you’ll hear during a typical yoga class is… breathe. Breath is one of the fundamental tools in any yoga or meditation practice. As dozens of us experienced in the 30-Day deep breathing challenge this past fall, the simple act of focusing on your breath can improve your mental and physical health.
Today I’d like to focus on a few breathing tricks that will help improve your Bikram yoga practice, specifically the standing series. This is intended for people who have been practicing a while, although I’m sure beginners will find some nuggets of wisdom as well. (When I started practicing, I struggled to breathe period, nothing fancy!)
What I hope to do is provide insights into places in class where breathing can significantly help your postures and increase your stamina. If you forget what the names of the postures are, I’ve hyperlinked images for each one listed below.
Eagle pose is one of the easiest postures to restrict or stop breathing all together. For this posture be extra mindful of maintaining a low, unrestricted breath throughout the length of the whole posture. Having your arms twisted across your chest and squatting like you’re in a public bathroom, no wonder it’s easy to stop breathing.
Since this posture is at the end of the warm up series, it’s particularly important to maintain your breath so you can glide into the standing series without feeling fatigued.
Standing Head to Knee
I have two thoughts on using the breath in this posture. I learned these tips from Mary Jarvis, a long time Bikram teacher. She advises students to inhale deeply when extending your leg out in the second part of the posture (kicking your leg out). This allows your lungs to fill with oxygen. Similar to the spine strengthening series, once you have this full deep breath, breath slowly and normally.
Second, take another deep relaxed breath before pulling your arms down to the sides of your legs (the third part of the posture). These two breaths have been the key to surviving and maintaining my Standing Head to Knee pose.
Skip the backbend between postures
Some studios give you time do an “optional backbend” between the sets of Standing Head to Knee. Try skipping this backbend as a way to maintain your slow smooth breathing. I like to roll my shoulders back, still getting some of the chest opening. I find doing a small backbend temporarily restricts my breathing at a time when I really need consistent oxygen flow.
Similar to my Mary’s suggestion for Standing Head to Knee, try taking a big, dramatic breath and stretch your body and chin toward the ceiling before you start kicking you leg. This large breath will help sustain you through the posture and will give you the confidence to nail the pose for the full 60 seconds.
Standing Separate Leg Stretching/Toe Stand
When coming out of Standing Separate Leg Stretching and Toe Stand pose, I have a tendency to get light headed or dizzy. My teacher and friend Martha Williams from Bikram Yoga Minneapolis taught me to take a deep breath as I exit both of those postures. The deep inhale as you rise both helps you pull in your stomach (necessary for a safe exist) as well as provides enough oxygen to avoid feeling dizzy.
Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee
Take a deep breath while stretching up to the ceiling before you tuck your chin to your chest and roll up like a sushi roll; this will dramatically help with the execution of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee pose. The breath before entering this posture has less to do with oxygen intake and more to do with setting up the posture correctly. By taking this deep breath and compressing your lower abdomen, you can begin the proper compression as you roll down to put your forehead on the knee. And yes, the extra oxygen helps you glide through the standing series!
Here’s an unconventional breathing tip for savasana: relax your groin. It’s easy to settle in for a two minute savasana, and not even think about relaxing your groin and pelvic floor. By relaxing this area, your breath will naturally relax and slow down.
The things I have learned about breathing over the last several years could provide content for dozens of blog posts. I hoped to capture just some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way.