Starting today, we're launching into a new series on the blog which will focus on the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises included in every traditional Hot Yoga class. Technically, hot yoga is any yoga routine performed in a heated yoga studio, however, when people refer to Hot Yoga, they are usually referring to the routine of postures developed by Bishnu Ghosh in India and introduced to America by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970's. At our studio, we call this class Hot26, as opposed to Flow, which is the other style of class offered in the heated studio. Now that you're thoroughly confused, let's jump right in and take a look at the first posture you will be practicing in class, one of two breathing exercises included in the series: Pranayama Breathing.
In Sanskrit, Pranayama means "control of the breath (or life force)". It is performed at the very beginning of the class in order to achieve mental awareness of and physical control over your breathing in preparation for holding the postures to come. Learning to control your breath, inhaling and exhaling deeply and evenly through your nose, as "easy" as it might seem to be to breathe, you may be surprised at how difficult it is to maintain this even breath at first. Keep coming to your mat, though, and you'll find yourself, over time, relying on this breath to sustain you as you gain strength and challenge yourself to work deeper into every posture.
Below is a video of Mariah demonstrating one inhale & exhale of Pranayama Breathing:
Standing Deep Breathing
We introduce the Hot26 class with a breathing exercise. The Hot26 class was designed to work your entire body from head to toe. So we begin with a breathing exercise called Standing Deep Breathing to warm the body up from the inside out and to bring fuel in and prepare for practice.
The mistake made most often in this pranayama technique is that beginners tend to run out of air at count 2 or 3 and then hold their breath until 6. It can be a challenge to understand how to extend the breath when you are new to yoga. When you begin to understand how the technique is performed, however, it is a wonderful way to open your practice.
The second most common mistake I’ve seen is when students don’t understand this is an exercise for the neck and the shoulders, so they stiffen up their neck and shoulders and refuse to use their full range of motion in the neck. Every movement in this systematically designed class was chosen to flush out, strengthen, and create mobility in each muscle, ligament and tendon- including those in the neck. In order to perform this breathing exercise properly, it is important to understand how to extend the breath.
I like to say you are using a third nostril when you are doing the breath properly. You pull the air into your lungs by pushing your ribcage out and constricting your throat muscles, not by sniffing the air up into your nostrils. When you are using your third nostril you feel the air hit your throat on your inhale without feeling it in your nose. I also like to call it the Darth Vader Breath because you sound like you are about to say Luke I am your father when you are doing it properly!
To perform the exhale properly you have to learn how to resist the urge to let all of the air out at the first hint of the teacher saying exhale. After extending the inhale it can be easy to want to let most of your air out right at the top of the breath. But if you can withhold from that urge and slowly, patiently let the air out in one even exhale you will be able to learn to open up a channel straight from your lower lungs and push the air out more and more slowly each time.
Benefits of Standing Deep Breathing
Increase lung capacity
Stretches and strengthens intercostal muscles
Calms nervous system
Strengthens and stretches neck muscles
Strengthens and stretches shoulders, wrists, and fingers
Strengthens core muscles
Improves cardiovascular system
Improves mental focus and coordination