Take a Deep Breath For Your Health
As we enter what many consider the busiest time of the year stop and take a deep breath. It sounds cliché but in fact is the first thing you should do when stressed, needing to self-reflect or especially when you’re exercising.
Our breath is something we don’t think much about but is paramount to our existence and good health.
Yogis have been preaching this for centuries and use breathing techniques to enhance yoga postures. Pilate instructors also coach breathing to increase core and body awareness through exercise. You should also be aware of your breathing and use it to enhance regular exercise and daily activity.
Yelling is good! In my group exercise classes I encourage people to makes noise and hoot and holler. Not only does it make me, the instructor feel good that people are engaged and having fun, but it also forces people to breath deeply and work the transverse abdominis. That’s the breathing muscle in the abdomen and it’s not worked through crunches or other core work.
When doing cardiovascular exercise you might not think much about breathing and just focus on pushing yourself through to the end.
In fact, breathing is what enables you to get through it whether you think about it or not. As your heart rate increases your muscles requires more oxygen for energy. At the same time carbon dioxide levels increase and your body needs to get rid of it. Both of these things are done as you breath. Inhalation carries air into the lungs allowing oxygen to load onto the red blood cells while carbon dioxide is taken out. The body does this automatically. But focusing on breathing can improve technique and endurance.
Runners do this by finding a rhythm with their breath and gait and thus improve efficiency and pacing. Since I don’t particularly enjoy running I find thinking about my breathing and finding a pattern helps me get started as my body warms up to the activity. Having something to focus on distracts from the discomfort and actually calms my breath. After 10 minutes it can actually start to feel good.
Similarly, when I start to feel tired or challenged while doing other types of exercise a drop in the jaw, deep inhalation and push of air from the diaphragm gives me a surge to push through. This is useful when lifting weights and needing to finish the last few repetitions. When coaching I will often remind participants to simply breathe. Often people will hold their breath because they’re too focused on executing the activity. Remember oxygen helps the muscles get energy.
Outside of physical activity awareness of your breath can be calming and help you feel centered. Think about when you’re stressed how you may feel tightness in your chest and find it hard to take a deep breath. Short and fast little sips of air can lead to hyperventilation and light-headedness. If you can slow down your breathing by taking deeper breaths and slower exhalation you can find relief.
Yoga uses many breathing techniques to help practitioners to sync their mind and body.
The most common is simply to breath in deeply through the nose and filling the diaphragm or area in the lower chest and abdomen area. Exhalation at the same slow rate through the back of the throat, out the nose with the mouth closed is a way to warm the body. It’s called ujaayi breathing. Or just a slower exhalation through the mouth at the same rate of the inhalation will require your focus and lead to calmness and relaxation.
If you have not tried yoga or any breathing techniques simply try this.
- Either sitting up straight or laying flat to give the diaphragm room to expand, close your eyes and slowly breathe in through the nose.
- You might count to four or five.
- Imagine the air lifting through the back of your head and then traveling down your lungs filling your belly and expanding your chest.
- Then exhale by pressing your belly button into the spine and pushing the air out of your lungs at the same rate or count you inhaled.
- Imagine the air coming in and out as you do this for a few minutes.
- Do this anytime you feel stressed or nervous.
I resorted to this recently before speaking to a new group of people. I guess I felt nervous because it was my first time attending this meeting and I didn’t know what to expect. Before facing everyone I took a few minutes to focus on breathing and it relaxed me. When it was my turn to speak I was able to reach deep and find the air to project my voice instead of squeaking from the top of my lunges.
If you find the exercise described above helpful there are many other techniques you can also explore. Some have been known to aid hyperventilation and assist asthma sufferers. Start by looking for a yoga class that focuses on breathing. It might have the word “pranayama” in its name or description.
I have recently been exploring breathing in conjunction with meditation and will write more on this subject in the future. So try it and share your feedback.
The Science of Breathing: https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/Breathing.html
Breathing Techniques: https://www.acefitness.org/blog/5178/breathing-techniques-that-can-enhance-your
Breathing for runners: http://running.competitor.com/2014/05/training/how-should-i-breathe-when-i-run_75131
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