What Should I Do When I’m Out Of Breath During Yoga?

Kaitlin Daddona
What Should I Do When I’m Out Of Breath During Yoga?
I am unfit and so I have difficulty keeping my breath in line with my body movements during yoga class. Should I be slowing down my movements in order to catch my breath or is it better to hold the poses longer? I just find it too difficult to breathe in time with my movements when I get puffed. Mandy H.

The Answer

Throughout my journey on the yoga road, both as teacher and student, I’ve realized two things. One is that people become way too obsessed with the “rules” of yoga and two, humans, generally, do not know how to breathe. Let me explain further.

Inhale, reach your arms up. Exhale, fold forward. Inhale, flat back. Exhale, chaturunga. If you’ve ever taken a Vinyasa class I’m sure you’ve heard this exact script before. Learning how to synch breath to movement is a really beautiful way to get deeper into your practice and the present moment, but, alas, it is not completely necessary. Now, yoga teachers, before you get upset about what I just said, here me out.

I’d argue strongly that one of the most important things we learn from yoga is how to connect to the breath. So, if students are exhaling as they roll up and inhaling as they fold down, as long as they are breathing deep and long breaths of intention, what’s so wrong? Instead of becoming so attached to these ideas of what is right and what is wrong in our yoga practice, doing things in a way that is different may just bring on a very new and beneficial perspective. What’s important here is that breath is taking a priority, whether it’s taken in a conventional way or not.

The real issue, in my opinion, is that we simply don’t know what quality breath sounds or feels like. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve been to yoga classes where the teacher cues the exhale long before the inhale was even part way complete. Even when we think we’re taking deep breaths, they are often much more shallow and skimpy than they really should be. Instead of rushing the breath to get to next pose, how about we stay and settle in a little longer. So yes, Mandy, to answer your question, I would say that holding the poses for an extended amount of time will help you not only settle in to your breath (which you wouldn’t have to “catch,” it’ll most likely keep up with your movements the entire time), but it’ll also help you drop deeper into your body and the poses themselves.

We shouldn’t have this problem with breathing, neither on the mat or off. Our breath is our life force. It literally keeps us alive. So whether you’re in a yoga class or just walking down the street, take the time to consciously breathe. Notice the quality of your inhales, the length of your exhales. Tune into the sensation to help you really be exactly where you are, and recognize if over time the strength your breaths improve.

Additional Tips

There are so many different pranayama (breath) sequences, and I recommend trying and doing all of them to improve your quality of breath. Here are some of my favorites:

Ujjayi: The most common “yoga breath,” Ujjayi contains the breath so it only goes in and out of the nose, creating an oceanic-like sound in the back of the throat. This technique will certainly help you become more comfortable with mindful breathing.

Kapalabhati: This pranayam will help to heat and loosen the organs surrounding your abdomen. Great internal cleansing before and after core work!

Simhasana (aka Lion’s breath): Perhaps the most fun pranayama! With this breath, you simultaneously open your mouth and eyes as wide as they can go, stretch your tongue out, and exhale a loud and distinct HA sound. You may feel a little silly doing this breath at first. Throw a few “roars” in there, drop your judgments, and be the most ferocious lion out there.