I can’t breathe in yoga


photo credit: Lord Jim

Darth Vader breath, Ujjayi Breath, “Yoga breath…”  I got 99 problems and Pranayama is one. 

 I am so confused on how to breathe in yoga sometimes, it is downright distracting my down dogs. At the risk of being ostracized, roasted, and berated by the yoga community, I have actually been slowing and quieting my breath in my practice. Not focusing so much on the big breath, but more being cued by asana. Gasp. I find the more I practice, the calmer my breath flows, the slower my heart rate goes, and thus I move into a balanced magical state…sometimes.

According to our main man, Patanjali, I am in on the right path, no?

Fourth rung is Pranayama: The fourth of the eight rungs (2.29) of Yoga is Pranayama, which is regulating the breath so as to make it slow and subtle (2.50), leading to the experience of the steady flow of energy (prana), which is beyond or underneath exhalation, inhalation, and the transitions between them (2.51).

As the difficulty of the pose increases, and my flexibility decreases, my breath starts to quicken. To keep from going spazoid because of this “yoga breath,” I must be vigilant. I must cultivate more and more practice.

What I do understand  (I think) is that all-nostril breathing is necessary to keep the heat internal. Lucky me: my TMJ often kicks in and leads me to clenching my jaw. So recently, I have played with practicing with a slightly open mouthed, but still all-nostril flow.

Check out this instructional Yoga Breathing and Mistakes video (Really!), and below the 10 reasons why I’m confused about how to breathe in yoga.

Breathing Cues Commonly Heard in Yoga Classes:

1. Restrict the back of the throat by lifting your tongue to make it audible and even.

2. Inhale from an expanding chest.

3. Inhale from your belly.

4. Its a three-part breath: chest, mid-thoracic, belly.

5. Expand your exhale.

6. Biiiig inhale.

7. I can’t hear you breathing! (I plead guilty to having said this while teaching :/)

8. Hold the exhale.

9. You are breathing with your neck. Stop!

10. Work the breath.

photo credit: Lars Plougmann

See what I mean? I bet you’ve heard some killer and/or contradictory breath cues in class. Care to share below?

Can you help me catch my breath? What is a yoga breath? Is it different from one style of yoga to another?

Please, it is literally a matter of life, or death.

Posted by:

- who has written 24 posts on Yoga Modern.

DJ Sukha (AKA: Amber Kavehkar) is the resident Yoga Modern DJ and a regular contributor on the blog and often contributes her downloadable mashups on our Facebook page Amber fell in love with the mashup of mind, body, and vinyasa flow at her very first yoga class. Already deeply immersed in the music world, she decided to pick up spinning in order to offer something new in the music and yoga scenes. Amber's favorite quote is, "When words fail, music speaks." In Sanskrit, SUKHA is often translated as “happiness," "ease" or "pleasure." In Buddhist literature, the Pali term is used to describe laic pursuits, meditative absorptions and intra-psychic phenomena. DJ Sukha creates eclectic mixes of indie, progressive, electronica, trance, world & dubstep music in order to mesh sound and movement. She collaborates with yoga teachers, event organizers, and studio owners to offer live spinning at yoga classes and events. DJ Sukha is available for regular classes, events, and fundraisers or private parties. Click here for more information on gigs, booking, and merchandise.

4 Responses

  • Glad it's not just me. Aside from Monkey brain, there has been no other more difficult aspect to master in yoga than the breathing. I never knew I was a 'reverse breather' until I walked into a yoga class. I knew I always had trouble with shallow breathing, asthma, congestion, yada, yada, yada. I know I'm lucky when I can take a deep breath and it feels great. I also know that for most people breathing is natural. For some of us it's a challenge. I know I've encountered a fair share of teachers who can't comprehend that breath is work. I have been lucky enough to find teachers who encourage people like me to back off the pose and get the breath right FOR me.

  • DJ Sukha says:

    Downdog, did you watch the video?! Its new thinkin to me, wondering your viewpoint…

  • Kris says:

    My Iyengar-style yoga instructor says “breathe through your SIDE RIBS”……hello? I’ve taken anatomy…..my side ribs DO NOT breathe.

  • Vision_Quest2 says:

    Kambhaka (seated or standing) has much more of an effect on me than cumulative ujjayi breath (in postures). And teachers used to not be able to hear my ujjayi breathing.

    Must be my sinuses.