Bikram Yoga: Proper Breathing Techniques

Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, is a popular form of yoga that’s practiced under sauna-like conditions. The Bikram yoga sequence consists of 26 standing and floor poses, as well as specific pranayama breathing practices. Here’s how you can master Bikram yoga breathing techniques.

Understand the Importance of Breath to Yoga

In yoga, more emphasis is placed on the breath than on the movements performed. Breathing properly, slowly and mindfully, is central to the practice of any type of yoga. In order to breathe properly during your Bikram yoga practice, you need to understand the central role that breath plays in yoga and be willing to learn the proper breathing techniques.

Familiarize Yourself with the 80-20 Breath

The 80-20 breath is one of two essential breathing techniques used in Bikram yoga. It’s probably the more difficult breathing technique to learn. Practice the 80-20 breath this way:

  • Take a deep breath. Allow your abdomen and ribcage to expand as much as possible.
  • Hold the posture. Breath normally, but keep your lungs 80 percent full at all times. Breathe using only the upper 20 percent of your lungs.
  • Exhale and inhale into the upper portion of your lungs as you hold the posture.

The 80-20 breath is appropriate for use with standing poses and backbends. Using this breathing technique helps you maintain a strong feeling of balance and raises your energy levels within the pose.

Familiarize Yourself with the Exhalation Breath

The exhalation breath is easy; you simply exhale all the air in your lungs at once. You use this breathing technique to move into forward bending poses.

Using the exhalation breath in this way protects your lumbar spine from injury. It helps your pelvis rotate properly into the pose and helps stimulate your digestive organs. The exhalation breath also helps release tension from all the muscles of your body as you move into forward bending poses, which themselves have a calming effect on the nervous system.

Coordinate Your Breath and Your Movements

In yoga, breathing techniques, movements and postures are performed in an organized, controlled manner. Focusing on your breath helps disconnect you from the external world and from your worries and obligations, enabling you to get the most benefit from your practice. Being mindful of your breath also helps you pay attention to your body as you move into, out of and through poses, so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Use the Bikram yoga breathing techniques appropriately as described above. Inhale as you move upward; exhale as you bend forward. Use the 80-20 breath while holding poses, to help yourself move deeper into the pose. Pay attention to your teacher’s instructions.

The deep breathing associated with yoga practices of all types oxygenates your blood in a way that normal, shallow everyday breathing cannot. Yogic breathing mimics the breathing of deep sleep. It relieves muscle tension and helps you relax; with practice, Bikram yoga breathing techniques, as well as other yogic breathing techniques, can improve your overall respiratory performance.


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