Yoga Tip: Why exhale through the nostrils?

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Vigorous styles of yoga … namely Bikram & Power … inspire an outward “yang” or masculine expression of movement. Quite frankly practicing these styles of yoga is intense & creates impressive cardio-spiritual results when balanced with an inward “yin” or feminine expression of breath. The intensity of the heat & challenging postures is most effectively integrated through a nervous system which is calm & centered. The nostril inhale & exhale when combined with Ujaya (pronouced Oo-Jai) Breath (using the whisper muscle at the back of the throat), Root Lock (drawing up the perineum which is the small muscle of the pelvic floor, not the same as squeezing your buttocks), and Navel Lock (drawing in and up the point 3 finger widths below your navel so that the abdominal muscular meets your breath … in actuality, the belly does not move much because the drawing in and up meets your inhale and holds firm on your exhale).

While all this detail may sound confusing at first blush, there is a way these elements of breath naturally come together with regular practice. For some people it comes easier than others. But when it does, the body automatically slips into deep states of self-regulated healing in which effort is balanced by grace. The experience of struggle in physical activity diminishes on both the yoga mat and in everyday life. The body grows stronger from the inside out. Our culture bends toward extreme competition and go-go achievement which encourage most people to live on jetstreams of adrenaline playing tennis, running and even playing golf. Without realizing how taxing this approach is to our nervous system, due to running on the imbalance of “yang” energies, many people hit an invisible wall and wonder what happened. Injuries, disease, mental or emotional imbalance, chronic problems such as allergies, weak immune system may be the result of ignoring the rhythms of energy which are more “yin” or feminine. Please understand that yin and yang are not gender-specific. To live in balance and harmony each of us must strike a balance between yin and yang energies within ourselves. The yogic nostril breath can make all the difference is achieving this balance in a Bikram HotCore or Power yoga practice. Are you ready for a carryover into other arenas of your life?

Trekking in the Himalayas is most definitely a “yang” activity … especially the way Roger Foster (studio member also part of the Nepal trip) and I hike. I love vertical … up and down but especially up. I get so energized attuning to the rhythm of my stride to the pulse of the mountain and the surrounding elements. In my youth I competed in physical activities … swimming, basketball, crew, and tennis … and everything was driven by a need to win some mysterious seal of approval which was never forthcoming in any lasting sense … even when I won … because there was always another game … always starting over again from ground zero … needing to prove myself again … to whom?

Yoga provides a psychological sanctuary where unfulfilling habitual patterning can be observed, erased, and replaced by freedom … meaning, playing simply for the joy of it … the activities can still be intense and challenging … but also centered, balanced, relaxed … this is what I mean by achieving the balance of yang (Let’s get up this mountain PRONTO) and yin (I love life … aren’t those trees pretty? Wow & look at those spectacular mountains). Even in the simple act of the stride, yang is the strength and will to step up and hoist the body up … while yin emerges with the calmness to observe how much the heart rate has spiked up and just stay relaxed in that moment before the next step. It is this balance, derived from years of yoga practice, which made this trek so enjoyable and efficient for me.

As the years pass in my life, I want to remain active and alert. It is so clear that my body is much more balanced in my forties than it was in my twenties. I invite you to cultivate a balance of energies which keeps you active and alert … not hyper or manic or adrenaline-driven … but truly relaxed and present with life and all its miracles … including the ones in you.

Here are some tips for anyone having difficulty with nostril exhalations in Bikram HotCore or Power classes:

1. Focus on the details of breath from the very first posture. Let all your movements support the yogic nostril breath … even if it means that you take your foot off the accelerator … back off that yang run-thru-the-wall mentality … even if it means taking rest on the floor in the standing series in Bikram HotCore or child pose in Power.

2. Try Ujaya breath when driving the car. First thru an open mouth. Your breath
will sound like Darth Vata from Star Wars. Engage the whisper muscle at the back of the throat like you are trying to fog up a pair of glasses. Keep the muscle engaged while you breath in and out thru your mouth. When this feels stable, seal your lips and keep the same muscle engaged as you breathe your nostrils. Practice this breathing going thru the same warm-up with open mouth and switching to sealed lips every time you go into the car for 21 days. It is said that when a person repeats an activity or way of being every day for 21 days, a momentum kicks in which makes the activity or new way of being easier thereafter. And then once or twice a week thereafter. Notice how you feel after 10 minutes. Know that you are tapping into the yin side of your nervous system when you find those long deep rhythms of Ujaya breath. In this push-push East Coast culture I don’t know anyone who cannot benefit from this type of breathing.

3. Probably no one is able to maintain these 3 breathing elements … Ujaya, Root Lock, Navel Lock … from the beginning to the end of class. I can’t. So cut yourself some slack by getting it together first on the inhale. You may lose your locks on the exhale. See if you can keep up your Ujaya on the exhale. In savasana cultivate the mental discipline to bring the 3 elements together. Once you commit to the wholeness of this breath in savasana, it starts to become second nature.

4. Attend a Yoga Passion Posture Clinic or book a private yoga class. One-on-one
attention can make an enormous difference in getting over the initial hurtles of decades of limited breathing.

Let me know how these tips work out. As always, I invite you to cultivate positive thoughts about yourself and your world. And share the enthusiasm with those individuals who are most receptive.

Blessings of Endless Joy & Vitality,
Peter Sklivas, Director of Yoga Passion