How Do I Breathe In A Yoga Class?
Safe Space by Noémie Klein
Have you ever been confused about how to breathe in your yoga class?
Do I breathe through my mouth or nose?
When do I inhale / when do I exhale?
Do I need to follow the teacher's counts for breathing?
What if I feel dizzy or light-headed?
QUESTION from a student
"Recently, I’ve started going to yoga once or twice a week to help with my recovery from surgery. I know a lot of yoga is about breathwork but I feel like it hasn’t been fully explained to me.
The instructor will say ‘hold this pose for 8 breaths’ ... but then everyone else will be done when I’m only halfway through my 4th breath.
I notice I’m consistently breathing at roughly 50% cadence of everyone and as soon as I try and amp it up, it throws me off.
I’m definitely getting a lot out of these classes but the breath thing sends me on weird mental spirals trying to ‘catch up’."
Video animation by Amanda León
- Stop trying to follow the counts of the teacher's breathing instruction.
- Pay attention to the pace and depth of your own breath (at every single moment).
- Breathing tips:
#1 MOST IMPORTANT
Are you breathing through your MOUTH or NOSE?
- Close your mouth (jaw relaxed, lips soft), breathe through your nose.
- For many of my students, this is very difficult as they are so used to being mouth-breathers. Unless there is a nasal blockage or deviated septum issue, keep practising nasal breathing.
2. Notice when you are HOLDING your breath.
- This tends to happen in challenging asana OR when the pace of the sequence is too fast for you.
- If it is too fast, stop, and just stand still, or you can kneel on your mat. Avoid going into child's pose as it brings all the blood down to your head and getting up from that and returning to a (fast-paced) class is not ideal.
- When the mind is stressed out, we can "forget" to breathe. The key is to use your calm breathing, to calm your mind, even in the most challenging asana
- Imagine your breathing like a nonstop FLOW - in and out. Don't stop the flow.
3. Notice when you are FORCING the breath.
- Avoid this.
- Many students treat yoga like a gym workout and like forceful exhalations. No need for this. Be quiet. Your breathing should be virtually soundless.
- Keep the flow smooth and even.
- Notice the pace of your breath.
- Slow down.
4. Notice WHERE you are breathing
- Where is your body expanding when you inhale - Is it your CHEST or DIAPHRAGM?
- The diaphragm is a muscle just below your lungs that separates your chest and upper abdomen.
- It is the primary muscle for pushing air in and out of your lungs when you breathe.
- When you breathe, your shoulders / chest should be still.
- Diaphragm is expanding up and outwards.
- Practise this throughout your yoga practice (and after).
5. As A General Rule...
- Inhale when you are EXPANDING the body
- Exhale when you are squeezing or CONTRACTING the body
- Inhale BEFORE a spinal twist
- Exhale softly AS you twist
- Continue breathing softly and slowly IN your twist
- Avoid taking deep breaths in poses like spinal twists and Child's pose when your inner organs are being pressed / squeezed.
There are special breathing techniques in yoga known as pranayama which is the practice of breath regulation. In Sanskrit, prana means "life energy" and yama means "control".
Some of these breathing techniques can involve holding the breath and forceful exhalations.
They are not suitable for every body, so if you do attend a class where pranayama is taught, pay very close attention to how you feel BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER. If you begin to feel dizzy or light-headed, do not be afraid to return to your normal natural breathing pattern (soft, slow breaths).
If you are attending a class where such breathing techniques are regularly taught, it is best to let the teacher know before class that you may prefer to skip the pranayama. You can sit and breathe normally / quietly without distracting anyone.
WHY Nasal vs Mouth Breathing?