I am finally learning how to breathe.
Time was, during the lung-opening warm-up, I gasped when I tried to squeeze out every last molecule of air. I choked when waiting to inhale, then got dizzy when I finally managed to. Sometimes still, I weave and waver as I breathe, and must tense my thighs to stay upright. Never much of an athlete, I have never developed lung strength. Breathing has been my least favorite part of practice.
It has taken two years for me to start to control my breathing in that exercise, sipping and releasing on a slow count of six. What helped was concentrating on filling and emptying the lungs from the bottom up. I take deeper breathes. Bikram promises that his yoga will transform Dixie cup lungs into barrels. Maybe soon I will be ready for curing pickles.
What also helped was trying to manage my breathing instead of just enduring its vagaries. Once when I could not breathe, it was because I was sitting with my head dangling over my knees. It was during the final minutes of class, and I felt rag-doll weak, too weak to hook fingers to toes and pull forward. But it was physics, not fatigue, that was the culprit: My lungs were scrunched. I sat tall and felt better. That one was easy.
Sometimes when I exert myself in a pose, I pant and feel anxious at the pace of my heart. I try to slow my breathing then, expand my lungs slowly, and then feel more calm, and stronger again, of course.
And now, when I do the opening breathing exercise, I imagine my inhaling lungs as inflating balloons. I feel my swelling lungs lifting my ribs off my waist, giving me height and my spine air. My very bones breathe better now.
ps – consider posting a comment on postures you have struggles with and tools you developed in the struggle.