I’ve written a bunch of posts (all in the voice of a student/someone who is also learning) about getting started in yoga, advice for hot yoga beginners, how to make your home practice a priority, yoga on a budget, the effects of a consistent practice, a pretty decent spectrum of everyday tips and advice for the everyday or beginner yogi. I realized a few weeks ago, when my husband started going to yoga (I know, totally amazing!) that I left out the most important piece of the whole getting started/developing a yoga practice puzzle. How to find your breath/how to breathe. I actually sorta left it out on purpose, I just figured I wasn’t the right person to explain it. Since I’m not a teacher or an expert – but since trying to help explain how I found m breath to Chris in a way that makes sense, I remembered just how hard it was for me to find my breath and figured why not share what I tried to articulate to him and maybe it’ll help someone just a little. Without the proper (I can’t think of a better word, there really is no “proper” but I think you get what I mean?) breathing the class can feel so much harder, confusing, frustrating, aggravating and fumbly then it needs to be. I’m not talking about just plain old breathing as opposed to holding your breath, normal breathing is cool too (I mean, it’s hip to be alive: breathing=life) but I mean your yoga breath which is called pranayama – how to find yours and what the heck is it anyways?
I’m not a teacher (another reminder, in-case you forgot) so none of this will be technical, but this is how I learned/figured out what the whole idea of a yoga breath is and how I slowly began to find mine.
- First get set up in class or at home, then start by laying in Savasanna.
- Breathe normal (in and out of your nose and mouth or just nose) and then slowly start to slow down that natural breathe.
- Then begin to close your mouth and focus on breathing in and out of your nose (it’s all in and out of your nose from here on out).
- Then focus on breathing from your belly (it’s all belly breathing from here on out), fill your belly and then your chest (this will allow for a deeper breath without the light headedness) and when you exhale empty from your belly pulling it down to your spine.
- Next you want to slowly start lengthening both your in and out breathes, start by slowly counting to 3 on your inhale holding for a moment, counting to 3 on your exhale (extending your breath to meet the count).
- If that starts to flow easy, move the count up to 4 on your inhale, hold for a moment then count to 4 on your exhale (extending your breath to meet the count).
- If you have a nice slow calm nose breath at this point, then you are doing amazing – and if not, still doing amazing just relax and practice some more.
- Now depending on the type of yoga you practice the type of pranayama (yoga breath) will be different – but this is how I found my Ujjayi breath (which is a quiet ocean sounding breath that comes from the back of our throat) maybe you are trying to find a different style of breath? If so skip this point if you need. Next you want to constrict the back of your throat a little, to make the throat smaller to allow the air to pass through more slowly, it will make a little bit of a sound as the air passes in and out (not a growling, darth vader sound) more like a quiet ocean deep breath from the back of your throat. When I was little I used to do this “pee-wee herman” impression, I’d tighten my throat (basically the same throat muscles you use when you gag) and it would change the sound of my voice to be (what I thought was) super Pee-Wee Herman like. Cool story, I know – but when I started trying to constrict the back of my throat to breath in yoga I found my pee-wee herman muscles and focused on tightening those a little and it worked. Keep your face and mouth relaxed, it’s totally a throat party nothing else is invited.
- If you lose this breath at all during the class, take a step back move into child’s pose, Savasanna or mountain pose – whichever will allow you to close your eyes and focus back on your breath. And then flow back into the poses when you are ready.
- Try your best not to hold your breath, keep the 3 or 4 count when the poses get hard and you naturally start holding your breath.
I’m not gonna lie, class is rough until you find your breath. Like you might leave class wondering why the heck anyone would ever do that to themselves regularly – but it does get way way, WAY better once you find it, like everything makes sense and class is pretty F***ing wonderful once you do. Sometimes it just takes a really great teacher, with a combo of amazing instructions and a calming voice to help you get there or it’s the right class and all of a sudden it clicks. It’s different for everyone, but it’s very much worth the effort of going to a few classes till you find it, then make the choice if yoga is right for you.
This yoga breath will help you relax in the poses, help dictate how you move in and out of poses, it will help to keep you calm and balanced. It can also help you through stressful moments in everyday life since after a while it just pops up when things get hard (like when things get hard in poses). It’s a pretty amazing tool to add to your toolbox, you know your toolbox of life (whatever that means).
And because I’m not a teacher and this is just from my own experience, here are some other helpful resources from very different point of views: