How to Breath in a Vinyasa Yoga Class


Article by Hayley Hyer

Photography by Stock Images

The way we breathe throughout our yoga practice greatly affects our overall experience. We can either feel connected and full of energy, or we can feel like we are a few steps behind the entire time, trying to catch up. If you just exhaled when your instructor says to inhale, it can make you feel lost. Here are some tips to breathing throughout a vinyasa practice and how to use ujayi breath to get even more out of your movement.

Inhales and Exhales

Typically in a vinyasa flow, you will inhale as you move up away from your mat and exhale as you move down toward your mat. When you hold a posture, you should continue to breathe normally. It's tempting to hold your breath when you are doing a challenging balance pose, but it will only make it harder for you to balance and to keep moving into the next asana.

Yoga instructors are taught to re-engage the breath for you. This means that when it is time to move to the next posture, your instructor will tell you to exhale before you need to inhale, or vice versa. For example, if you have been holding a lunge and are moving into warrior 2 next (moving up away from your mat, so it's on an inhale), your instructor will tell you to exhale and then will say, "Inhale warrior 2." This gives you the opportunity to get on the right breath before you start moving.

If you know this is coming, it can help you feel more at ease throughout the class and listen to your instructor's cues with intention.

Ujjayi Breath

You may have heard a yoga instructor tell you to use ujjayi breath or 'ocean breath.' The point of ujjayi breath is to build heat in your body, loosen up your muscles, and get deeper into your practice. It can be tricky to remember to breathe this way throughout an entire hour-long class, but the more you practice it, the more natural it will feel.

Here's how to get into it.

+ Begin by breathing deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth as you warm up for class. Be intentional about using your exhales to release anything that you do not want to carry with you into your practice, whether it is a conversation you had 30 minutes ago or something you have been worrying about all week.

+ When you are ready, close your mouth and seal your lips. Slowly breathe in through your nose and back out through your nose. But as you exhale, tighten your vocal chords to make an ocean sound in the back of your throat. It also sounds a bit like Darth Vader breathing, or like you are sighing. After a few rounds, you should start to feel the inside of your body warming up a little. As you start moving, you will feel it even more.

As I've said before, it's really hard to keep doing ujjayi breath throughout an entire practice! When you are working your body and sweating like crazy, sometimes you just have to let some air out. That's totally fine. I'm an instructor, and I definitely do not maintain a perfect ujjayi breath throughout an entire class. But, it's a goal that I am always working toward, and it's a nice focal point to have when the class gets hard.

If your thoughts start to wander to things you don't want to be distracted with at the moment, or if you start questioning yourself and thinking negative thoughts about your body and your yoga ability, focus more on your breath, be more intentional about the ocean sound, and your thoughts will become a lot quieter.

Follow Hayley Hyer @hayhyer

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