Ever forgotten how to breathe?

Simple, right?

For a good while, I thought I was alone in this: some days it’s really hard to breathe.

It seems like the simplest thing: take air in, push air out. It is the central tenet in all of yoga, focusing on the breath. When I first started Bikram, Pranayama was not a terribly daunting task. Breathe deeply, set up your breathing rhythm for class, no problem. Sure, like everyone, I’d catch myself holding my breath in different postures. But those are momentary lapses, easily fixed.

But Pranayama can be an adventure. Some days it’s just challenging. On the worst days, my whole chest seizes up and it’s as if I’ve forgotten how to breathe. Add in the feeling of panic as the teacher informs you that you are setting up your entire class with this breathing exercise and it’s even more of a mountain to climb. Those classes usually go alright despite the breathing freeze-up. But one day I asked the teacher afterward if it ever happened to him. “Oh yeah,” he said. “All the time.”

I instantly felt better and it struck me, it may be one of the few postures that gets harder the longer you practice. In the beginning, you’re just trying to get the form down and start breathing a little deeper. When you really start stretching your lungs, it gets trickier. You’re pushing at something that normally comes naturally. Maybe your brain actually starts interfering. Maybe it’s because it’s at the beginning of class, when you haven’t fully gotten yourself into meditation yet.

Those are my theories. Anyone have any others? Anyone else struggle with breathing, in Pranayama or otherwise? Would love to hear how you deal with it.

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