Years ago, pre-Bikram Yoga practice, I was hanging out with my girlfriend Amy in the sauna after a long day of snowboarding. She challenged me to take ten long breaths, inhaling and exhaling, ten counts through my nose. A natural competitor by nature, I was up for the challenge, but by about breath number 6, I was ready to pass out. I could not believe how hard it was to breathe when I was actually mindfully breathing! Furthermore, I was never previously aware that I hadn’t been mindfully breathing.
The Bikram Yoga series begins with Pranayama: standing deep breathing (prana means life force and yama means control). Pranayama is a highly thorassic breathing exercise designed to increase respiratory function and prepare your body and muscles for your yoga practice by increasing blood circulation and heart rate. The breath control performed in Pranayama breathing works to maximize lung capacity, which greatly helps with endurance and stamina. Standing deep breathing also helps decrease anxiety and irritability, and promotes mental well-being.
It is important to note that the rich benefits of this posture won’t be achieved by turning on the faucet at full blast. In Pranayama breathing, we take six counts to fully inhale and then allow for a time to hold the breath, and since the diaphragm is in, the chest naturally expands. Then continuing to use breath control, we exhale for a full six counts. (Just as you would cautiously turn on a faucet to conserve water, the throat should be used to constrict the air passage so that you can fully reap the maximum lung–expansion benefit from the exercise.)
Keep spine straight. To avoid slouching or compressing the spine, suck your stomach in and lift your chest up out of your waist. FOR LADIES: You can strengthen your pelvic floor by contracting your kegel muscles and lifting up from there.
Keep maximum weight in your heels to avoid tipping side to side or back and forth.