These next few weeks in the Flow into Yoga column, we are going to explore each Bikram pose in depth.
The series begins with Standing Deep Breathing or Pranayama. Standing Deep Breathing is performed to transfer as much oxygen to your muscles and organs as possible, to expand your lungs, to have your heart pump blood throughout your body and to clear your mind for the upcoming exercises. It is important to note that the Standing Deep Breathing pose is just as important as any other posture in the session. Many beginners mistakenly assume that it is not on par with the other postures, and that they can approach it with less focus and energy. In Sanskrit Pranayama means an extension of your breathing/ life force. Pranayama is the prelude; it is the introduction. If you skip it, nothing after it will matter.
To achieve Standing Deep Breathing first stand and face forward. Hold your feet together and point them forwards. Place your hands in prayer and interlace your fingers. Place hands underneath your chin with the knuckles of your thumbs touching your throat. Your elbows and forearms should be held close together. While keeping your mouth closed, inhale deeply through the nose to a count of 6. As your lungs fill with air raise your elbows outwards like birdwings. Remember to keep hands intertwined. Once you have reached a count of 6, drop your head back gently and exhale through your mouth. Exhale completely, to the point that there is no extra air left in your lungs. The goal is to rid your body of all carbon dioxide. Your exhale should fog the mirror in front of you; it should resonant from your throat. As you exhale bring your elbows back together. And repeat.
As you maintain this pose, breathe in and out slowly to allow your lungs expand to their full capacity. Make sure your spine is straight at all times and you are not bending backwards at the hips. If you face any trouble doing this, flex your abdominal muscles and suck in your stomach. This will push your rib cage forward and make it less likely for you to bend backwards. During the exhale, tilt your head back at the neck. Do not use your hands to push the head backwards; rather, let the hands follow along with the movement of the head. Shoulders should be aligned with your hips. If you have trouble achieving this, squeeze your buttocks.
Many beginners close their eyes while performing the Standing Deep Breathing Pose. Try to avoid closing your eyes during the posture; it is not a meditation exercise. You should remain in touch with your surroundings, your body alignment and posture. Feeling a little dizzy is quite normal when performing very deep and slow breathing exercises. This does not mean anything is wrong, just that you are performing the pose correctly.
Holding the deep breath in raises your internal temperature, warming up the body from the inside out, as your cells absorb fresh oxygen from the bloodstream. With the increased circulation to the whole body, you should now feel invigorated and focused for Half Moon Pose, the next posture in the series.
Lynsdey Hemmesch is an instructor at Bikram Yoga Burr Ridge in Burr Ridge.