Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Basic biomechanics 101 - In order for the body to move safely within a yoga posture, your whole body structure must be relaxed, opening out at all times. If not, you will end up with joint or back pain down the road.
Mastering your breath is key, but only if your breath is in tune with what your body needs and not your emotional mind.
In order for the body to move freely, without experiencing any negative compressive loading, the nervous system needs to activate the inner stabilisation muscles and disconnect all the antagonistic surface muscles. When you breathe correctly your body will automatically do this. However, if your breath is not in tune with the need of your nervous system your body will always be fighting against itself and at some point, you will end up with joint and back pain.
Using this more functional approach to breath control is how I rapidly restored my stiff inflexible suborn arthritic body, having spent years doing it wrong and getting nowhere.
So how do you breathe to meet the needs of the nervous system?
To help your nervous system disconnect all the antagonistic muscles that hold you back, you must only move on an EXHALE.
Now that you’re not relying on air pressure in your lungs you have to rewire your nervous system to engage more inner strength.
The INHALE is where you pause without movement and you expand out to the position your body finds itself in.
Whether you are inhaling or exhaling your mantra is to open out.
You are always expanding out.
Let's see how this plays out in Cobra.
Cobra: First off lie on your front, hands palms flat on the floor under shoulders, elbow in close to the chest.
Ok, now without movement INHALE deeply, focus your mind on feeling the sensation of the whole body expand out to this initial starting point.
Now that the body is pre-opened, you EXHALE.
As you EXHALE you engage your inner spine strength to pull the spine open by driving the chest forward creating space in every vertebra of the spine. This same inner strength will then lift the upper body up to move into the space that you’ve just created. As you do this movement you must totally relax all antagonistic muscles, which are the glutes and surface back muscles.
Next, INHALE. No more movement.
DO NOT come up anymore!
Focus all your attention on feeling the whole body expand out to this position.
On your next EXHALE, you repeat the process again tapping into your inner spine strength to pull the spine open by driving the chest creating even more space in the spine and then allow the body to come up to move into the space that it’s just created. Again, as with all exhales you must totally relax all antagonistic muscles, which would otherwise inhibit your inner core strength from doing its job. These muscles include the glutes and surface back muscles.
That's it - it’s as simple as that.
It’s a bit like climbing a ladder. Every exhale, you reach for the next run of the ladder and step up. During every inhale, you rope yourself off and secure your position.
At all times your matra is to open out the entire body.
This is how to breathe in Bikram hot yoga to restore the body and eliminate joint/back pain, no matter the posture you’re doing.
No matter how stiff or inflexible you are, you will find your studio or home practice will explode.
If you suffer from joint or back this is the only way forward.