Too Hard to Breathe?

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Christine asks:

I have been doing bikram yoga since 2012. At the beginning, I was going four to five days a week. After the holidays, I’ve only been going three to four days a week. I have been noticing tightness in my hamstrings that I’ve never had before. Is this because I have more muscle there now than before I practiced? What can I do to stop painful tightness?

Christine, whenever you’re new to a practice, you’ll get sore, and sometimes when you get sore you’ll feel tight. And so if you practice a lot and really strongly, you’ll feel really, really sore in your muscles, and that can feel like tightness as well. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it. It sounds like three or four days a week is a pretty reasonable practice pattern.

It sounds like you’re doing the right thing. I wouldn’t worry about it. I’d just give it some time. It is normal to get a little bit of tightness from building muscle strength, but if you’re doing a regular yoga practice, your flexibility should be improving. I always suggest people supplement an athletic practice like bikram yoga with gravity yoga, just because it’s a really good compliment, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day.

Carmy asks:

I bought the YOGABODY Stretch capsules, and I only weigh 100 pounds. I take 2 caps, 30 minutes before my practice. If I have to take 4 a day, when do I take the other 2?

Okay, so people get really caught up in when to take nutritional supplements. For certain things, it’s important. For YOGABODY Stretch in particular, don’t take it right before bed, and in general I suggest taking it at least 30 minutes before any physical practice, like a yoga practice. The easiest thing is if you just take 2 caps in the morning with breakfast, 2 caps in the afternoon with lunch and you’re good to go. People usually take anywhere from 4 to 6 capsules per day.

Joanne asks:

I am new to yoga. I am 59 years old. When practicing the breathing and the movement, I most often run out of breath on the inhale before the movement is complete. What is the best way to improve this?

Joanne, this is a great question. One thing that makes yoga very, very unique compared to any other movement practice, whether we’re talking about jogging, whether we’re talking about step aerobics, whether we’re talking about even something like Pilates, it’s really the mind and body integration. And that mind and body integration happens specifically through the breath.

There’s lots of different techniques you can use to try to control your mind or calm or focus your mind, but the one tool that we have that immediately intrinsically connects your body and your mind is your breath, and that’s why it’s so powerful and so important for yoga. So if you’re doing a posture and you’re running out of breath on the inhale, meaning you’re not able to get the full breath in, it’s a clear sign that you’re going just a little bit too far in a pose. Likewise, on the exhale, if you find yourself just kind of vomiting out the breath, you just have to get it, again, you’re probably pushing just a little bit too far.

In an ideal pose, when you’re right where you need to be, it takes all your concentration to keep your breath steady, both on the inhale and on the exhale. What I mean by that is, when you’re doing a pose correctly, when you’re doing an advanced practice, if you don’t concentrate, you’ll lose the breath, just like you’re talking about here, Joan. But if you do concentrate and you’re right at your edge, you’ll find it very, very challenging to maintain your breath, but you’ll be able to maintain it.

If you ever get to a point where you’re losing the breath on the inhale and you have to stop, or chocking on the exhale or anything like that, it’s a clear sign that you’ve gone too far. It’s very, very common. It’s the best way to have an indication of how you’re doing in your practice.

The mistake that people make is they stop breathing through their nose and they start just letting their breath happen freely, as though they would when they’re jogging. Yoga’s a very different practice than jogging. You want to always control the breath, both on the inhale and on the exhale.

So in terms of tips, what I could say for you, Joanne, is back off a little bit on your practice. The other thing I might suggest is working on your breathing practice outside of class. What I mean by that is taking some time to work on deep inhales and exhales. When we’re working with our breath, I usually suggest a one-to-one ratio to start. So let’s say you were sitting down or you were lying on your back. Either one is fine when you’re first starting. You would want to do an inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of four and do 10 or 12 rounds like that.

And then as soon as you feel comfortable, it might be today, it might be in a few days, you want to work up to a one-to-two ratio, where you’re inhaling to the count of 4 and exhaling to the count of 8. Inhaling to the count of 4, exhaling to the count of 8. That kind of breathing pattern, it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your body down, soothes your nervous system, slows your respiration, slows your heart rate and it’s also just really good training for mind/body control.

And so I’d suggest giving that a try. Anybody who hasn’t worked with your breath, it’s very, very powerful. It’s one of the fastest links we have to connect our body and our mind. The Flexibility Kit