Breathing for Better Workouts

2 Breathing Techniques for Better Health

woman standing arms open wide breathing
Breathe your way to less stress and better health.

Breathing In and Breathing Out. Simple Right?

Inhale. Exhale. We take so many breaths a day and it is so natural that most often we aren’t even aware of it. As you know, breathing is important to oxygenate our bodies and cells resulting in energy for our activities. But the question is: are you breathing correctly?

Breathing helps us be more efficient not only in our physical work but in our mental work as well. Many relaxation techniques focus solely on the breath and how it can calm the mind and body simultaneously. In the yoga classes that I teach I always begin with breathing techniques to help the students prepare their mind and body for the class. The primary purpose of this is to relax the body to be prepared for fluidity of movements in yoga. Second, it also calms the mind and slows down the racing thoughts to get focused.

It is impossible to maintain the same breath throughout all of your activities. When you perform cardio, you naturally breathe heavier. When you lift, you breathe more forcefully. If you have taken yoga class, you may frequently hear the instructor walk you through proper breathing in your movement. By doing this, you are linking your breath with your movement for more efficiency. If you look up the definition of yoga, you will read that breath control is one of the main aspects of yoga practice.

Having awareness of breath control in every movement, whether its biking, running, walking or just simply sitting, is ideal. Unless you are an elite athlete, you may never have really pondered the movement of your breath before reading this article. In his New York Times best seller Breath: The Science of the Lost Art, James Nestor presents a fascinating exploration of the history of breath and how we are doing it all wrong.

Proper breathing does not consist of the simple inhale and exhale. For starters, proper breathing should be done with the rise and fall of the abdomen area and not the chest. As you sit and read this, take note of your breathing. Do you notice your chest rise and fall? If so, by the end of this article you will learn some techniques to help you work towards more efficient breathing.

inhale and exhale skeletal depictions
First, an understanding of what is happening internally as you breathe might be helpful. When you inhale, your thoracic cage expands making room for the lungs to inflate. The diaphragm then flattens out and descends like a piston. Ideally, your inhale should take about 4 seconds. Anyone that is skilled in breathing techniques may hold what is called suspension (similar to holding the breath for a but this is not recommended as you start your journey toward proper breathing.

Carbon dioxide is then released from the body in the exhalation. You should be taking twice as much time (8 seconds) – it seems like a lot but I recommend starting off with a 2 second inhale with 4 second exhale and working your way from there. It is important to always remember that you must breathe from the diaphragm and not with the chest. Habitual chest breathing impacts posture and overstimulates the sympathetic nervous system which will increase heart rate, blood pressure, and could lead to problems with digestion.

Proper breathing is not only essential in your daily living but throughout your workouts. You may find that it is actually easier to breathe correctly when you are exerting yourself. We use our breath in the martial arts to exert our energy in our movement and to relax our mind through any pain when taking a hit.

The real test is when you are watching television or at work. Television shows packed with action, anticipation, and drama triggers a subconscious reaction in our breath. Have you ever gotten frustrated at work? Gotten excited about news? All of these experiences trigger an alteration to the pattern of your breath. The simple act of just thinking about an emotionally charged situation can disrupt your breathing pattern.

Are you ready to start taking better control of your breath to find some ease in your body and your mind and improve your overall well-being? Read on to learn some simple techniques you can effortlessly add into your day. Whenever I have a student that is new to this I always have them lie down with a hand on the lower abdomen. If you haven’t tried this before, I recommend beginning at night when you lie down in bed to prepare for rest. Not only is it easier to do lying down but when you start noticing that you’re sleeping better, you’ll have the motivation to continue.

With the body completely relaxed, take 3 deep breaths. Exhale as if you are blowing out candles on a cake or trying to fog up a mirror. Next, slowly inhale with your hand on your lower abdomen and if you are breathing correctly you will feel your abdomen rise. On the exhale your abdomen will sink. If it’s challenging at first, start with just 10 breaths. The more challenging it is, the more work you need to do in developing better awareness of your breath. Eventually, it will become effortless.

Who would have thought that breathing could be so complicated? If you’re finding it difficult at first, you might want to try out some of the great apps out there. The Square Breathing app is an Alex-enabled device to help produce a feeling of calm and ease anxiety. You could also try Yoga Breathing Techniques for Deep Sleep with Kanta Barrios. If you’re really struggling with this and prefer one on one support, working with a coach may be a good option for you.

You may notice as you begin this practice that you are doing it in the reverse and it may seem really challenging to change that pattern. Keep working at it and eventually you will do it without even thinking. Don’t get discouraged because this is a huge challenge if you’ve been breathing a certain way for so long. Once you are on your way you may begin to notice subtle changes in your posture, energy, and attitude.

References:
Coulter, H.D. (2001). Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. Honesdale:PA Hewitt, J. (1977). The Complete Yoga Book. New York.

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