Ashtanga yoga uses a special type of yoga breathing exercise called Ujjayi Breathing. In this method of breathing you have to constrict the back of your throat just above the point where you swallow. This narrows down the passageway through which you breath, meaning that the muscles that you breathe with have to do more work both while you inhale and while you exhale.
The narrower you make your throat passage the more your respiratory muscles have to work. The more open you make this passage the less your respiratory muscles have to work.
The advantage of this is that it exercises your respiratory muscles. Since your respiratory muscles are working harder, this generates heat. This type of breathing also creates a deep hissing sound. The hissing sound is in part due to the restriction of the throat, and also in part because of the tension enduced in the respiratory muscles which can make the thorax act like the sounding box of an instrument. (That's my explanation anyway.)
Ideally you can vary the size of your throat passage and the work that your respiratory muscles do so that you can vary the volume of this sound.
Why try to create a sound when you breathe? To give you something to focus on. You can tune in to your breath by listening to the sound of your breath. And if you are really paying attention you can notice if you stop breathing or if your breathing becomes too quick.
While using ujjayi breathing you can work at holding your lower belly in while you inhale. At the same time let your ribs lift and expand and allow your upper belly to expand also. While exhaling, slowly and smoothly let your ribs sink down. You can release your belly at the same time.
By holding your lower belly inwards while you inhale you are activating the lower fibers of your transverse abdominus. This muscle is made up of fibers that run horizontally around your belly between your pelvis and your ribcage.
By the way, the lower belly in this case is the portion of your belly about four to five finger widths up from your pubic bone.
If you upper belly expands while you inhale then that is the result of your Respiratory Diaphragm contracting and pressing downwards on the contents of your abdomen. The diaphragm also helps your ribcage to lift.
The intercostals are the muscles between each set of ribs. These muscles act on the ribs to cause the ribcage to expand or contract. When inhaling they help your ribcage to expand.
When you exhale you can either force your exhale using your intercostals and your abs, or you can relax and allow the weight of your ribs sinking down cause your exhale for you.
When doing Ujjayi breathing your inhale and exhale through your nose.
If you aren't used to breathing through your nose, try inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Then try inhaling and exhaling through your nose for once breath cycle and then exhale through your mouth on the next breath cycle.
To make breathing through your nose easier you can try spreading your nostrils by using the muscles at the side of your nose. You may find it helpful to lift (or activate) your cheeks. (The cheeks on your face of course!)
Once you are used to breathing through your nose, practice narrowing your throat. See if you can vary the amount your narrow your throat and see if you can notice the difference it makes in your "respiratory effort." Notice the sound that accompanies the narrowing of your throat.
Next try to hold your lower belly in while you breath. You can hold it in for your inhales and let it go while exhaling. Or you can also try holding it in while you inhale and exhale. Notice how both options feel. Again, notice how you feel and the sounds that accomany any changes that you make.
The next step is to try ujjayi breathing while you are actually doing yoga poses. Remember that you can always vary the size of the openening in your throat to make your breathing easier or harder depending on the ease of the yoga posture that you are doing.
Friction and pressure are two simple techniques that I use to help my students get stronger and more flexible. These simple techniques also offer a roadway into not only learning how to activate your muscles, but getting a feel for them and your body. Three challenging yoga poses that I use these techniques in are chaturanga, front splits and side splits. While they might not help you get all the way down into the splits, they'll help you feel stronger, and more integrated as you work towards them. And because I've got to pay for my daughters schooling this week, I'm offering a discount on the frictional muscle control videos. (First 100 people only can save over 30%).
Active stretching teaches you muscle control to not only improve flexibility but also body awareness. You'll learn how to adjust postures for better feel as well as more control through a broader range of motion.
Standing exercises for low back pain plus anatomy that can affect the low back and how to use that anatomical understanding.
Experience your body (and understand it) with sensational yoga poses.
Is it a bad idea to heel strike while barefoot running? What are the possible benefits of heel striking? When should you not heel strike?
These yoga poses for abs work on the abdominal muscles (and hips) in both standing positions and seated positions.
Sensational yoga poses, lessons to help you enjoy the experience of your body.
Here are the Ashtanga Standing Pose Vinyassas, with inhale movements highlighted in red.
These seated yoga poses have been organized into a rough routine and include lotus, virasana, janu sirsasana and marichyasana variations as well as more basic seated poses like bound angle, pigeon and seated forward bend.
In this preparation for compass pose use your arms to pull your leg towards you for a seated hamstring stretch. To modify, use a strap.
Single joint hip flexors include iliacus, pectineus, obturators, gemelli and gluteus minimus. Use them to help improve your forward bends.
Sensational Yoga ebooks and videos are designed to help you experience your body while focusing on specific poses, actions or parts of the body.
Extreme stability teaches you how to work from the ground up when creating stability, whether you are doing poses on your hands or your feet (or some combination of both).
The working towards wheel pose ebook teaches you basic body first so that you can feel and control your spine, hips and shoulders, so that working towards difficult poses (in this case wheel pose) is easier.
The Muscle control for better flexibility ebook teaches you simple muscle activation techniques that can make it easier to improve your flexibility. Techniques focus on forward and back bending the hips but can be applied to other movements also.
Building up on the material for part 1, Yoga for Beginners 2 teaches you how to make your body stable for a slightly different experience of your hips and shoulders.
Video: This set of simple hip control exercises help you to stabilize the hip joint and control it. You may find these exercises help you improve hamstring and hip flexor strength and flexibility.
One approach to learning yoga is to simply practice yoga poses. The approach in Yoga For Beginners 1 is to help you to learn to feel your body while doing yoga poses.
Some of the exercises in Balance Basics includes learning to balance on the fronts of your feet as well as on one foot using weight shifting exercises. It also includes exercises for crow pose. I've included videos based on the balanace exercises in the book on this page.